Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

President Joe Biden speaks during a press conference

President Joe Biden delivers remarks in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on July 15, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

There's No 'Vaccine Mandate'—But That Doesn't Stop WaPo From Asking People How They Feel About It

When journalists gin up controversy over lesser measures, they contribute to public misunderstandings of truth and reality, and make progress in the fight against Covid that much harder.

The Washington Post (7/29/21) let the opposition rather than the facts frame its latest story on the new federal directive on testing, masks and vaccination. The headline read:

Biden’s Vaccine Rule Draws Both Cheers and Resistance From Federal Workers; Groups Representing Law Enforcement, Postal Workers and IRS Managers Issue Statements Raising Concerns About a Government Mandate

What’s the “government mandate,” though? It’s not a vaccine mandate; it doesn’t require anyone to get vaccinated. It’s a testing and masking mandate for federal workers and contractors, with an exemption for vaccinated people. The goal is obviously to push more people toward vaccination, but in a way that avoids the pushback the right has promised against any vaccine mandates.

"Vaccine mandates would get the country much closer to its goal of stopping needless hospitalizations, deaths and disruptions to normal life; it would also obviously face greater resistance from those opposed to vaccination."

But that didn’t seem to matter to the Post, which filled its story (written by Eli Rosenberg) with quotes from groups decrying the (nonexistent) vaccine mandate.

“The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association [FLEOA], which represents more than 26,000 federal officers, has blasted the idea,” wrote the Post, “saying that it believes requiring vaccinations represents an infringement on civil rights.”

The FLEOA president was quoted as warning, “There will be a lot of pushback. It’s going to be an avalanche,” and paraphrased arguing that the government should not “try to force employees to get vaccinations.”

The American Postal Workers Union, too, was pointed to as saying “it was opposed to required vaccinations for postal workers,” as if this is what the directive contained.

Several workers were quoted, some in favor and some opposed to “the mandate” to be vaccinated.

Some if not all of these statements and quotes appear to have come from before the new directive was announced, when it wasn’t known whether it would mandate vaccinations for federal workers. But rather than call for updated quotes, the Post didn’t let reality change its reporting. It just included a somewhat nonsensical cover-your-ass line halfway through the piece that the rule “falls short of a strict mandate, providing options for people who still prefer to avoid vaccinations.”

A “vaccine mandate,” as it’s widely understood, is not about being “strict” or “loose”—either you have to get vaccinated or you don’t.

While most news outlets got the story right, the Post wasn’t entirely alone. At CNN.com (7/29/21), readers were told that Biden “is adopting a tougher approach as caseloads surge: vaccine requirements and blame.” And at Yahoo! News (7/29/21), a headline announced: “Biden Mandates Vaccinations for Federal Employees, Contractors.”

Vaccine mandates would get the country much closer to its goal of stopping needless hospitalizations, deaths and disruptions to normal life; it would also obviously face greater resistance from those opposed to vaccination. When journalists gin up controversy over lesser measures, they contribute to public misunderstandings of truth and reality, and make progress in the fight against Covid that much harder.


© 2021 Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR)
Julie Hollar

Julie Hollar

Julie Hollar is the managing editor of FAIR's magazine, Extra!. Her work received an award from Project Censored in 2005, and she has been interviewed by such media outlets as the L.A. Times, Agence France-Presse and the San Francisco Chronicle. A graduate of Rice University, she has written for the Texas Observer and coordinated communications and activism at the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas. Hollar also co-directed the 2006 documentary Boy I Am and was previously active in the Paper Tiger Television collective.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

US Urged to End Drone Strikes After Pentagon Says Killing 10 Afghan Civilians Was 'Horrible Mistake'

"That was not a 'mistake,'" said journalist Anand Giridharadas. "War crimes are not oopsies."

Brett Wilkins ·


40+ NYC Activists Arrested for Protests Against Banks Fueling Climate Emergency

"We're sending a message loud and clear that the little action that politicians and greenwashing CEOs have taken so far does not begin to deal with the magnitude of this crisis."

Jessica Corbett ·


FDA Panel Recommends Pfizer Booster Shots for People 65+ and Especially Vulnerable

The scientific advisory committee voted down a recommendation for other adults.

Common Dreams staff ·


'What Betrayal Looks Like': UN Report Says World on Track for 2.7°C of Warming by 2100

"Whatever our so-called 'leaders' are doing," said Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, "they are doing it wrong."

Jake Johnson ·


Critics Warn Biden That 30% Methane Reduction by 2030 Not Good Enough

Following the new U.S.-E.U. pledge, climate campaigners called for an urgent end to fossil fuel extraction and major reforms of agricultural practices.

Jessica Corbett ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo