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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)
Julia Hollar

Julie Hollar

Julie Hollar is FAIR’s senior analyst and managing editor. Julie has a Ph.D. in Political Science from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

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'We WILL Fight Back': Outrage, Resolve as Protests Erupt Against SCOTUS Abortion Ruling

Demonstrators took to the streets Friday to defiantly denounce the Supreme Court's right-wing supermajority after it rescinded a constitutional right for the first time in U.S. history.

Brett Wilkins ·


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Progressives Rebuke Dem Leadership as Clyburn Dismisses Death of Roe as 'Anticlimactic'

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While Republicans unanimously welcomed the Supreme Court's rollback of half a century of reproductive rights, one Democrat said "it's just wrong that my granddaughter will have fewer freedoms than my grandmother did."

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Sanders Says End Filibuster to Combat 'Outrageous' Supreme Court Assault on Abortion Rights

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