When Marjorie Taylor Greene refused to answer a reporter’s question about whether she’d been vaccinated a couple weeks ago, she inspired a meme. The digital peanut gallery spent a news cycle or two conjuring silly examples of other questions that would also purportedly violate their HIPAA rights.
When Tucker Carlson refused to answer the same question from a reporter recently, though, he did something arguably worse. His response, to deflect it as a “super vulgar personal question,” helped cement the too-personal excuse as a Get Out of Jail Free card for other public figures pressed on this issue. This deflection isn’t just spineless and false, it’s dangerous—and it’s only getting more popular.
And at a press conference on Thursday, August 5, Patriots quarterbacks Mac Jones and Cam Newton both declined to answer in the same way, Newton doing so while wearing a hat so ridiculous it got the HIPAA meme treatment.
Interestingly, this deflection means different things for different public figures. Tucker Carlson, who is among the world’s leading vaccine skeptics, doesn’t want to answer because he almost certainly has taken the vaccine, and admitting as much would highlight his hypocrisy. At least some of these athletes, however, are likely dodging the question because they don’t want to explicitly out themselves as anti-vaxxers or vaccine-hesitant, and deal with all the attendant scrutiny.
Whether vaccinated or not, these folks should have the courage of their convictions and be more forthright. If Carlson feels so passionately about the tyranny of vaccine-pushers that he has to scream about it to America’s largest cable news audience every night, he should at least let that audience know whether he’s taking his own prescription. If the football players are worried about being judged for not getting vaccinated, they have to know people are going to assume they haven’t been vaccinated and judge them anyway. But if they’re going to deflect the question, “too personal” is insufficient grounds.
Plenty of topics are indeed too invasive and personal to ask a public figure about in most situations. Questions about sexual orientation or favorite position, to which Carlson compared the vaccination question in another interview, are verboten in typical interviews. As are questions about personal finance, family tragedy, and specific religious beliefs. Similarly, medical questions are often too personal to ask in an interview setting. But there are certainly exceptions to each of these subjects, depending on relevance. If Tucker Carlson spent a lot of time on air devoted to the moral repugnance of a common sexual position, for instance, then it would be fair game for a reporter to ask if he’d ever engaged in it.
The question of inoculation, on the other hand, is relatively, uh, innocuous. In terms of medical queries, it’s closer to asking if someone has ever broken a bone than it is to asking whether they’ve had highly personal cosmetic surgery like breast implants.
More importantly, the vaccine question is, by definition, not too personal, because the answer for these people has broader implications. Tucker Carlson and Cam Newton are constantly surrounded by other people; their health and safety are part of an exponential chain affecting many other people’s health and safety. Beyond what signal their refusal to say whether they’ve been vaccinated sends to their millions of admirers, it creates unnecessary worry and confusion for anyone in their orbit.
Too personal? We are in the middle of a desperately urgent global medical crisis. Nobody is trying to read Tucker Carlson’s diary; they’re trying to determine whether he comes by his hazardous health advice naturally or cynically.
These people are free to answer the question or not, but they should stop being cowards about it.