An actual line from the preview of Sunday night’s special: “Matthew McConaughey will interview Dr. Anthony Fauci.”
How often does McConaughey get to interview a bigger star than he is?
Any effort to encourage people to get their jabs is welcome, but America’s vaccine-skeptic population consists of some very different demographic groups and this line-up clearly isn’t designed to appeal to all of them. Maybe that’s not the organizers’ fault. It could be that they tried to recruit celebs who might have more sway with right-wing viewers and struck out. Trump, for instance, probably wouldn’t be willing to cut a video for any event showcasing Biden and the Obamas even if they asked nicely.
But this is the sort of program where you wonder if it’ll do more harm than good with vaccine-skeptic righties by aligning the national vaccination effort with high-profile liberals whom they disdain.
Biden will make remarks during the special, and Obama will appear alongside former NBA stars Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal to encourage Americans to get vaccinated so they can help end the pandemic and return to their normal lives…
The special will also feature former first lady Michelle Obama and a whole slate of celebrities, including Sterling K. Brown, Lana Condor, Billy Crystal, Eric Dane, Ryan Eggold, Dr. Vin Gupta, Faith Hill, Jennifer Hudson, Dale Jarrett, Ken Jeong, Joe Jonas, Eva Longoria, Jennifer Lopez, Demi Lovato, Joel McHale, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Kumail Nanjiani, Ellen Pompeo, Amanda Seyfried, Jane Seymour and Wanda Sykes.
The husband and wife duo of NFL quarterback Russell Wilson and artist Ciara are set to host the special.
The three groups that are most hesitant about the vaccines are young adults, African-Americans, and Republicans, particularly Republican men. The roster for the NBC special could help with the first two, although it may be that the degree of vaccine resistance among blacks is overstated. For them, access rather than skepticism may be the chief barrier. Look back at this KFF poll of rural Americans published last week. Rural black residents are less likely than Democrats generally are to get the vaccine but still pretty likely, with more than 80 percent either pro-vax or in the “wait and see” group:
Among rural Republicans, by comparison, just 58 percent are pro-vax or “wait and see.” The share that either won’t get it or will get it only if required is actually bigger than the share that’s willing to get immunized right now. Is the NBC special going to do anything to reach them? Nah. But then, strategic decisions need to be made in vaccine PR campaigns. Is it even worth trying to reach the hardcore vaccine skeptics, who probably can’t be swayed?
On the other hand, the percentage of rural Republicans who are waiting and seeing (20 percent) is actually larger than the share of rural African-Americans who are (18 percent). They’re the persuadables. Who’s lined up for this special to reach those persuadable GOPers? Dale Jarrett? Anyone else?
There’s another problem. Celebrity vaccination pitches, including ones that feature celebrity politicians, may not work:
Vaccination concerns are most effectively addressed by doctors, not celebrities and politicians.
— Frank Luntz (@FrankLuntz) April 13, 2021
That was the takeaway from Luntz’s recent focus group with a bunch of vaccine-skeptical Republicans. The recent TV ad featuring Obama and George W. Bush urging people to get immunized did nothing for them. Even being reminded that Trump was pro-vaccine didn’t seem to change their minds. What actually did work was letting them ask questions of former CDC chief Tom Frieden. If you want to do a special that’s designed to persuade people rather than just generally “raise awareness” about the benefits of vaccination, NBC and the organizers are probably better off doing an hour-long Q&A with some non-politicized doctor — not Fauci or Rochelle Walensky — than hosting a show that “will include a number of comedy acts, informative packages and real-life stories,” which, frankly, sounds dreadful. “A discussion with Dr. Tom Frieden” might move the needle. “The Barack Obama Variety Hour” probably won’t.
Still, I wonder if a very public appeal from Trump might help soften Republicans up. Check this out:
Viewed one way, those numbers support Luntz’s belief that politicians don’t much influence people’s opinions of vaccines. Among Republicans, just 42 percent say they’d trust Trump’s medical advice a lot while another 22 percent say they’d trust it somewhat. That’s not an overwhelming share in a party that’s accustomed to supporting Trump overwhelmingly. But the 42 percent who say they trust him a lot doubtless contains a lot of populists, the sort of people most inclined to distrust expert opinion. They may be all but impossible for any establishment authority figure to persuade; only someone of Trump’s stature, capable of giving them ideological “permission” to listen to the doctors in this case, might be capable. It’d be nice if he and the organizers could put together a little something for the show. But I won’t hold my breath.