As the country begins to experience the widespread economic freeze in reaction to the coronavirus pandemic, a number of Fox News hosts have started to exhibit something you don’t often encounter on that channel: a great concern for the working poor of America.
Fox figures fall into essentially two categories here. Some are simply using supposed concern for the poor as an excuse to call for people to go back to work — but there are also some who may be just starting to figure out that working people need a sustainable standard of living in order for society to function.
Fox News host Sean Hannity has really begun rolling out the former line of argument. On his radio show Tuesday, Hannity advocated for President Donald Trump’s position that “the cure could be worse than the problem” with a prolonged economic shutdown.
SEAN HANNITY (HOST): Yeah, you're gonna see a wave of psychological depression, even suicide. Actually was a study that came out, which I thought was pretty interesting, people are very much, very often tied to money. It's just something that you need to understand here. The president — you know, people get tremendous anxiety, depression, have suicides over things like this, terrible economies, and he's right.
There was — The New Scientist printed a study, Aaron Reeves at the University of Oxford, part of a team that found the financial crash in '08 linked to an extra 10,000 suicides in Europe and North America.
But during the Obama years, Hannity wasn’t quite so concerned about the plight of the poor in America. “Most Americans, even in poverty, have a basic level of living, a standard of living that is decent,” Hannity declared in 2012, then extolling the idea of a person living on rice and beans rather than ever going hungry. He also said that a typical poor household has “two color television sets, cable and satellite, a DVD player, a VCR.”
Similarly, Fox Business host Charles Payne has applauded people who are still working during the pandemic and even publicly urged Costco to give bonuses to its employees. And in calling for the economy to bounce back soon, Payne tweeted that many people out there really can’t wait:
However, Payne previously complained in 2013 that government programs make it “a little too comfortable to be in poverty.” That same year, he also declared: “When we start talking about a minimum wage of $15 an hour, what we’re trying to say is that mediocrity should be rewarded.”
As a perhaps more sincere example of a conversion to concern about the working poor — if only for the duration of this crisis — Fox Business host Stuart Varney has surprisingly become an active voice for government bailouts, paid sick leave, and other measures needed to both contain the virus and preserve the economy for the duration of the crisis.
Varney got into a heated discussion last Wednesday with conservative economist Art Laffer over the need for a comprehensive stimulus.
“There are literally tens of millions of people in this country who next week won't get a paycheck — they might not even get a paycheck at the end of this week,” Varney argued. “What are they going to do? A government surely cannot just stand back and say, ‘Wait a minute, wait a minute, you're on your own.’ They've got to offer some help.”
Varney continued to press Laffer on the need for economic relief, and he has clearly comprehended that there are people living on the edge here, and the government must do something about it.
But again, Varney sang a different tune in years past. Back in 2011, he famously bemoaned that the very definition of “poor families” wasn’t what it used to be — after all, “99% of them have a refrigerator.” After getting raked over the coals by The Daily Show, Varney responded: “The image we have of poor people as starving and living in squalor. really is not accurate. Many of them have things — what they lack is the richness of spirit. That’s my opinion.”
And in 2014, Varney slammed state programs that had the effect of expanding access to food stamps, claiming that “what's really going on here is the government is buying votes. They keep churning out food stamps in return for votes. That's what's happening.”
It is unclear what may have changed Varney's mind about government assistance between then and now. Does he still believe that economic relief is a form of "buying votes”? Then again, the change since then of which party controls the White House — and the crisis happening in the middle of an election year — might make his recent change of heart on the issue less surprising.