President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, which is largely represented in the Democrat’s $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, would materially benefit millions of Americans through unprecedented investments in our social safety net and efforts to combat climate change. Polling suggests that the spending bill is popular among the American people. Expectedly, Fox News has characterized the package as a “socialist wish list” and picked off a litany of minor ticket items to rally outrage and opposition on the right.
Former Trump aide Stephen Miller’s description of the bill on the October 16 edition of the Fox News show Watters’ World is representative of how the network is using its tried-and-true dog whistles to poison and stoke fear about the bill:
STEPHEN MILLER (GUEST): It's basically the Green New Deal, combined with critical race theory, combined with massive amnesty and open borders, combined with the complete destruction of the American economy.
Among the provisions Fox has characterized as the Green New Deal and mocked or grossly misrepresented are: the Civilian Climate Corps; an initiative referred to as Tree Equity; and a program intended to redress historic inequities and environmental injustices associated with zoning decisions and highway placement, which Fox has referred to as fixing “racists roads.”
Fox’s coverage of these programs has not attempted to describe what they entail or what they would accomplish for hundreds of communities. Rather, they have been used as punchlines or set up for cheap shots that reflect Fox’s racist ethos and climate denial — all under the guise of informing Fox’s audience about the policies contained in the reconciliation package.
Fox has grossly misrepresented the Civilian Climate Corps -- “climate cops” is not a thing
The reconciliation bill includes $8 billion earmarked for the Civilian Climate Corps -- modeled after the depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps -- which would establish a government jobs program that would put Americans to “work conserving our public lands and waters, bolstering community resilience, and advancing environmental justice.” The current funding for this program represents .4% of the $3.5 trillion spending in the bill.
On October 12, the Republican Study Committee chaired by Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) released a memo on policies contained in the reconciliation package, claiming that while the bill is polling favorably, support would tank if the American people understood what was in it. It lists among the “policies to wreck America” the Climate Civilian Corps, which the memo characterizes as “a cabal of federally funded climate police … who will conduct progressive activism on taxpayers’ dime.”
There isn’t even a grain of truth in how the committee characterized the program: “Climate police” is to the reconciliation bill what “cow farts” was to the Green New Deal. But that won’t stop conservative media from running with it.
The Republican Study Committee wasn’t the first to characterize the program this way -- during the early stages of drafting the bill, climate denier Marc Morano suggested on Fox & Friends First that participants could resemble “climate cops” -- but the memo certainly reinvigorated the idea on Fox.
On the October 12 edition of The Ingraham Angle, Banks said the bill would “create a climate police department. This was a wacky idea that AOC came out with a couple of years ago. We all laughed at it because we thought it would never happen and now it’s on the brink of happening.” The following day, at least four programs described the program this way. On October 14, Banks appeared on both Kudlow on the Fox Business Network and Fox News' Faulkner Focus, claiming that the bill contains billions to create a “climate police department or a militia to go out and enforce Green New Deal policies.”
Fox mocked and belittled provisions to address environmental injustices
Notably, during the Faulkner Focus segment Banks also referred to a program to fix “racist roads.” In fact, what he’s referring to is a $4 billion fund intended to address historic inequities and environmental injustices associated with zoning decisions and highway placement, which in some cases have divided once-thriving communities of color. The fund represents about .1% of the spending in the reconciliation bill.
Biden’s original infrastructure plan called for a $20 billion fund to “reconnect” neighborhoods cut off by old transportation projects. This would benefit communities like one in New Orleans whose residents have lived under the Claiborne Expressway for decades and remember how vibrant their community was before “The Monster” was built. After construction began on the highway in the 1960s, the once-thriving Tremé community, a center of Black cultural and commercial life, was divided and diminished. When the program was first introduced as part of the infrastructure plan, Fox’s Tucker Carlson suggested, in a blatantly racist rant, that the program was a form of reparations. This plan was cut in the bipartisan infrastructure bill negotiations, and a drastically reduced version is funded by the proposed $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill. Also among the litany of “controversial” items in the bill, often cited by Fox News hosts and anchors, is an initiative to plant trees, particularly in urban areas with less canopy cover to reduce the effects of extreme heat.
For example, during the October 13 edition of The Ingraham Angle, host Laura Ingraham fearmongered that the bill will “bankrupt the next generation, steal the next generation” before listing the “priorities” embedded in the legislation:
Eight billion bucks for a Civilian Climate Corps. It’s going to act basically as a taxpayer-funded leftist police force. $4 billion for equity — I love that word — in electric vehicle charging and tree planting. $643 million would go toward procuring culturally appropriate foods — I kid you not — for school lunches. Forget chicken tenders and Friday pizza, I guess. Free community college for illegals, of course. They’ll be eligible for child tax credits as well. My personal favorite, though — this is a drop in the bucket for the federal government. $15 million for national resource centers focused on providing services for older individuals who are underserved due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The tree equity initiative Ingraham refers to is a commonsense solution to addressing the heat island effect, which disproportionately impacts Black and brown communities across the US. Communities without sufficient canopy cover can reach temperatures up to 10 degrees higher than those that do, and one proven solution is to plant more trees in those neighborhoods.
On September 27, the day the reconciliation package was revealed, America’s Newsroom included the tree equity plan as one of the “doozies” that was buried in the bill while the Faulkner Focus also referred to it as one of the bill’s “hidden goodies” and mocked that there was “$3 billion for tree planting and so-called tree equity. Important that the trees feel equal to one another.”
In fact, there has been no shortage of “equity” jokes -- Greg Gutfeld on the September 29 edition of his late-night show Gutfeld! suggested that the program was meant to address “foilage privilege” (he meant “foliage”). And on the October 2 edition of Fox & Friends Saturday, in response to the program, Pete Hegseth quipped, “The oak trees feel like they have been too dominant for too long.” But for all the punchlines, there has been little attempt to understand what the program is or explain the issue it is proven to address.
Predictably, Fox has not scratched the surface of what the reconciliation bill means for climate mitigation
While the climate and environmental justice provisions that Fox has featured in its reconciliation bill coverage represent just a fraction of its spending, they are not an insignificant part of the Biden administration’s larger climate agenda, of which addressing environmental injustices and creating green union jobs are core pillars. They should be reported on. But Fox has framed the reconciliation bill as a radical-socialist wish list of trivial programs -- in fact, it represents, from a climate perspective, possibly the last chance to enact meaningful U.S. policies for the foreseeable future, which could make or break the global response to the climate crisis. But as long as Fox keeps its viewers revved up over “cow farts” and “climate cops” its base will never see the burning forest for the equitable trees.