Fox News attacks San Francisco for housing homeless people during a pandemic

The attacks are based on the account of a reporter who has a history of demonizing homeless people in San Francisco

Fox News homelessness image 7.17.20
Molly Butler / Media Matters

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to sweep across the country, San Francisco officials have been taking steps to house individuals experiencing homelessness in empty hotel rooms in an attempt to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Now, Fox News is propping up the account of a City Journal writer who has a history of demonizing homeless populations to attack the initiative.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended communities using separate sites with individual rooms for homeless people “who are positive for COVID-19 [and] need to have access to services and a safe place to stay, separated from others who are not infected.” Earlier this year, California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered a broad initiative to house vulnerable homeless people in available hotels. While San Francisco's mayor initially had included only high-risk people, the city’s lawmakers voted to expand the program to house more individuals after it was reported that coronavirus had infected more than 100 guests and workers at the city’s largest homeless shelter. Aspects of the initiative have been controversial in the right-wing circles, particularly the decision to offer some guests alcohol and tobacco and the option to purchase medical cannabis in order to treat withdrawal symptoms and prevent people from leaving.

Now, Fox News is leaning on the reporting of Erica Sandberg to attack the initiative. Sandberg writes for the City Journal, a quarterly magazine published by The Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank which was largely responsible for popularizing and defending the now-largely debunked theory of “broken windows” policing. She has also appeared on Fox host Tucker Carlson’s show during his weeklong special demonizing homeless populations in San Francisco, where she asserted that crime is “out of control” and that homelessness has led to the city becoming “more dirty, more dangerous.”

In a June 24 column smearing the initiative as a failure, Sandberg asserted that her “inside sources” are saying that “chaos is erupting inside and around the hotels,” including “destroyed rooms and rampant illegal drug use.” She also stressed the need to inform residents of “the influx of these new guests who frequently suffer from drug addiction and severe mental illness as well as having criminal backgrounds.” 

On the July 15 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Fox's Brian Kilmeade, who is currently hosting the show during Carlson’s absence amid yet another racist controversy, interviewed Sandberg to talk about the initiative. Kilmeade introduced the segment by claiming that San Francisco’s homeless population is “living large these days” and complaining that “the city is putting many of them in fancy hotel rooms at taxpayer expense.” Sandberg called the initiative an “absolute disaster” and said her “inside sources” are telling her that “it is about as bad as you can imagine, only exponentially worse.” Kilmeade concluded the interview by encouraging Sandberg to “not let up on this story,” telling her that “we will make sure to underline this” and that “dumb ideas should be labeled on people.”

Video file

Citation From the July 15, 2020, edition of Fox News' Tucker Carlson Tonight

The next morning, co-anchor Sandra Smith of Fox’s “news”-side program America’s Newsroom aired portions of Kilmeade’s interview with Sandberg before commenting on the “disturbing report” and echoing Sandberg that the initiative is an “absolute disaster.”

Video file

Citation From the July 16, 2020, edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom

Fox’s decision to prop up Sandberg’s account is unsurprising, as the coverage is merely the latest in a long list of examples of the network’s relentless effort to demonize and attack homeless populations in Democratic-led cities -- even amid a global pandemic.