From August 30 through November 1, Fox News personalities and guests baselessly claimed 80 times that Halloween trick-or-treaters faced the imminent danger of having so-called rainbow fentanyl dropped into their candy buckets. However, reports from Vice News’ Keegan Hamilton and Washington Post media reporter Paul Farhi found that there was not a single story confirming that children in the U.S. received fentanyl while celebrating Halloween.
The pernicious myth that “bad actors might tamper with children’s trick-or-treat stashes” has been spreading in various forms in the U.S. since at least the late ‘60s. According to Joel Best, a University of Delaware professor who has researched myths about contaminated candy for decades, there is no evidence “that a child has been killed or seriously injured via Halloween-candy tampering.” This year, the narrative was revived after local and national news outlets uncritically amplified an August 30 warning from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency about a multicolored, candylike version of fentanyl, a highly addictive opioid.
Media Matters found that Fox anchors, hosts, and guests repeatedly pushed baseless alarmism connecting rainbow fentanyl to children’s Halloween celebrations dozens of times in the months after the DEA’s announcement. Fox personalities also linked the so-called fentanyl risk to migrants crossing the border. Fox’s so-called “straight news” programs fearmongered about fentanyl and Halloween festivities 35 times, including warning viewers that Mexican cartels were “producing the rainbow-colored fentanyl just in time for Halloween.” Another 45 such claims came from the network’s opinion programs.
During a September 28 appearance on America's Newsroom, U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency Administrator Anne Milgram debunked anchor Dana Perino’s concern about rainbow fentanyl reaching children at Halloween, saying, “This is one of the important things we talk about. First of all, we have not seen any connection to Halloween. … We are not seeing it in elementary school, we have not seen it with Halloween candy.” Nonetheless, Perino went on to fearmonger about fentanyl and Halloween 4 more times after this segment occurred.
Fox News personalities and guests also repeatedly spread the false claim that simply touching fentanyl can be deadly, with Fox Business correspondent Jackie DeAngelis claiming, “To the point of the children, even touching it could kill them. They don’t even have to ingest it.”
Fox News’ baseless fearmongering about fentanyl distracts from the real dangers posed by the opioid epidemic in the U.S. Instead of reporting on evidence-based approaches to lessening the epidemic’s harms to drug users, Fox News has spread lies about overdose risk while fearmongering about migrants.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on Fox News Channel for the term “fentanyl” (including misspellings) within close proximity of any of the terms “Halloween,” “kid,” “trick,” “treat,” “candy,” “rainbow,” or “colored” or any variation of either of the terms “child” or “bright” from August 30, 2022, when the Drug Enforcement Administration issued a press release about rainbow fentanyl to the public, through November 1, 2022.
We included segments, which we defined as instances when fentanyl and children’s Halloween festivities were the stated topic of discussion or when we found significant discussion of fentanyl and children’s Halloween festivities. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed fentanyl and children’s Halloween festivities with one another.
We also included passing mentions, which we defined as instances when a speaker in a multitopic segment mentioned fentanyl and children’s Halloween festivities without another speaker engaging with the comment, and teasers, which we defined as instances when the anchor or host promoted a segment about fentanyl and children’s Halloween festivities scheduled to air later in the broadcast.
We then reviewed all segments, mentions, and teasers for whether any speaker in the segment made a claim connecting fentanyl to children’s Halloween festivities. We defined a claim as a block of uninterrupted speech by a single speaker. For host monologues, correspondent reports, and headlines, we defined a claim as the speech between read quotes or played clips. We did not include the speech within read quotes or played clips unless a speaker in the segment positively affirmed that speech either directly before or after the quote was read or the clip was played.
We split Fox programs into “news” and “opinion” sides. We defined “news” programs as those with anchors, such as Bret Baier or Shannon Bream, while we defined “opinion” programs as those with hosts, such as Tucker Carlson or Laura Ingraham, at the helm. We used the designations from each anchor’s or host’s FoxNews.com author page. We also considered the format of the program; we defined those using a panel format, such as Outnumbered and The Five, as “opinion.”