Update (11/21/19): This piece has been updated with additional information.
Fox News’ ugly, dehumanizing coverage of homelessness in American cities has increased in recent months following reports that President Donald Trump plans to crack down on homeless camps in California, possibly forcing inhabitants into government facilities.
Fox News has aired hundreds of segments mentioning homelessness in 2019, including more than 100 since Trump’s proposed crackdown was first reported in September, according to Media Matters' internal database. Fox’s segments on homelessness often paint a dire picture of U.S. cities, which have been described on air as “almost Third World in their decay” and as facing “a complete breakdown of the basic needs of civilization.” The network’s dehumanizing approach to covering the issue was exemplified by the feature story on Fox’s website on November 12:
The site eventually dropped the “zombie” language from its home page, but Fox’s laser focus on homelessness in recent months is particularly concerning given the symbiotic relationship between Trump and the network.
While it is true that rising homelessness is an important issue, Fox appears to be more interested in scapegoating homelessness as a convenient way to demonize Democratic politicians and to fearmonger about liberal policies. Fox’s approach to covering homelessness was summarized by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson on America’s Newsroom, where he said, “The problem exists principally because they have policies that allow it to exist.” Though Fox has focused on a range of cities in its homelessness coverage, almost every story has two things in common: Democratic leaders and their “socialist solutions.” The goal of Fox’s near-daily coverage appears to be furthering the rural-urban divide among viewers, creating resentment toward Democrats over their approach to homelessness, and driving an overall sense that liberal cities are full of “filth.”
It’s clear from the language used in its coverage that Fox is hardly sympathetic toward people experiencing homelessness. Fox personalities have regularly referred to the homeless population as “zombies” while lamenting the experiences of the “normal people” who have to look at them. One guest on Fox & Friends complained that people think “it is OK to just live on the street,” while another guest called for homeless people to be “reprimanded.” Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt complained that California is “allowing” homeless people to stay in their cars, while Fox host Jesse Watters offered the suggestion to “bulldoze the 50-block radius, and you institutionalize everybody.”
Fox’s coverage is particularly relevant given the Trump administration’s interest in taking government action against homeless people. In September, after it was reported that Trump “has ordered White House officials to launch a sweeping effort to address homelessness in California,” Fox Business host Stuart Varney said “there has been talk” of “literally taking [homeless people] off the streets, and putting them into some kind of government — I hesitate to use the word ‘camps’ — but government facilities.”
So far in November, Fox has cheered Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to clean out homeless camps in Austin, Texas, covering the story across multiple days and numerous programs in both the network’s “news” and opinion divisions. Fox has also extensively covered Las Vegas’ recent decision to fine homeless people up to $1,000 or jail them for up to six months for sleeping on some streets. Fox & Friends First interviewed the mayor pro tem, who insisted that the ordinance is not about “criminalizing homeless” but about “safety, health, and sanitation.” After airing a clip of the interview on Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade agreed that it’s not a matter “of having a hard heart,” but a “matter of public policy.”
The Washington Post reported on November 21 that “White House officials will soon present President Trump with a plan to crack down on homelessness in California.” According to the report, the plan aims to target homelessness in Los Angeles and potentially includes “moving homeless people from specific areas” and “repurposing existing federal property.” According to the Post, “The plan is expected to be shown to Trump within the coming weeks, officials said, perhaps as soon as next week.”
The report comes days after a senior federal homelessness official, Matthew Doherty, was told “the administration no longer wishes to have me.” Career HUD staff were told that Doherty “was not willing to compromise his principles and follow the Trump administration’s lead on homelessness policy,” according to the Post. The reporting also comes as career officials at HUD have expressed concerns that Trump is trying to exploit the issue of homelessness for political gain while ignoring its causes.