Fox News and other media outlets owned by Rupert Murdoch are embarking on a sustained campaign against President Joe Biden’s pandemic relief proposals, seeking to fortify Republican opposition to the entire package by highlighting specific facets of economic aid and separating them from the wider context of the coronavirus’s impact on the economy.
Their latest target is museum funding, which is only a small portion of the wider $1.9 trillion proposal. And as with other examples, the spending requests are being attributed solely to Democrats, when in fact previous similar spending and requests for aid have already been going on during the Trump administration. And as a further clarification, these examples of arts and cultural spending make up around 0.025% of the total stimulus package.
Right-wing media also tend to pick and choose which elements of the economic rescue package get to be considered as “pandemic-related,” often glossing over the wider economic impact that COVID-19 has made in people’s lives. (For example, museums and the arts contribute to tourism and other jobs, but travel and even local foot traffic will have now taken a serious hit.)
The Wall Street Journal editorial board, a corporate cousin of Fox News, declared earlier this week that “most of the blowout is a list of longtime Democratic spending priorities flying under the false flag of Covid-19 relief.” As one example, it wrote, “don’t overlook the nearly $500 million for, as the CBO puts it, ‘grants to fund activities related to the arts, humanities, libraries and museums, and Native American language preservation.’”
And on Wednesday, Fox Business ran an article titled “Dems' $2T coronavirus relief bill includes $500M for museums, libraries,” listing $200 million proposed for the Institute of Museum and Library Services and $270 million for the National Endowment of the Arts. “Deficit-weary Republicans have criticized the size and scope of the legislation,” the article said, “arguing the aid should be better targeted to those who need it the most and slamming Democrats for including provisions unrelated to the pandemic.”
This outrage is also very similar to another manufactured right-wing media scandal, in which Fox figures claimed that a proposed $1.5 million outlay to shore up the lost revenue of a toll bridge that connects upstate New York to Canada is a “pet project” for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). In fact, the funding request originated from the Trump-era Department of Transportation, under then-Secretary Elaine Chao, who is also the wife of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
And likewise, pandemic-related economic relief for the National Endowment for the Arts also began last year, under the previous CARES Act. At the time, Trump-appointed NEA chair Mary Anne Carter said that the first relief bill’s $75 million allotment for the arts “does not come close to meeting the demand,” with the grants being distributed to a wide range of organizations across the country.
Carter wrote again toward the end of 2020 in the NEA’s American Artscape Magazine:
While I am enormously proud of the relief we were able to provide, and the speed at which we were able to provide it, everyone at the Arts Endowment is acutely aware that our supply of funding did not come close to meeting the demand for assistance. We received more than 3,100 eligible applications requesting $157 million, a sign of how every organization, big and small, urban and rural, is struggling right now. We’re hopeful that our agency will be included in any future relief bills that Congress might pass so that we can continue to assist our nation’s incredible arts workers.
None of these facts matter to Fox News, however. On Wednesday’s edition of America’s Newsroom, co-anchors Bill Hemmer and Dana Perino openly mocked a clip of Biden rhetorically asking what items people would cut from the package.
Perino mentioned aid to museums, before immediately asking people to not attack her on Twitter over this. “I mean, I like a museum as much as anybody else,” she said. “But it doesn't seem like an emergency, or stimulating to the economy.”
Though as explained above, museums are indeed struggling and had previously received their own allotments of aid during the Trump years, while the proposed funding increase was publicly requested by Carter under the Trump administration.
On Thursday’s edition of Fox & Friends, setting up an interview with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), co-host Brian Kilmeade touted that Republicans were “fighting back against the pork-filled bill, which includes funds for museums, high-speed rail projects — Silicon Valley, of course, is the place — and a bridge in New York for Chuck Schumer.”
And on Mornings with Maria Bartiromo, the Fox Business anchor hosted Rep. Henry Cuellar, a moderate Democrat from Texas who sought to explain the two-part nature of the bill as dealing with both the “health of the individual” and “health of the economy.”
Bartiromo replied: “But how do Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer explain almost $300 million for the humanities and arts, or another $100 million for museums?”
Cuellar responded that “we are providing funding for the arts — I mean, the arts are important” and that he was looking at the overall relief package as it would emerge.
And when Bartiromo further asked about concerns over budget deficits, again mentioning arts and humanities and museums, Cuellar responded that in the year before the pandemic, the annual deficit under former President Donald Trump had already doubled in comparison to the final year under President Barack Obama.