Fox News zeroes in on a new target: the homeless

Ahead of 2020, Fox News dehumanizes the homeless in an attempt to boost Republicans

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

Fox News has recently increased coverage of the problem of homelessness in America’s cities, using the issue as an excuse to chastise Democratic politicians and criticize proposals aimed at helping undocumented immigrants.

The network has painted a grim picture of American cities as “almost Third World in their decay,” facing “a complete breakdown of the basic needs of civilization,” and filled with “drugged-out zombies chasing barefooted babies.” Fox has largely focused on the issue in cities on the West Coast -- mostly focusing on cities in liberal California, with a few segments on Denver; Seattle; and Portland and Eugene, OR. Every city Fox highlighted has at least one thing in common: Democratic leaders. And the problem Fox identified in each city is more or less the same -- the Democratic leaders and their “rich friends” prefer to push “social justice initiatives,” “socialist solutions,” and “liberal compassion” instead of properly addressing mental illness or engaging in punitive crackdowns on homelessness (Fox's preference). One Fox host even suggested the solution in Los Angeles is to “bulldoze the 50-block radius” and “institutionalize everybody.”

Despite the attention Fox has been paying to the issue, the network has been silent about the Trump administration’s lack of serious interest in tackling America’s homelessness crisis. President Donald Trump’s White House “has twice proposed eliminating the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, which coordinates efforts among more than a dozen federal agencies.” He has also proposed additional work requirements for federal housing aid and food stamps, and Trump’s tax reform bill “weakened the low-income tax credit, which is the primary tool we have to promote affordable housing.”

Instead, Fox hosts, anchors, and guests have repeatedly used degrading and dehumanizing terms to describe the homelessness problem and thus to attack Democratic politicians such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Some Fox figures have tried to suggest that the real victims of homelessness are not homeless people themselves, but the “normal people” who are confronted with the problem in public parks and libraries. Others have tried to contrast the issue with unrelated Democratic proposals to provide resources for undocumented immigrants, implying that it’s not fair to allocate resources to other marginalized people while homelessness still persists. One Fox guest discussing homelessness in Los Angeles claimed that Democrats “want to take that nationwide in 2020 with this presidential election,” and another said that LA’s homelessness is “a template of what the Democrats want to continue.”

It is clear that Fox plans to make this topic a part of its strategy ahead of 2020 by using the real and serious problem of homelessness to demonize Democrats and fearmonger about socialism. Below is a rundown of some of the network’s recent attacks:

Hannity began an April 3 segment about crime and homelessness by saying that “liberal cities all across the country” are in a “growing huge crisis as a result of failed policies implemented by the Democratic leaders.Hannity stressed that these cities have “one commonality” -- “This is happening in big cities where they have massive amounts of taxation.” His guest Pam Bondi claimed that “Democrats abandoned our inner cities, our most vulnerable populations, a long time ago when they started talking about a centralized government, their socialist solutions,” warning that “they want to take that nationwide in 2020 with this presidential election.” Fox contributor Mike Huckabee said that the problem of homelessness in Los Angeles and other cities “is Third World stuff,” pointing to “rat infestation” and “bubonic plague.” Hannity repeated that there is homelessness “a mile from Nancy Pelosi’s, you know, gated community,” asking why “she can’t raise money from all those rich San Francisco liberals that she lives next to.” Huckabee agreed, stressing the “hypocrisy of liberalism, the insanity of liberalism” and adding that “this is a discussion about whether or not we're going to survive as a civilization if we keep going in this direction.” [Fox News, Hannity, 6/3/19]

On The Five, co-host Jesse Watters described homeless people in Los Angeles as “drugged-out zombies chasing barefooted babies through piles of garbage with hypodermic needles and fire everywhere.” He then claimed that “you only have one solution” to homelessness in the city: “You bulldoze the 50-block radius and you institutionalize everybody and detoxify them, and then you let them out.” [Fox News, The Five, 6/3/19]

On Fox & Friends, co-host Ainsley Earhardt introduced “shocking photos" that “show just how bad the conditions are getting in downtown Los Angeles.” Guest Jim Breslow complained that he has to deal with homelessness in his community, “which is an affluent community.” The chyron during the segment read “LA plagued with trash, rats, and typhoid fever.” The segment ended with Breslow criticizing California’s Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom for appearing “to be more focused on global issues” before praising Trump’s “America First” agenda. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 6/3/19]

On The Ingraham Angle, guest Dr. Drew Pinsky described Los Angeles’ homelessness and its related health issues as “a complete breakdown of the basic needs of civilization.” Pinsky fearmongered that he is “hearing from experts that bubonic plague is likely -- it’s already here.” He described the situation as “medieval” and said “Third World countries are insulted if they are accused of being like [Los Angeles].” Host Laura Ingraham used Los Angeles’ homelessness to fearmonger about undocumented immigrants. [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 5/30/19]

On his prime-time Fox show, Sean Hannity aired a segment in which Fox News correspondent Lawrence Jones spoke to people in Portland, OR, about homelessness. Hannity used the segment to attack liberal politicians in other West Coast cities, pointing to the “beautiful, walled, gated community of Nancy Pelosi.” His guest, Pam Bondi, chastised Pelosi “and all her rich friends” for not doing more to address mental health and drug problems in San Francisco, such as building more shelters and public bathroom facilities. His other guest, Emily Compagno, complained that the “compassionate approach” to homelessness is “paralyzing these cities” and “wasting our tax dollars.” Compagno added that “the sufferers are not only those homeless” but also “the constituents whose tax dollars are being absolutely wasted.” [Fox News, Hannity, 5/30/19]

On Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade criticized Pelosi for contributing to the “homeless capital of the world, where drugs run rampant.” Jones chimed in that there are “needles all over the ground,” and Kilmeade added that San Francisco “basically ha[s] a sewer for a sidewalk.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/29/19]

In a “straight news” report on America’s Newsroom, correspondent Dan Springer described a “social justice initiative” in Seattle that requires “every department of city government look at how their policies affect the poor and people of color.” He claimed that “critics say it’s simply led to people skating justice,” pointing to Seattle’s homelessness problem. Springer said that “one likely reason” for the city’s large homeless population is because “Seattle doesn’t enforce its anti-camping law, so there are thousands of people living in tents, many of them addicted to drugs, which are often used in public.” He said that because prosecutors “won’t charge people with possession of less than a gram” of drugs, there is “no fear of jail time” and people are “not going to get hauled into court for getting caught not paying a bus fare and then not paying the fine” -- a policy that he admitted disproportionately hurt minorities and poorer people. [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 5/24/19]

On America’s Newsroom, a panel discussed a New York Times opinion piece on homelessness. Daily Caller News Foundation Editor-in-Chief Chris Bedford claimed Seattle’s homelessness problem is because “the police are not enforcing the laws.” Fox Business host Cheryl Casone said that in San Francisco, she was “appalled to find out they were actually giving out checks to the homeless there,” adding, “That’s a liberal policy that has obviously failed that city.” [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 5/23/19; The New York Times, 5/22/19]

While discussing health care on Fox & Friends, Kilmeade and Fox Nation host Tomi Lahren pitted homeless people in California against undocumented immigrants. Kilmeade told Lahren that he “hear[s] there’s a massive homeless issue in California,” but the state’s population is “making a choice” by saying that “illegals are more important than the people on the streets who obviously need medical attention.” Lahren pointed to “veterans dying on VA waiting lists” and said, “But yet, they’re arguing over how much more they want to spend on illegal immigrants. It’s absolutely infuriating.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/22/19]

On Lou Dobbs Tonight, Dobbs said that undocumented immigrants “should be thrilled” because “they are getting more benefits in many cases than destitute Americans.” His guest Michael Goodwin asked, “Where is the compassion for the Americans?” adding, “This is very much why Donald Trump won in 2016 -- the same dynamics of people putting other countries first.” [Fox Business, Lou Dobbs Tonight, 5/21/19]

On Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson aired a five-day series titled “Homeless in America,” in which his producer Charles Cougar went on an eight-day trip to visit seven cities in America. On May 16, Carlson discussed a Wall Street Journal article about homeless people living on boats in San Francisco, “and not quaint boats” or “yachts,” but “a ragtag flotilla.” He then turned to a segment about homelessness in Eugene, OR, where Cougar complained that while he was out to get breakfast at an “upscale bakery,” he saw a “homeless man rifling through a trash can." He claimed Eugene’s “permissive cultura, its temperate climate, and generous social services attract vagrants and addicts from around the country.” The segment also showed b-roll footage of unsuspecting homeless people in Oregon and Carlson described citizens who are not homeless as “victims” of homelessness. [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 5/16/19; Wall Street Journal, 5/16/19]

On May 15, Carlson argued homelessness is the result of liberal leaders backing off prosecuting petty crime and described Seattle as “a kind of mecca for drug addicts.” Carlson shared “a video of a man passed out in a popular park,” a picture of “urine on a public staircase near City Hall,” and another picture of “human waste a few steps above that.” He claims this is because Seattle’s leaders have become “more lenient on petty crime” and that “because of their liberal attitudes and the mild climate, the city is a magnet for vagrants.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 5/15/19]

On May 14, Carlson began his segment by saying that “California has more homeless than any other state,” but state leaders “don’t seem to care.” He berated the “leaders of the state of California” for not doing more to curb “this horrifying problem” of homelessness. He blamed California’s “strict building codes and environmental regulations” for the state’s homeless problem. [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 5/14/19]

On May 13, Carlson described the situation in cities “across the West” as being “almost Third World in their decay and disorganization and the chaos.”  His series began with San Francisco, describing its “flourishing drug scene” before airing footage of homeless people, including “junkies shooting up in broad daylight and homeless people wielding makeshift knives.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 5/13/19]

On Hannity, Hannity claimed that “liberal cities are in a major crisis” and framed the homelessness issue as “liberal compassion in action.” Hannity emphasized the homelessness “within walking distance to Pelosi’s home and her office.” Like others on Fox, his guest Pam Bondi blamed San Francisco’s homelessness problem on city leaders’ decision not to prosecute petty crimes. Bondi and Hannity’s other guest, radio host Larry Elder, agreed that nonprofits and charity groups are best equipped to deal with homelessness, “not the government.” [Fox News, Hannity, 5/13/19]

On The Ingraham Angle, host Laura Ingraham complained of “hundreds of thousands of homeless on the street, including too many just a couple of blocks from where we broadcast,” to criticize Democratic plans to provide health care for undocumented immigrants who pay taxes. [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 5/13/19]

On The Ingraham Angle, a chyron during a segment on homelessness claimed Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is “tackl[ing] homelessness with murals.” Guest Shirley Husar called Garcetti a “joke” and pointed to mental illness and diseases in homeless populations. She claimed that in terms of its approach to homelessness, Los Angeles is “a template of what the Democrats want to continue to further." [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 5/9/19]

On Fox & Friends, Trump 2020 campaign advisory board member Jason Meister criticized liberal cities for struggling to sell real estate. Meister began by pointing out that what all these cities have in common is that they “are run by Democrats.” Meister claimed that “the economic and policy environment right now in New York City, run by incompetent leadership like Mayor de Blasio and Gov. Cuomo,” is “forcing high net-worth individuals who create the jobs” out of the city, increasing homelessness. Doocy also pointed to the fact that the three cities mentioned in the segment -- San Francisco, New York, and Washington, D.C. -- are “sanctuary cities”; his guest agreed that it “adds to that environment” that is “anti-business, anti-success, anti-wealth, anti-job creation.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/1/19]

On Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson complained that homeless people are “blocking sidewalks [and] filling parks inside of what were once America’s most beautiful cities.” He claimed that homelessness is preventing families from going to parks in these cities, pointing to Denver as his example. He said Denver is “not yet world famous for its homelessness problem, but that may change,” pointing to Denver’s proposed “right to survive” initiative -- a law that would “allow any individual to engage in activities, such as resting and sheltering oneself in a non-obstructive manner, in outdoor public places.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 5/1/19; Ballotpedia, accessed June 2019]

In April, Carlson claimed that “America’s homeless epidemic is getting worse by the day,” chastising politicians on “the left” for “virtue signaling.” He pointed to Denver’s potential “right to survive” proposal as an example, which would make it legal for homeless people to live in tents on public property. He claimed that “normal people” are the actual victims of homelessness and that these laws are aimed to “make their lives even more unpleasant,” adding, “If only families had a political party that was looking out for them.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 4/29/19]

On Special Report with Bret Baier, anchor Baier aired Fox national correspondent William La Jeunesse’s report on homelessness in Los Angeles, describing “rotting food, trash, used syringes, [and] human waste” in the city. La Jeunesse described the health risks to police officers interacting with homeless people and reported that “homeless crime [is] up 50% according to LAPD.” The chyron during the segment depicted homelessness as a “festering danger” and a “disease threat” and described homeless people themselves as an “intractable burden,” claiming that the “needs of 55,000 homeless strain nearby communities.” [Fox News, Special Report with Bret Baier, 6/3/19]

Video by Miles Le