How the Chicago Sun-Times and Fox News attacked Sen. Tammy Duckworth and other disabled veterans over a tax benefit

Fox News and a prominent local newspaper in Chicago both embarrassed themselves over the weekend, with articles complaining about a property tax exemption offered to disabled veterans in Illinois — and attempting to make Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who lost both her legs while serving as an Army helicopter pilot in Iraq, into a political target.

It began with a Chicago Sun-Times October 1 article, which opened with the provocative headline “You pay more in property taxes because 27,288 Cook County homeowners pay nothing,” with a photo of Duckworth underneath.

Of course, the same logic goes for any veterans benefit — whether it is pensions or VA hospitals — because everyone else will be paying more taxes in order to provide them. And “tone deaf” does not go far enough to describe the editorial decision to make a decorated veteran who lost both her legs in combat into the poster child for this purported injustice.

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The article further contained a complaint that this tax exemption, as a universal benefit for veterans, amounted to a “giveaway”:

“What we have done is to create all special sorts of categories — veterans, disabled people, senior citizens,” says Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, a Chicago tax watchdog group. “And all of those exemptions administered by the county basically undermine the integrity of the property tax system.

“We grant people relief regardless of their income situation, and the rest of the community has to pay more,” Msall says. “It’s unfair. It’s very hard to monitor. And it’s hard to authenticate who’s getting the value. Is it the needy people? Or is it a large giveaway?”

The 13th paragraph of the article revealed that the system is not entirely without means-testing: The benefit applies completely to veterans who have been certified by the VA as at least 70% disabled and for homes that are assessed up to a value of $775,000. (The piece also mentions that Duckworth’s house in Illinois has an assessed value of $252,250, and she pays property tax on a second house in Virginia that she and her husband bought in 2017, soon after her election to the U.S. Senate.)

Fox News picked up this story on Sunday with a seemingly scandalous headline on its website, “Democrat Tammy Duckworth hasn’t paid property tax on her Illinois home since 2015, report says,” making it appear as if Duckworth had been dodging taxes. The sub-headline further added: “The U.S. senator takes advantage of a county tax break for disabled veterans that applies regardless of income, a report says.”

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The far-right site Breitbart also picked up Fox’s story, with a headline declaring that Duckworth “has paid no property taxes on her Illinois home for six years.” The post claimed that Duckworth had “apparently found a number of loopholes and tax exemptions.”

Fox News has since changed the headline on its article to read: “Democrat Tammy Duckworth slammed for getting tax break on her Illinois home.” Ironically, the word “slammed” was also used in another headline about the online reaction to Fox News itself over its trivialization of Duckworth’s military service and disability status.

And that online response was swift, across the mainstream political spectrum:

Fox has previously launched shameless attacks against Duckworth. In 2020, prime-time host Tucker Carlson deceptively edited a video clip of her, then made an accusation: “These people actually hate America.”

In response, Duckworth asked Carlson if he wanted to “walk a mile in my legs and then tell me whether or not I love America?” The next night, Carlson responded by calling the senator a “coward” and a “fraud.”