Update (2/10/22): According to a new Daily Beast report, the Department of Health and Human Services has confirmed that the claim that it will provide crack pipes in its safe smoking kits is false.
Conservative media are using President Joe Biden's harm reduction program, which would provide community support to fight addiction, to lob attacks at racial equity, presidential son Hunter Biden, and those suffering from addiction by focusing on a single element of the grant, which they say will “fund crack pipe distribution.” At the same time, right-wing media similarly attacked the Department of Justice’s recent comments suggesting it would be open to safe injection sites.
Fox News in particular has prolifically covered the stories. The network first mentioned the safe injection site story on the February 7 edition of Hannity and covered the grant program the next morning. Since Hannity’s show aired, Fox has covered one or both stories in at least 16 more segments, according to Media Matters’ internal database.
The Harm Reduction Program Grant, which ended its application process on Monday, is run by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the Department of Health and Human Services, and is part of the Biden administration’s overdose prevention strategy announced last October.
In an attempt to address rising cases of drug overdose in the country, the grant funds “services or practices that have a demonstrated evidence base and that are appropriate for the population(s) of focus.” Alongside funding community prevention programs, infectious disease testing kits, and overdose reversal medication, the grant also funds syringes and safe smoking supplies, a strategy that has consistently proven effective in mitigating the spread of disease among people suffering from addiction.
The smoking kits right-wing media figures have widely mocked, which have received the endorsement of health professionals and some law enforcement, do not actually include federally funded pipes, according to a recent press release from HHS. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also addressed what she called “inaccurate reporting” about the smoking kits during a briefing, saying crack pipes “were never part of the kit.”
The grant gives priority to applicants who provide services to underserved communities, which includes people in rural communities, people with disabilities, and those adversely affected by poverty. However, right-wing media’s coverage has emphasized the idea that the grant would prioritize applicants who provide services to communities of color and LGBTQ+ people.
Right-wing media have also focused on a separate story from The Associated Press that the DOJ is considering allowing safe injection sites, “safe havens for people to use heroin and other narcotics with protections against fatal overdoses.” The department's position — which is in line with a growing acceptance that the locations have been shown to decrease incidences of overdose — was similarly derided by right-wing commentators who claimed it amounted to the administration promoting drug use.
Rather than provide this necessary context for the grant and policy proposal, right-wing media sought to mock the programs, using the stories to attack the Biden administration’s commitment to racial equity, immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border, and Hunter Biden’s struggle with addiction.
Here is how conservative news reacted to the programs that would provide life-saving services:
Right-wing media claimed the harm reduction grant and safe injection sites would make drug use worse
- On the February 7 edition of Hannity, the Fox host sarcastically called the safe injection site proposal “brilliant” and said it was going to “enable people to slowly commit suicide.”
- The next day, Hannity misleadingly framed the grant, saying, “Biden’s HHS is going to distribute crack pipes for free to addicts.” Hannity also said, “Maybe the government's money would be better used to maybe open up a treatment facility and therapy to end the addiction rather than to offer a means to facilitate the addiction,” ignoring the fact that the grant would finance both counseling for people suffering from addiction and staff for treatment facilities.
- America Reports co-anchor John Roberts started a segment on the DOJ's comments by saying, “You bring the drugs. Uncle Sam provides the needles. And if you need help, friendly agents are on hand to make sure you safely get high.” He described the program as the Biden administration “funding crack pipes for equity: a program making sure racial minorities and LGBTQ folks are first in line for help when it comes to getting high.”
- Later on in the program, vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police union Joe Gamaldi said that injection sites are evidence that “we are seeing urban decay in real time.”
- An article for The Daily Caller claimed the administration was “planning to facilitate drug use” with the harm reduction program.
- The Blaze published a piece titled “Report: Biden admin to send crack pipes to drug addicts to advance 'racial equity,'” which called the harm reduction grant “baffling” and quoted an official from a police union who called it “an enabling campaign”.
- An article from conservative Canadian site The Post Millennial said the grant program “joins others that facilitate drug use by drug users by providing the means for them to use drugs.”
- Fox & Friends First co-host Todd Piro complained that taxpayer dollars should “be going into treatment centers, not safe injection sites.” Piro went on to say that the U.S. is turning into “a country of drugs all of a sudden,” connecting safe injection sites and the HHS harm reduction program to drug trafficking at the southern border. Co-host Carley Shimkus also fearmongered about New York City’s legal drug use centers, claiming local businesses saw “a big problem with homelessness and a lot of issues and crime around those areas.”
Right-wing media and figures attacked racial equity, tying the program to Biden’s immigration policy
- On February 8's Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson opened his show with a lengthy segment on the program and the DOJ story, describing the grant as “Biden’s latest idea is to pay Black people to smoke more crack” and claiming the smoking kits would contain “Biden-approved pipes that will allow beneficiaries of the equity agenda to smoke crack cocaine as well as crystal meth.” He went on to assert that the government was intentionally ignoring opioid overdoses among white Americans, which he claimed was a more widespread problem.
In reality, the grant program is not limited to people of color and would in fact provide funding to address the opioid epidemic — treatment and education for opioid consumption is cited numerous times in the grant while crack cocaine is not mentioned once. Carlson also used the program to attack immigration, saying, “So with equity in mind, the White House plans to continue allowing as much fentanyl as possible to come into this country through Mexico.”
- During the February 8 edition of Hannity, Fox’s Dan Bongino tried to equate the program with immigration, saying, “What happens when we make it easier to do drugs? Maybe more people would do drugs. Like that's what second order thinking entails. I mean, we have a country of two Americas right now. You're an illegal immigrant? Get on a plane with an arrest warrant. No problem at all.”
- During a segment on Fox & Friends, co-host Ainsley Earhardt suggested the program “is going to be a disaster.” Fox News contributor Leo Terrell commented on the racial equity component of the program meant to prioritize underserved communities, saying, “Racial equity is a code for affirmative action, low expectations.” Terrell claimed the program would “help encourage drug use in minority communities” and that only drug dealers would benefit from the program.
- Far-right commentator Ian Miles Cheong tweeted, “Why doesn't Biden just legalize crack instead of giving crack pipes to black people.”
- Far-right media personality Sebastian Gorka tweeted a link to an article from the Washington Free Beacon on the story and added, “They really want to destroy black America.”
- America’s Newsroom’s co-anchor Bill Hemmer combined coverage on the harm reduction program with narratives about the U.S.-Mexico border: “While smugglers have drugs pouring across that southern border, the Biden administration now moving to make it easier for drug users to light up and get high on crack and crystal meth.”
- On Newsmax’s John Bachman Now, co-anchor Bianca de la Garza introduced the news about the grant program, saying the “Biden White House is going to fund the distribution of crack pipes to drug addicts” and asking her guest, conservative activist Jesse Holguin, if it was “more of a setback for Latinos and minorities trying to get ahead.” Holguin responded that “maybe Hunter Biden's given them their advice” and later asked, “So what's next? Are they going to offer to give them crack too?”
Right-wing media and figures attacked Hunter Biden
- The Washington Free Beacon published an article titled “Biden Admin To Fund Crack Pipe Distribution To Advance ‘Racial Equity’” that ended with a needless reference to his son: “President Biden's son Hunter is a longtime user of crack cocaine.”
- The Blaze’s Andrew Wilkow tweeted a link to the article, calling the HHS proposal, “The Hunter plan.”
- Conservative columnist David Marcus tweeted a link to the Free Beacon article covering the issue and added, “Finally an area where Hunter has some actual expertise!”
- On Newsmax’s The Chris Salcedo Show, host Salcedo dubbed the harm reduction program “the Hunter Biden initiative” and referred to his history of addiction and the consequences it has on his life.
- An article for Townhall criticized the program, saying Biden was “perhaps inspired by his son Hunter.”
- An Infowars article posited that “maybe Biden will tap his degenerate criminal crackhead son Hunter Biden to lead this important ‘health equity’ initiative!"
- Newsmax’s Grant Stinchfield said the program offers proof that Hunter Biden is the “mystery person” controlling the White House because of his struggles with substance abuse. Stinchfield attacked Biden, saying, “We know how much Hunter loves crack pipes.” Since the program prioritizes underserved communities, Stinchfield described it as “the Democrats’ plan” to “give all the Black people and gay people crack pipes for free.”
In addition to conservative media’s egregious coverage of safe injection sites and the harm reduction grant, chyrons from Newsmax and Fox News segments bolstered the networks’ outrageous claims and minimized the gravity of substance abuse.