Update (10/4/22): This piece has been updated with additional segments from Fox News’ evening and prime-time programming.
On September 30, as public officials assessed the catastrophic devastation Hurricane Ian caused to large swaths of southwest Florida, Vice President Kamala Harris was asked to discuss global socioeconomic disparities in climate change impact during the Democratic National Committee’s Women’s Leadership Forum. As part of her response, Harris remarked: “It is our lowest income communities and our communities of color that are most impacted by these extreme conditions and impacted by issues that are not of their own making.”
Since then, right-wing politicians and media figures have been lying about the context of her remarks to falsely imply that the Biden administration planned to deny disaster relief to white victims of Hurricane Ian.
This white grievance narrative is inherently divisive and denies the reality that low-income communities and communities of color are on the frontlines of the climate crisis and have far fewer resources to adapt, evacuate, and rebuild before and after devastating disasters. These inequities are often compounded by discriminatory practices in receiving federal aid.
This narrative also denies the reality that a large number of poor, white Americans stand to benefit from an equity-focused approach to disaster relief. As NewsOne succinctly stated:
In the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, communities across Florida were slammed by the fierce storm. And without the express commitment to equity in the recovery process, flooded communities like an Orange County low-income housing complex that flooded or a North Fort Meyers trailer park might not actually get the support they need.
Everyone who suffered losses due to Hurricane Ian must be provided with the resources they need to rebuild and recover. Although Harris’ remarks were not specifically about the federal response to Hurricane Ian, her response cuts to the core of what equity is designed to achieve: Equity is not about exclusion; it's about ensuring that the most vulnerable populations are fully included in disaster relief and future climate adaptation and mitigation planning.
But the right doesn’t do nuance. And weaponizing the vice president’s anodyne comments about climate equity allows right-wing media to downplay or deny the role global warming is playing in extreme weather events, while running interference on behalf of the fossil fuel industry, the primary driver of the climate crisis. It also allows the network and its media allies to further rile up their viewership with culture war narratives ahead of the upcoming midterm election.
And both of those moves fit into Fox News' larger playbook. For much of 2022, the network has led the right-wing mediasphere in pushing a series of unrelenting narratives that sought to undermine the Biden administration’s climate actions, while absolving the fossil fuel industry from any wrongdoing.
Below is a nonexhaustive catalog of Fox News personalities and guests and other right-wing media figures advancing this false and cynical narrative:
- Fox News contributor Charlie Hurt: “It's pretty disgusting.” Appearing on The Ingraham Angle, Fox News contributor Charlie Hurt attacked Harris’ equity comments, asserting, “I think it's completely transparent and people see right through it. And when you have Democrats trying to politicize a natural disaster like this, whether it's by trying to justify their crazy power scam that they want global warming to provide them, or in their effort to try to trash their political opponents, using a tragedy like this, it's pretty disgusting.” [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 10/3/22]
- Fox host Tucker Carlson: “She has a new plan to distribute relief, of course, on the basis of race. … So this is immoral.” Fox host Tucker Carlson claimed that Harris planned to “distribute relief, of course, on the basis of race,” before continuing, “So this is immoral. Not one thing ever in American life should be distributed on the basis of race. Ever. However, as long as we’re becoming a two-tiered society with a privileged class and an underclass, how about rewarding good behavior? Why not give priority to Americans who pay their taxes? Follow the law? Raise decent children who don’t join gangs or sell drugs or spray paint things or shoot people?” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 10/3/22]
- Fox host Bret Baier: “President Biden and his team are trying to clean up – at least rhetorically – from a self-inflicted wound by Vice President Kamala Harris.” Fox host Bret Baier accused the White House of trying to spin the vice president’s “self-inflicted wound” before adding, “She made a comment that most interpreted as her saying that federal aid to hurricane victims should be distributed through the prism of race and equity to make up for injustices in years past.” [Fox News, Special Report, 10/3/22]
- Fox host Jesse Watters: “Kamala Harris picking the wrong time to go woke after Hurricane Ian wreaked havoc on Florida. … Is the vice president saying white Floridians should get their hurricane relief last?” During October 3, 2022, episode of The Five, co-host Jesse Watters accused the vice president of “using this tragedy to push her radical ideology'' and later claimed that “the White House is trying to clean up her mess.” The discourse further devolved into a panel discussion that featured co-host Greg Gutfeld waxing philosophical about equity. [Fox News, The Five, 10/3/22]
- Fox host Kayleigh McEnany: “At a time when America came together — perhaps one of the most unifying times in our country is after a natural disaster, when the whole country comes together — she chooses to invoke such hateful, divisive, race-based rhetoric.” During the intro to Outnumbered, host McEnany attacked Harris for her comments on equity and falsely claimed she “invok[ed] such hateful, divisive, race-based rhetoric.” Later, during a panel discussion, co-host Harris Faulkner added, “Because what she’s doing is she is following Biden's footsteps in terms of dividing us along a racial line for votes.” [Fox News, Outnumbered, 10/3/22]
- Fox host Harris Faulkner: “Vice president Kamala Harris willing to do the unthinkable, divide Hurricane Ian victims by race. Was she trying to say she would prefer to help the ones she chooses first?” Before running down the damage Hurricane Ian did to Florida, Faulkner falsely claimed that Harris “was willing to do the unthinkable, divide Hurricane Ian victims by race.” This led to a longer segment that collected right-wing reaction to Harris’ statement about equity, which correspondent Peter Doocy described as “race-based relief.” [Fox News, The Faulkner Focus, 10/3/22]
- Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC): “It is incredibly racist. Can you imagine someone saying the exact opposite, that only whites and men should get hurricane resources first? I mean, that’s crazy town.” Appearing on Sunday Night in America, Republican South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace responded to a loaded question about Harris’ equity comments by calling her statement, “incredibly racist” and added, “The fact that the vice president of the United States is making those kinds of comments shows a lack of leadership. … We shouldn’t see it through the lens of color like the vice president does.” [Fox News, Sunday Night in America, 10/2/22]
- Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL): “Now is not the time to be talking about who gets what based upon where you started. It's about helping people, making sure they get the resources they need to them as quickly as possible, helping them recover as quickly as possible. That's what matters. That other stuff can wait for another day.” In response to a question about Harris’ equity comments from Sunday Morning Futures host Maria Bartiromo, Republican Florida Rep. Byron Donalds claimed that now was the wrong time to discuss who has access to disaster recovery. “That other stuff can wait for another day. Obviously, we're going to have elections about that stuff in about a month or so,” he said. [Fox News, Sunday Morning Futures, 10/2/22]
- Fox host Will Cain: “Unfortunately, for many of those in power, relief isn’t going to be something equally distributed, because of course now our focus is not on equality but is on equity. In other words: racism.” During the October 1 episode of Fox & Friends Saturday, host Will Cain claimed that “equity” is another word for “racism.” Later he expounded upon his understanding of equity: “What she went on to say is we want to distribute funds essentially according to — I don’t know exactly how she defined equity, underprivileged communities. In essence, what she would say — what she is saying — is Brown and Black. What she is saying is hurricane relief needs to be distributed according to the color of your skin.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends Saturday, 10/1/22]
- Daily Caller: “Kamala Harris Says Disaster Relief Should Be ‘Based On Equity.’”
- The Daily Wire: “Kamala Harris Blasted For Pushing ‘Racist’ Policy In Response To Hurricane Damage.”
- FoxNews.com: “VP Kamala Harris says hurricane recovery should take 'equity' into account.”
- The New York Post: “VP Harris slammed for saying Hurricane Ian aid will be ‘based on equity.’”
- Newsmax.com: “VP Harris: Hurricane Ian Aid 'Based on Equity' and Race.”
- One America News’ Caitlin Sinclair:
- Conservative media figure Sadanand Dhume:
- Right-wing commentator Ian Miles Cheong:
- Right-wing personality Ryan Fournier:
- Entrepreneur Elon Musk: