Intro: This is Citations Needed with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.
Nima Shirazi: Welcome to Citations Needed a podcast on the media, power, PR and the history of bullshit. I am Nima Shirazi.
Adam Johnson: I’m Adam Johnson.
Nima: Thank you for listening everyone. You can follow the show on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed and become a supporter of the show through Patreon.com/CitationsNeededPodcast with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson. All your help through Patreon not only keeps the show going, which it absolutely does, but it is so appreciated by us and we cannot do the show without it, so thank you.
Adam: Yeah, and if you haven’t feel free to rate us and subscribe on iTunes or what’s now called Apple Podcasts, as the kids are calling it these days. Definitely do that if you can.
Nima: On last week’s episode, we discussed how the local news media tends to cover homelessness and unhoused people in general and the really grotesque caricature that it portrays versus the virtuous, noble, often entrepreneurial every man. On today’s episode, we’re going to continue discussing homelessness in the media and focus specifically on the other half of what we talked about last week, this incitement to violence pushed by Fox News. Fox News has been running a near nonstop anti-homelessness propaganda campaign for well over 20 years now.
Adam: In the first episode we detailed how real estate plays a part in local media’s awful coverage of the homeless in addition to the background noise or the kind of general default position of centering whiteness and white property owners. And while it’s true News Corp and it’s former CEO Rupert Murdoch own considerable real estate interests — namely a $57 million penthouse on Madison One and Flat Iron — Fox News’ interest in demagoguing homelessness is way more ideological than it is sort of a direct line of corporate influence or the influence of advertisers. It is part of a broader right-wing project, especially during the Trump years, of using homelessness as a bludgeon against liberalism.
Nima: Later on the show, we’ll be speaking with Madeline Peltz, a writer and researcher at Media Matters for America.
Madeline Peltz: Establishment Democrats, especially in DC, have no communicable vision for solving poverty, inequality and homelessness, but what this does is it creates a vacuum of leadership where conservative media is able to step in and make these bad faith appeals that ultimately our justifications for imposing lethal violence on people in cities who are experiencing housing insecurity, poverty, addiction, food insecurity or whatever it is.
Nima: The media landscape has changed a lot since journalist and photographer Jacob Riis was first chronicling the lives of New York City’s poor and homeless in the late 19th century. Back then there was also a kind of social reform, albeit patronizing and paternalistic, but a social reform aspect to this kind of journalism showing how, in Riis’ own work, the other half lives. What we have now, especially in the form of Fox News, is something completely different. It is something that we are actually going to break down on today’s episode into three common messaging tropes. The first is this: the homeless are lazy, gadabout mooches who could work but choose not to, they are a visual blight that threatens women and children and they ought to be locked up. This is consistent with Fox News’ long running “Entitlement Nation” welfare campaign that they have been doing for decades.
Adam: Yeah. The second trope one sees is that rampant homelessness in urban areas is an indictment on liberalism. So every major city is associated with Democrats or “liberalism” — e.g. Latinos, Jews, Black people, which really was “liberalism” is code for here — to Fox News they run some, I guess, Greek city state where the economy us isolated just to New York so if like the Democrat’s the mayor therefore homelessness and those who gravitate to New York City or Los Angeles or Denver, whatever the city is, it is not an indictment on Colorado or New York state as such, but it’s an indictment on the city itself and that if you vote for Democrats that this will happen to your town. So of course, never mind that Republican controlled cities also have homelessness. And never mind that homeless people, of course, generally gravitate towards larger urban areas, which due to other factors tend to be more liberal, that homelessness and this sort of visceral disgust that homelessness has meant to solicit, which for most Fox viewers it does, is meant to provide a kind of id to the larger conservative agenda that if you, in a very visceral and very basic gut way, if you support liberals, this is the future that they hold for you. And that is, I think, the sort of central aim of the anti-homelessness demagoguery beyond the normal kind of joy with which one has on the right of just picking on the poor in general.
Nima: The third trope is that of the solution. And the solution is always police. More policing, stricter laws, more raids, more sweeps, wiping the streets clean by a police force, empowered to take aggressive action against the poor. And so what we see is these three tropes played over and over and over in different permutations, different foregrounding and backgrounding. Sometimes it’s policing first, sometimes it’s anti-liberal mayor hysteria, but you see this again and again on Fox News. The good folks at Media Matters for America have been chronicling this for years. And recently in June of 2019 Media Matters put out a collection of a lot of Fox News coverage of the homeless in an article by Courtney Hagle and in a really staggering montage video cut together by Miles Le.
[Begin Fox News Montage Clip]
Tucker Carlson: America’s homeless epidemic is getting worse by the day you see it everywhere. But instead of fixing the problem, the left’s preferred solution is virtue signaling. A firsthand look at the city’s homeless crisis. Amazingly, it’s in every liberal city in the country. The Bay Area has let itself become a haven for vagrants at the expense of the few normal people who still live there.
Fabio: I remember being 30 years ago in Africa, Africa doesn’t look like that.
Pam Bondi: It’s going to hurt kids. Kids are gonna get hurt. She has to know that with the hypodermic needles, with the drug issues, with the homelessness.
Brian Kilmeade: The homeless capital of the world where drugs run rampant.
Lawrence Jones: Needles all over the ground.
Brian Kilmeade: Where you basically have a sewer for a sidewalk.
Jesse Watters: We saw drugged out zombies chasing barefooted babies through piles of garbage with hypodermic needles and fire everywhere.
Tucker Carlson: A homeless man hungry for dinner, digging through a trash can. We saw junkies shooting up in broad daylight and homeless people wielding makeshift knives. One threatened to stab our camera crew because we were filming there.
Jim Breslow: The latest example of that is this trash that has been piling up in downtown Los Angeles, uh, resulting in typhus and so on. Uh, the cause of it appears to be the tremendous increase in homelessness.
Tucker Carlson: Homeless encampments suddenly seem everywhere in this country, blocking sidewalks, filling parks, inside of what were once America’s most beautiful cities, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle. And they’re living on boats and not quaint boats off Sausalito or yachts.
Fabio: Third world country from 30 years ago look like California right now.
Mike Huckabee: This is third world stuff. When you have that level of rat infestation, bubonic plague for heaven sakes, that stuff was wiped out decades ago.
Katie Hopkins: It’s like nothing else on Earth. I’ve been to some migrant camps, but this is worse than that. It is one big sea of human waste and effluent and rats and filth, and the number of rats there just outweighs the population.
Tucker Carlson: Environmentally friendly cities seem to be the dirtiest filled with garbage and needles and the scattered debris of homeless encampments. Hmm, irony.
Adam: Yeah, apologize you had to listen to that.
Nima: By the way, the guy with the accent talking about California, it was, in fact, Fabio.
Adam: Fabio noted expert on poverty and houselessness. Fabio. So jokes aside, obviously that’s very disgusting shit just on its face. There is a focus on the sort of apocalyptic urgency of it. Right? “Increasingly” “more and more” “third world” nation. When Katie Hopkins, the British right-winger, says “human waste” she’s not saying this is waste from humans. She is saying this is human waste. Humans themselves are garbage, rats everywhere.
Nima: Right. Disposable people.
Adam: Yeah. There’s this idea that there’s this surplus population of vagrants and that it is best we just sort of wash them away. Now, like we talked about in the first episode, this of course dovetails with the interest of the rich. The rich in general have an incentive to not just ameliorate their guilty conscience to move the homeless out of their sight, but quite literally it’s good for real estate. It’s good for development, it’s good for people who own retail, who own restaurants, that there is a broader financial and social incentive to just throwing people in jail or just giving them a bus pass and telling them to get lost. I’m sure if they could, Nima, they would probably do what the Nazis did, which was move them to concentration camps, but that sort of unseemly.
Nima: Which is even hinted at, if not sometimes explicitly said that people on the streets, skid roads need to be decimated and everyone moved into institutions.
Adam: So Jesse Watters — who we agree is actually the most punchable person onFox, which is saying something because they have Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity — Jesse Watters actually suggested on Fox News he suggested a kind of detention or internment of the homeless. So let’s listen to that right now.
Jesse Watters: They’ve allowed this thing to fester because they allow anything to happen and now it’s a radius, a 50 block radius and they thought they had it contained, but now it started to infect other people. People go into this place but they don’t come out. I went in there one time with a camera crew and we just drove around and we wouldn’t leave the car because it was so dangerous. We saw drugged out zombies chasing barefooted babies through piles of garbage with hypodermic needles and fire everywhere. It was the most depraved and disgusting thing I’ve ever seen in my life and that’s saying a lot and I’ve been around and you only have one solution. You bulldoze the 50 block radius and you institutionalize everybody and detoxify them and then you let them out because right now to let it happen, police are going to get infected and then their families are gonna get infected and that’s going to be a long term economic and health crisis that they could nip in the bud.
Adam: Holy Shit.
Nima: Yeah, that’s a real thing that ran on TV.
Adam: But I guess it’s okay to say we need to institutionalize everyone, which is to say put them in some sort of, again, these are people that haven’t committed a crime, whose crime is being in this area that he deems unsanitary.
Adam: He wants to institutionalize them, but it’s okay because he says “and then let them go.” Which as we all know arbitrarily detaining people based on their housing status is okay, as long as after some indeterminate amount of time you let them go. This is genocidal rhetoric. We’ve been using that term a lot here, but that is genocidal rhetoric. It is the idea of fetishization of cleanliness and that there’s this moral panic and that they’re going to infect the cops.
Nima: Right. Oh No. God bless the cops.
Adam: First responders, the whole iteration of “the troops” are being infected, vermin everywhere. And it’s very difficult when you listen to this to really tell if they’re talking about the people or the vermin themselves, which I think is sort of by design.
Nima: So when we talk about genocidal rhetoric like this, we really try not to do that as a line. What we’re going to do is talk a little bit about how very similar rhetoric was used actually by the Nazi regime in Germany. Nazis went to great lengths to do just this: purge it’s streets of quote unquote “beggars.”
Adam: Yeah so originally the government didn’t have a lot of revenue and unemployment was very high and in that time they even tried to like appeal to vagrants. They wanted to bring them into the movement and they would make this typical moderate conservative distinction between deserved and undeserved poor.
Nima: This distinction eventually went away and mass removal of the vagrants into concentration camps became state policy. The history of this is told in an essay called “Vagrants and Beggars in Hitler’s Reich” by Wolfgang Ayass. It was originally published in 1988 in a collection called The German Underworld. Deviants and Outcasts in German History.
Adam: We’re going to read you some excerpts here and summarize some of the findings. It’s an essay definitely worth reading in its entirety. It’s about 24 pages long. We’ll have it in the show notes and if you need it, you can find it by that title online. It’s pretty easy to find. So quote, “In July 1932, for example, a meeting of some 300 ‘tramps’” by the way, for the purposes of this “tramps,” “vagrants,” “beggars” will be used interchangeably because that’s kind of what they used. Quote:
“In July 1932, for example, a meeting of some 300 ‘tramps’ took place in a hall in Hamburg, to complain about abuses in the running of doss-houses, and the excessively high rates charged by some,” [These were temporary housing for the poor] “the inadequate pay offered in some ‘itinerant workers’ centres’ and ‘labour colonies’, and the rundown condition of municipal night-shelters. However, the strong presence of the Communist Party at this meeting caused the police to break it up. The Nazis were also active in this area, and attempted in their turn to rescue ‘fellow-Germans who had got into difficulties through no fault of their own’.” [This was the language the Nazis used, sounds familiar] “A good many of the homeless must have found their way into the arms of the SA, the Brownshirts, attracted by the promise of food, shelter, uniforms and plenty of action. At the beginning of 1933 the Nazis even published a novel, called The road to Hitler, complete with foreword by Goebbels, in the attempt to win over the vagrant constituency to the ‘movement’.”
So around 1932, 1933 the Nazis actively tried to recruit vagrants into the system.
Nima: And then they assume power in early 1933 and so Ayass writes, quote:
“Once they had gained power, however, the Nazis gradually abandoned their attempt to win the support of the homeless and turned instead to persecuting this sub-proletarian stratum with measures that became ever harsher as time went on.”
“In July 1933 the recently founded Reich Ministry of Propaganda was urging a nationwide swoop on beggars, informing the welfare agencies of its intention in August 1933. The raid was preceded by a carefully orchestrated propaganda campaign. ‘Guidelines’ were issued to the press, portraying the forthcoming action quite cynically as a pendant to the recently inaugurated Winter Aid Programme (motto: ‘No one will freeze or starve’).
“In 1934 vagrants were required to possess a Vagrants’ Registration Book in Hamburg. The goal was, according to one Nazi order ‘to remove the work-shy, the chronically ill and the infirm etc. from the stream of wanderers’.”
So this delineation between deserved and undeserved starts to become more apparent where there was a broad social category the Nazis created called “anti-social.” Now, anti-social was used interchangeably with vagrants or people who are homeless. The term in German actually means work shy or one who’s afraid to work. But the anti-social category also included people who are perceived as criminals and lesbians. Lesbians were distinguished between homosexuals in general for more complicated reasons that we can get into. But it was people who were considered not part of the normal social structure of Nazi Germany.
Nima: Yeah. And so you see in both the first episode on this from last week and today as well, this idea of work shy, like it’s still resonate today in our media this notion of ‘they could work, these people could work, but they choose not to and therefore they are this sub level of our fellow citizens and basically not even citizens anymore, do not deserve the rights and the care and the mercy and the understanding of anyone else, any of the quote unquote “normals” but rather they have done this to themselves because they are choosing to live like this and therefore they must be dealt with to maintain civil society.’
Adam: Yes. So the first quote “concentration camp for beggars” unquote, it was opened in October of 1933. “After the dust had settled, of course, the ‘tramps’ made themselves scarce and went into hiding.” So there was kind of a fear regime. So this policy of severe deterrence was codified. Those who were deemed able were sent to work in camps. In 1936 the welfare authorities sent 1,855 unmarried male welfare claimants to the Central Railroad Station ready for transporting to labor camps and Rickling. In 1937 that number was 1,991. So there was this idea that if you couldn’t get a job or couldn’t work they were going to send you to a labor camp. Now obviously it’s a very slippery slope from labor camp to concentration camp. But the point was to sort of get them off the streets.
Nima: And then in September 1939 when the war actually broke out, vagrancy was made wholly illegal in Nazi Germany and by the German government in all of the controlled territories. So homelessness was also combated by proxy. So those deemed “anti-social elements” as we’ve been discussing, wasn’t limited just to the indigent, Jews, Roma, GLBTQ, like basically people who had other identities that were targeted by the Nazis were also removed, purged from society, not necessarily because they were homeless, but they’re mass deportation to labor and then death camps did also help to thin out the aesthetic problem of vagrancy around Germany.
Adam: And in around 1941, 1942 when the Nazis’ exterminations policy really went into overdrive, they found a major uptick in the extermination of beggars who were taken from workhouses and labor camps and transferred to mental hospitals where they were euthanized. So there was mass euthanizing for people who are seen as mentally deficient and there was a massive overlap with those who were seen as mentally unwell and those who were seen as beggars or work shy. And in the beginning, there was something called ‘Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring. So people who were thrown into the anti-social category who were sent to concentration camps were given a black triangle and they were considered part of the anti-social class or the work shy class separate from others. But again, there was a lot of overlap, like you could have both the black triangle and the gold triangle together and be sort of a Jewish vagrant and so on and so forth. Want to be very clear that Roma, LGBTQ and Jews were targeted because of their identities, not because they were categorized as homeless, but there was a lot of overlap and there’s a lot of overlap by design because many people of course became poor because of discrimination against LGBTQ and discrimination against Jews that proceeded their expulsion to extermination camps. In 1938 there were guidelines published under the Nazis Welfare Services Organization that declare quote, “‘There must be no more tramps in Germany!”
Nima: The reason we bring all this up is because this same rhetoric, this same impulse, can be seen on Fox News programming day after day.
[Begin Fox News Clip]
Jesse Watters: In Penn Station you’re not allowed to loiter, sleep on the floor or panhandle. These violations should get you either kicked out, fined or thrown in jail. Technically, you’re not allowed to loiter and panhandle.
Man #1: Right.
Jesse Watters: Are they enforcing that?
Man #1: I don’t think so. I really don’t see them moving them anywhere. You just up walk up, walk by and they didn’t talk to him. They don’t talk to any of the guys.
Jesse Watters: You live here. You sleep here too?
Woman #1: Yes.
Jesse Watters: Are you allowed to sleep here?
Woman #1: Yes.
Jesse Watters: What are you doing here at Penn Station today?
Man #2: Nothing much. Picking up cans and bottles.
Jesse Watters: How much can you make off recycle cans and bottles?
Man #2: You make $10, $20 a day.
Woman #2: I survive off of tips that people give me.
Jesse Watters: Do the authorities here allow you to sleep here?
Woman #2: They let you sleep up until a certain time.
Jesse Watters: Do the authorities ever give you a hard time?
Man #3: No they never bother me, no.
Jesse Watters: How long have you been homeless?
Woman #3: Oh, it’s been like since 2005.
Jesse Watters: You don’t have any health insurance?
Woman #3: Oh sure they give you that when you get on welfare.
Jesse Watters: How’d you end up in this situation?
Woman #1: Drugs.
Jesse Watters: What kind of drugs?
Woman #1: Crack.
Jesse Watters: How do you make money?
Woman #1: Prostitution.
Jesse Watters: How do you make money to get by?
Man #4: Oh, I have a pretty good stipend from the federal government.
Jesse Watters: Do you have any addictions?
Man #5: I drink.
Jesse Watters: Drink?
Man #5: Yeah.
Jesse Watters: What’s your favorite drink?
Man #5: Uh, beer.
Jesse Watters: How many times have they asked you to leave Penn Station?
Man #5: A couple.
Jesse Watters: Do you think you need help with your drinking?
Man #6: No.
Jesse Watters: Do you have rum in your pocket right there?
Man #6: Yes. They have Bacardi in my pocket right now.
Jesse Watters: Are you allowed to sleep down here? No. Do you ever sleep here? For how long?
Man #7: Eight hours.
Jesse Watters: Do you ever feel scared when you see homeless people here?
Kid: Yeah, because you never know what they could do.
Woman #4: I was attacked going up the stairs one time. They just walked right up to me, grabbed my face and he was just like talking craziness and I was just going to work.
Woman #5: He actually grabbed me for money. He asked me, not so much as politely, it’s very aggressive when they touch you. I felt very uncomfortable and threatened.
Man #8: I had someone pick up a chair and wanted to hit me over the head with it when I asked him to leave the premises.
Jesse Watters: How long have you been in business in Penn Station?
Man #8: 1987. So 28 years.
Man #9: There’s more homeless now than ever. I don’t know. I think it’s the mayor’s fault to be honest with you.
Jesse Watters: Do you see a change in the level of homeless activity at Penn Station under deBlasio?
Man #10: I see more homeless, you know, I feel bad for a lot of these people. I do try to help them out, but at the same time I don’t like when they affect our customers.
Woman #6: Sometimes they’ll stand in front of the store, we won’t notice it right away and they’re panhandling.
Man #8: I say when Giuliani was mayor, I saw more enforcement, every morning we have to mop the floor of human waste. So, I mean if we really want to help the homeless, I mean, I have a heart like anyone, why aren’t we doing more?
[End Fox News Clip]
Nima: That is a somewhat infamous Fox News clip. It ran on the June 29th, 2015 edition of The O’Reilly Factor and it was one of the segments done by Jesse Watters who was a quote unquote “correspondent” for O’Reilly’s show before he got his own gross show on Fox. And so the entire thing is him going around Penn Station talking and mocking homeless people, all of whom incidentally are African American, and then interviewing commuters and tourists. The vast majority surprise, surprise were white.
Adam: Yeah. And of course the obvious implication of all this rhetoric, and it’s obviously very gross and I’m sure everyone listening will say, wow, that’s pretty gross, is that there’s a constant appeal to police. This is the third trope we talked about, that the police are not doing their job. The KOMO documentary Seattle is Dying had the same thing and was repeatedly saying, police aren’t doing their job. They’re calling for over-policing, they are calling for the purging because they don’t care. The whole thing with all this right-wing coverage of homelessness is that homelessness itself is never seen as the problem. It’s how it affects the taxpayer, the homeowner, the small business owner, all the kind of right-wing watchwords, right? That the homelessness themselves are, again, they become dehumanized. The Simpsons joke where the homeless guy turns into the mailbox like they are a thing that needs to be purged and the liberal position is to give them a bus ticket and kick them out of town. So many cities have these and Bradenton, Florida, which we talked about the first episode and other cities, it’s very popular in Florida, they have something called the Homeless Relocation Programs, which sounds pretty Orwellian for a reason, and they basically, they’re pitched as very dystopian fashion. They’re pitched as kind of family reuniting programs where they give people money to get on a bus and go to a loved one’s house. But The Guardian did a great article, which we’ll link to, that shows that that’s all bullshit. That’s marketing bullshit so middle class NASCAR dads and soccer moms can feel good about themselves, but there is very little evidence that the vast majority of them are meant to unite with anyone. They’re just being basically paid to leave town and that’s the most humane version of this we get. On the other end of the spectrum, of course we get what is basically just genocidal incitement.
Nima: Yeah, and on top of all of that, what you hear in the 2015 Jesse Watters clip that we just played, and which you’ll hear more of coming up, is this appeal to ‘this was better under a Republican law and order mayor’ and that now — in 2015 in New York City, that Penn station bit, you know, that’s under Bill de Blasio — under a Democratic liberal government running the city this is where the deterioration comes from. This is where the decline comes from. This is where the degeneration of society happens under this type of leadership, which speaks to one of the tropes we mentioned at the beginning. The idea of the liberal city is the nightmare, which I mean plays into all sorts of tropes. Of course, it speaks to, you know, this conflating Democratic politics with socialism and the failures of socialism, that ‘it looks like a third world country,’ of course, oftentimes in third world countries, people have housing given by the state. So that doesn’t really work out. But that’s not the point. Obviously in terms of Fox News’ propaganda, this all works together and it also shows cities as these places of filth and crime as opposed to, uh, say the country, the heartland, the real America, Fox News viewers, that they’re really appealing to, non-city folk. And so you see this trope playing out again and again.
Adam: Yeah, I think that’s a very good way to put it. I think that the whole thing is obviously one big indictment on liberal social safety net, which is already kind of barely anything anyway. You know, modern conservative ideology is about snuffing out the last vestiges of the Great Society and the New Deal. And so sort of holding up homelessness as somehow a failure of liberalism, which it is, but from the left, not the right. Um, that’s the thing, you know, rather than indictment of capitalism because last I checked New York is still capitalist, I think is part of a deliberate strategy to scare people. To scare people into voting for the law and order types.
Nima: To talk more about this, we’re gonna be joined by Madeline Peltz, writer and researcher at Media Matters for America. Stay with us.
Nima: We are joined now by Madeline Peltz. Madeline, thank you so much for joining us today on Citations Needed.
Madeline Peltz: Thanks so much for having me. I’m really excited to be here.
Adam: From Sean Hannity to Jesse Watters to Tucker Carlson. Those are kind of the big three we talked about earlier. Media Matters has spent, has dedicated a lot of resources — thankfully and we appreciate that by the way, because it’s obviously not easy and you guys should get hazard pay — to documenting Fox News, in general, but of course, specifically for the purposes of this episode, they’re incitement campaign against the homeless. In your research, especially focusing on Tucker Carlson over the last couple of years, as the homelessness crisis ramps up, there’s a corollary effort that Fox News has always done this, but there’s been an uptick over the last couple of years. What in your estimation are kind of like the major talking points that Fox News advances about homelessness? We discussed some of them at the top of the show that we had and we’re curious what in y’alls’ research, what are the kind of common themes and common talking points that you hear when they obsess over homelessness?
Madeline Peltz: Sure. So I’ve noticed this sort of new batch of talking points that are this hypercharged rhetoric around the issue of homelessness, especially starting right before the 2018 election and have lasted through now. Which one can only assume that this is pushing through to be a 2020 strategy for the right-wing media and Trump. Um, but these sort of new Trump-era talking points about homelessness are focused on urban areas, specifically on the west coast. And it’s a two pronged campaign tactic to attack Democrats and immigrants. The message on Democrats is that they can’t govern and that they are not interested in caring about their constituents and secondarily or in parallel immigrants are a strain on public resources. The way that they describe people who are experiencing housing insecurity is that they are filthy, they’re drug addicted, they are criminals, public menace taking over cities. A lot of these talking points are just the way that they want to talk about immigrants but are just bumped over to homeless people in a sort of dog whistle tactic. So this is in a way a part of the longstanding tradition of poor shaming on Fox News, but urgency and sort of American carnage milieu that has been infused into these talking points really makes it a new ballgame in this little right-wing media ecosystem.
Nima: Yeah, they’re completely obsessed with like big city liberal mayors, right? Like you know, Denver and San Francisco and LA and these ones great and beautiful cities have now been destroyed and like Nancy Pelosi has always kind of wrapped up in there as well. Like they have to mention Nancy Pelosi. But we were discussing earlier how really blaming this on the liberals, the Democrats also serves to have this idea of this is what happens to cities when basically you have socialists running the place because they just associate those two things. How do you think this plays and is it just a matter of being able to talk about this boogeyman of socialism as equated with the Democratic Party that is just more part of this fear tactics on the part of Fox?
Madeline Peltz: Yeah, I mean I think they definitely have tied these issues to failed socialism. Their two talking points are that if you want socialism you’re either going to get skid row or Venezuela and those two things are often conflated. It is definitely a straw man to point out the failures of these liberal politicians in cities, which is ironic because liberal politicians in cities have directed massive amounts of money in the last few years to tearing down public housing and funding massive police forces in urban areas. So it’s not actually like there is some sort of big welfare state that has failed in urban areas. It’s actually really sad because there is a problem in the failure of Democrats to present a formidable opposition to Trump including in urban areas and the establishment Democrats especially in DC have no communicable vision for solving poverty, inequality and homelessness. But what this does is it creates a vacuum of leadership where conservative media is able to step in and make these bad faith appeals that ultimately are justifications for imposing lethal violence on people in cities who are experiencing housing insecurity, poverty, addiction, food insecurity or whatever it is. So there is, it’s really quite sad that no one in American politics right now is making, well no one in the establishment politics is making good faith efforts to address these issues. And of course the Trump administration has done nothing to articulate a plan for addressing homelessness. They have twice proposed eliminating the US Interagency Council on Homelessness. They’ve proposed work requirements for housing and nutrition assistance and given massive tax cuts to the wealthy and multinational corporations. So.
Adam: Yeah. I feel like I wouldn’t want Trump to propose something.
Madeline Peltz: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
Adam: Yeah. So I want to talk about the kind of moral stakes here because one of the things we always try to do in this show is establish the stakes, which is, at Media Matters you spend a great deal of your time watching this sort of dredge, the most vile kind of mean spirited propaganda 24/7. Now obviously this sort of trickles down into the popular discourse. There’s been a ton of different studies and other studies showing how the negative effects of Fox News and how it, you know, it turns everyone into a huge asshole. More towards, it turns people who are already sort of assholes into major assholes, I should say. So without diving too much into the kind of pop psychology, I want you to sort of, not just with Fox News, but local media, we talked about in part one of this show about how bad local media is on this, these stories about con men panhandlers especially or kind of the proverbial homeless person who stands up out of their wheelchair and gets into a Cadillac, are very, very popular with the next door crowd. The lesson of these stories is really that poverty is not your fault. That poverty, that you middle-class sort of comfortable white person who’s maybe apolitical or conservative, that this isn’t your responsibility. It’s actually a moral failing on the part of the poor. What do you think the long term negative effect of that is?
Madeline Peltz: Sure. So if you look at old school Fox News, you’re gonna find these right-wing media campaigns creating categories of us versus them. The Bill O’Reillys, the Sean Hannitys of the world, to these man on the street interviews. That’s how Jesse Watters got famous going into Penn Station just shaming poor people to their face and passing it off as news. And so in that way, they’re flattering, you know, a suburban, middle-class audience, making them feel superior to other groups of Americans and of course passing the buck on the systemic issues that are creating poverty and inequality in the country. So, I mean that’s sort of at the core of Fox News, but this new landscape that we’re in is this hyper charged narrative of filth and decay and disease. And it’s much more sinister than this old school poor shaming of the past because Trump famously invoked this image of American carnage and what he said about Elijah Cummings districts, it imbues this urgency for drastic and violent action against people who are experiencing housing insecurity. Katie Hopkins, who’s this racist British columnist, once told Tucker Carlson that the military should come in and sweep away every person living on skid row. And this is really similar to what ICE is doing and what they’re advocating for ICE to do. So it’s really not surprising that this tactic of violence to extract impurity in our culture, no matter the cost, has been turned on to poor people. When I would say like more generally, and my concern is that young people — and Tucker Carlson’s audience skews younger — are waking up to their political consciousness in the age of Trump and Trump is their baseline conservative. Trump is their establishment conservative. And so in order to like buck their parents, which one day, one generation is going to be looking at their MAGA parents and saying, ‘I want to go farther than you, I want to be edgier than you.’ They’re only going to go further to the right. And so I would say in terms of the long term effects, that’s a big concern of mine.
Adam: You know, it’s always hard when you say heightened rhetoric, how it’s gotten worse. But there is, I think a more deliberate genocidal-
Nima: And there’s a gleefulness to it. I mean, this is something that rampant reveling in cruelty. There has been, you know, in the past when we’ve looked at media reports on homelessness, you know, there’s always poor shaming and criminalizing of homelessness and poverty in general, but oftentimes it was kind of supplemented with a sad tragedy idea. Like, this is really bad still, you know, we’re still blaming them for their own lot in life and we’re not actually making this a systemic argument, but now there’s just this gleeful joy in showing people’s own suffering, people’s own struggles, that just then really serves to like bolster this idea of who is worthy of the government’s attention in a good way. Right? Worthy of corporate attention, worthy of being spoken to as real Americans as opposed to everyone who just like needs to get a job and needs to, you know, ‘we’ve offered them yard work.’ Dr. Drew has said on Fox News, decrying homeless people for, ‘they won’t even take the housing that is offered them’ and it’s just like what is this culture of joy and sadism that you think Fox News is really pushing and how is that changing over time?
Adam: Right. Do you think that in your observation, because one of the things you don’t want to do is get in the trap of like blaming everything on Trump, but to what extent do you think, do you think that Trump and politics has informed the kind of open sadism?
Madeline Peltz: I mean, there is no stronger feedback loop in American politics than Trump and Fox News. And I think that one thing that is unique about Tucker Carlson is that his show is a campaign to put pressure on the president to execute and articulate this white nationalist vision of the country. And this eliminationist division of demographics and immigration. And so his show is a pressure campaign. And in that way, without alienating the president or his allies in the White House, he is pushing Trump to take an even harder line on these issues of immigration and race. Whereas Sean Hannity’s show is sort of the inverse of that, that he’s creating pressure to keep critics away from the president and putting a buffer between what the president is doing and his critics.
Adam: The kind of open sadism and the cruelty without even the veneer of liberal concern.
Nima: I think you jumped straight to Tucker Carlson when you heard “cruelty.”
Madeline Peltz: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I mean like Adam Serwer, “The Cruelty Is The Point,” is so relevant to the work that I do. It’s like almost just completely redundant. And I honestly can’t think of a more cruel idealogue on television than Tucker Carlson and his rhetoric and his affect is so hysterical when he does his show. He’s so hyperbolic and he’s so self-assured, at least in the way that he presents himself on television, I doubt that that’s true real life. It almost stuns you into being open to these ideas of accepting what he’s saying. It’s propaganda and so you start to believe that deporting millions of people and separating children at the border and clearing out skid row using the military is not only sensible and popular but also necessary and so the cruelty is a tactic that sort of stuns the viewer into acquiescing to these extremist ideas
Nima: Because it dehumanizes. Like, that’s the point. If you can be so morally superior that, like, you’re burning ants with a magnifying glass, like, if that’s where you can get people to be, then genocidal rhetoric is literally easier. It’s just the next thing.
Madeline Peltz: Yeah. I’ve been watching Tucker for two years and I don’t think I’ve heard a better description than burning ants with a magnifying glass. So I really appreciate that.
Adam: Because at the beginning of the show we spent a long time talking about the history of homeless under the Third Reich. We don’t really ever make Nazi comparisons on the show, we’re extremely hesitant to do it, but given the genocidal nature of the rhetoric we thought it was relevant and one of the things that you see is the shift from, at the beginning there’s this idea of the kind of deserved and undeserved poor, there’s the kind of lay about, the work shy, the tramp, and then there’s the guy who’s just out on his luck. And then by about 1938, 1939 propaganda wise, there really was no distinction and what became paramount was this idea of cleanliness, this idea of cleaning the streets by any means necessary. There’s a montage of Fox talking about feces on a very visceral level. This idea of cleanliness is so central to what I view as being pretty overt genocidal rhetoric. Fox talks about feces all the time. And I know that people like The Daily Show, I think, have even made a joke of it, but like what is the ideological — aside from the obvious fact that they’re calling humans shit — what is the ideological power of this cleanliness narrative and can you expand upon that specifically about how Tucker Carlson focuses on shit?
Madeline Peltz: Well, I think that it is a justification for Tucker’s vision of social conservatism above all other social goals. So like he got in to a bunch of trouble in December 2018 and for a comment that he said about diversity being bad, this happened so many times, I honestly don’t even remember the clip, but like in January he tried to make a pivot and he did this monologue that inspired a flurry of National Review Op-Eds about the importance of society is to support the family and in order to support the family you have to have a clean and orderly society. And so this inspires this vision of like purity and order at the expense of everything else. And that that is such an important thing to achieve a pure society, that it justifies violence. And that is the type of rhetoric that they deploy towards homeless people. And another way that he tries to reinforce this justification for violence is that he goes after DAs and mayors and local politicians for backing off on enforcement of petty crime, like vagrancy, petty shoplifting. He speaks about that as if it’s the end of the world, the end of society. And that’s another way of using the police state to enact violence against people who are experiencing poverty.
Nima: Yeah, I mean if there’s no subtlety in the Boston PD recent raids on homeless people called Operation Clean Sweep. Literally that’s what it was called and so it’s just one more example of saying the quiet part loud.
Madeline Peltz: Yeah, absolutely. He definitely has a fixation on cleanliness and this vision of San Francisco covered in heroin needles and human waste is employed on his show on a nightly basis. And so it is absolutely a tactic of his.
Adam: Well, another uplifting episode.
Madeline Peltz: (Laughs.)
Adam: This was extremely great. Um, before you go, is there anything our listeners should check out that Media Matters is up to or anything you’re working on on this?
Madeline Peltz: Um, yeah, so I’ve recently updated and I update on a regular basis the timeline of Tucker Carlson, it’s called “Tucker Carlson’s Descent Into White Supremacy,” and it is a timeline going back to 2007 of all of the times that Carlson has promoted or defended white supremacy. And before I updated it in August, I had last updated in May and there was like 30 new examples and so that definitely keeps me busy. But on August 8th Nestle dropped Tucker Carlson and Long John Silver’s dropped all of the Fox News. So I would definitely encourage listeners to keep an eye out for that kind of thing and to stay engaged with what’s happening on the advertiser front because that’s really the most effective mechanism for holding them responsible.
Nima: Well, we will leave it there. Madeline Peltz, researcher at Media Matters for America. The work you do is so important and I can’t even imagine spending that much time with Tucker Carlson. So you are truly a hero. Thank you so much for doing that work and for coming on the show today. It has been great to talk to you on Citations Needed.
Madeline Peltz: Thank you guys so much. You guys are the best.
Adam: Yeah, I think the part about the cruelty is the point is, is definitely true. I guess I’m curious to sort of maybe take it one step further and ask what the ideological endgame is. Cause it definitely seems like cruelty has become an incident of itself in the sense that it’s an effective strategy because like she mentioned, the sort of shock the audience, the audience is sort of titillated by your edginess and your anti-political correctness. That’s the sort of gambit Trump made and-
Nima: No, exactly. He just, he just ran like an insult comment campaign. That’s his whole move. And so you get everyone to like laugh along with you and then punch down. And that’s the entire administration right now.
Adam: And Fox News, of course, just goes to the very, very, very acceptable edge, steps about a half a foot over it and then when they get called, they act a little cheeky and hopefully the advertiser, uh, boycotts will eventually work.
Nima: Yeah. The language of not only incitement to violence but also explicitly exterminationist rhetoric is something that routinely accompanies media coverage of homelessness, of poverty in general. And I just think that the work done by people like Madeline is so important to show really the consistency of this media push. Just how ubiquitous it is because it really does just turn into this very common narrative that is very rarely questioned.
Adam: Because yeah, it seems sort of obvious to say Fox News is terrible and maybe after, you know, 15, 20 years you get desensitized to it, but like it’s still worth, someone has to document it. Fires are down but you still have firemen, like people have to actually go through and look at this shit and document it. And it’s useful because if you’ve ever done any research on the right, as much as we’ve, you know, we’ve criticized Media Matters for other reasons, but like it’s essential to having a documentation of right-wing media that you can go through in archive and look at, because otherwise there’s not any way of tracking the most extreme versions of this because Fox News in a way kind of gets away with it because they are sort of so predictably tabloidy. But then you look and you realize that you know, they’re the most popular cable station in the country and that matters. It’s sort of like criticizing The New York Times. It’s, it’s The New York Times, it by definition matters, even if they’re doing the same shitty thing over and over again, it still matters.
Nima: So that will do it for this episode of Citations Needed. Thank you everyone for listening. You can follow the show on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed, become a supporter of our work through Patreon.com/CitationsNeededPodcast with Adam Johnson and Nima Shirazi and as always, a very special thanks goes to our critic level supporters through Patreon. I am Nima Shirazi.
Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.
Nima: Citations Needed is produced by Florence Barrau-Adams. Production consultant is Josh Kross. Production Assistant is Trendel Lightburn. Research and newsletter by Marco Cartolano. Transcriptions are by Morgan McAslan. The music is by Grandaddy. Thanks again for listening everyone. We’ll catch you next time.
This episode of Citations Needed was released on Wednesday, September 11, 2019.
Transcription by Morgan McAslan.