There are certain facts that an educated person realizes you can’t point out without provoking an angry rebuttal from a Fox News devotee — climate scientists overwhelmingly believe in the theory of anthropogenic global warming, the cost of Obamacare has come in well under projections, and so on. President Obama apparently discovered a new one this week when he mentioned that Fox News routinely depicts poor people as lazy and entitled.
Obama’s gaffe occurred at a panel discussion of poverty at Georgetown University this week. Obama said:
And over the last 40 years, sadly, I think there’s been an effort to either make folks mad at folks at the top, or to be mad at folks at the bottom. And I think the effort to suggest that the poor are sponges, leeches, don’t want to work, are lazy, are undeserving, got traction.
And, look, it’s still being propagated. I mean, I have to say that if you watch Fox News on a regular basis, it is a constant menu — they will find folks who make me mad. I don’t know where they find them. [Laughter.] They’re like, I don’t want to work, I just want a free Obama phone — [laughter] — or whatever. And that becomes an entire narrative — right? — that gets worked up. And very rarely do you hear an interview of a waitress — which is much more typical — who’s raising a couple of kids and is doing everything right but still can’t pay the bills.
Figures like Rush Limbaugh and Charles Krauthammer, himself a Fox News all-star panelist, immediately took exception. “The idea that Fox is constantly showing, you know, sponges and leeches, and never shows the waitress trying to make it, it’s just sort of the mythological world that he lives in. Or he may be cynical. I mean, he may know it’s all nonsense,” fumed Krauthammer.
The Obamaphone, in case you missed this development, is the prototypical conservative fever dream of the Obama era. In September of 2012, a video emerged of a black woman, speaking in a stereotypical “ghetto” dialect, boasting that she had received a free Obamaphone.
In fact, the “Obamaphone” was merely a program dating back to 1984 to make emergency phone service available to the indigent, and extended in 1996 to include cell phones, for which Obama had no responsibility. Nevertheless, the story went viral throughout conservative media as confirmation of the nexus of entitlement and vote-buying that conservatives believed constituted the core of Obama’s America. If you take “Fox News” to be Obama’s synecdoche for the conservative media in general, then right-wing hysteria over the Obamaphone was extensive. Fox News itself provided only modest coverage of the mythical Obamaphone, with two on-air mentions, plus a mention by Fox News personality Sean Hannity on his radio program.
What’s more, the general theme of entitled poor people leeching off government is a hardy subject on Fox News. Media Matters has compiled an extensive list:
Fox’s Poster-Boy For Food Stamp Recipients Is A “Blissfully Jobless California Surfer.” Fox’s 2013 special “The Great Food Stamp Binge” championed the so-called “blissfully jobless California Surfer,” Jason Greenslate, who misused the program, as the face of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as food stamps). Although Greenslate bears no resemblance to the overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients, many of whom are elderly, children, disabled, or rely on the program for a short time while looking for work, the network nevertheless shamefully featured him in an attempt to mischaracterize beneficiaries as freeloaders. [Media Matters, 8/9/13]
Andrea Tantaros: I’d “Look Fabulous” If I Lived On Food Stamps. In November 2012, on the eve of Thanksgiving, Fox News host Andrea Tantaros dismissed the plight of hungry Americans and claimed that she would “look fabulous” if she were forced to try to subsist on $133 for food per month for an extended period of time, the amount that SNAP participants in New Jersey receive. [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 11/21/12]
Stuart Varney On The Poor: “Many Of Them Have Things — What They Lack Is The Richness Of Spirit.” In August 2011, Fox Business host Varney defended himself from criticism by The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart by claiming he was simply “telling the truth about poor people,” before asserting that for the poor, “many of them have things — what they lack is the richness of spirit.” [Fox Business, Varney & Co. at Night, 8/25/11]
And on and on it goes. That Fox News regularly presents poor people sponging off government is not even a question. It’s such a common theme, I think its existence was taken for granted. Apparently this is something you’re not supposed to say to conservatives. Who knew?