I don't typically watch much television. But when I can, I watch The Daily Show. Jon Stewart brings humor, satire and truth-telling to the news of the day -- qualities also characteristic of the Hebrew prophets. When I once suggested that to Stewart, he immediately denied any similarity, saying, "No, no, no, I'm just a comedian from the Borsch Belt!" But further discussion revealed a selection of topics that evoke his moral passion and even a righteous anger at political hypocrisy.
That was on vivid display in a spotlight on what Fox News commentators were saying about food stamp recipients. It began with Fox saying how families who receive support from SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) should use their food stamps, and even what they should and should not be eating, which led to repeated condemnations of poor people.
The clips from those Daily Show commentaries are below and I suggest you take a few moments to watch them. They reveal what I am calling Fox News' "preferential option for the rich," which is in stark contrast to the gospel's "preferential option for the poor" and what Pope Francis is now calling the church back to. Fox News' repeated preference for the rich and condemnations of the poor is not just a political or economic issue, but a moral and religious failure. The faith community, in particular, should take note.
Here's my take:
Gretchen Carlson tells stories about food-stamp recipients jetting off to Vegas. Of course, what billionaire casino owners are doing, the morality of what is happening in their casinos, or that one of the owners is literally paying for ultra-conservative candidates and campaigns, are not a problem for Fox News.
Former presidential candidate Herman Cain claims that the government allows food-stamp recipients to use their benefits at gyms. Stewart correctly points out that Cain, who is not known for keeping facts straight, is wrong. While it may be true of Medicare Advantage or some state Medicare programs, it is not for the SNAP program.
A Neil Cavuto guest laments that some want to use SNAP benefits to pay for diapers, saying -- and I quote: "The swaddling cloths were good enough for baby Jesus; they are probably good enough for your baby too." Really?
Fox even critiques the actual food people pay for with SNAP benefits. No, not because it's unhealthy. Because it shouldn't be on the menu for those in poverty, apparently. Seafood has becomes a theme on the Fox critiques. Stewart comments while most believe fish and seafood is a healthy diet, Fox News "spent a lot of time on how poor people in this country are gaming the system and abusing the American taxpayers to maintain their surprisingly ravenous seafood addictions."
Fox voiceovers loom: "Food stamp abusers, eating on taxpayers." Then another, "America's poor are actually living the good life" -- quite a despicable comment revealing the perspective of those who have never lived with, worked with, or even been around poor people in America.
Steve Doocy attacks "America's culture of dependency," and Eric Bolling concludes, "Our liberal government is teaching our kids to be takers, instead of makers." Gretchen Carlson attacks "moochers," while Jonathan Hoenig calls them "parasites." Michael Regan provides a graphic image, "... sucking off, you know, the nipple of the government." Charles Payne says the poor are "freeloading." And Tracy Byrnes says they are "draining this society." But Stuart Varney delivers the ultimate blow to families who receive food assistance, "99 percent of them have a refrigerator!" My goodness. Now there is the proof! Families who have refrigerators obviously have enough to eat. And I wonder what scientific survey Fox is basing this and all their other claims on.
And that is the point. This is not about good data reporting what assistance programs are working well and how others can be made to work better -- making sure we have both a compassionate and effective social safety net that prevents further poverty, gives people relief for times when they need it, and then helps them to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.
When is the last time you heard Fox rail against waste in the Pentagon, or corporate tax loopholes, or off-shore tax havens for the very wealthy? Fox commentators rail against the $3 billion of tax money has been lost to trafficking fraud and overpayments each year, but call the $4 billion wasteful federal dollars that go for subsidies to oil companies already making record profits a mere "pittance." That is the blatant moral hypocrisy of Fox. The U.S. loses an estimated $150 billion dollars a year to tax avoidance schemes by the super-rich -- something Fox actually praises.
With his typical profane language, Stewart makes his final moral judgment:
"You see, your very network has created the very balanced narrative that ties people's poverty to their own lack of virtue, and says that programs created to serve the impoverished are in fact the reason that those are still impoverished. Sort of the idea being, if they weren't such shitty people, they wouldn't be poor. And those food stamps are just making them shittier. Of course, you didn't say it so elegantly."
Let me make the same point, more biblically, in a warning against partiality from the book of James, chapter 2, verses 1-13.
My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, "Have a seat here, please," while to the one who is poor you say, "Stand there," or, "Sit at my feet," have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? ... You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. ... For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.
Fox News has dishonored the poor with their preferential option for the rich.
Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn't Learned About Serving the Common Good, is now available. Watch the Story of the Common Good HERE. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.