Fox News Stoked Outrage Over Migrants Displacing Homeless Vets. It Was a Hoax.
The story had all the hallmarks of fueling the maximum amount of right-wing outrage. With migrants being bused into New York City amid an immigration surge at the southern border, upstate New York hotels had supposedly kicked out homeless veterans in order to make room for the influx of asylum seekers.
After right-wing tabloid The New York Post published the sensational report last Friday, Fox News and Newsmax ran wild with it, devoting dozens of segments (and countless online articles) to the indignation of “people who served our country and need a little boost” getting displaced by “illegals,” all while “these hotels are selling their soul for a check.”
Turns out, however, the whole story was made up.
The whole saga kicked off when the Post reported that 20 “struggling homeless veterans” were booted from hotels so their rooms could be given to incoming migrants. According to Yerik Israel Toney Foundation, the nonprofit group that works on temporarily housing the vets, the ex-military members had been told by the New York hotels that they needed to vacate and move elsewhere.
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“One of the vets called me on Sunday,’’ YIT Foundation CEO Sharon Toney-Finch told the Post last week. “He told me he had to leave because the hotel said the extended stay is not available. Then I got another call. We didn’t waste any time.’’
She added: “That’s when we started on Monday to organize when and where to move them all. I am glad you called me today. Last night, I was crying.”
According to Toney-Finch at the time, 15 of the veterans had been kicked out of the Crossroads Hotel in Newburgh, a community 60 minutes north of New York City. An additional five vets were reportedly removed from two other hotels in a nearby town. She claimed that all 20 of the vets were rebooked into another hotel in Hudson Valley. The area has recently experienced an influx of migrants as New York City Mayor Eric Adams has begun busing asylum seekers to other counties that may have additional space.
GOP State Assemblyman Brian Maher initially backed Toney-Finch’s story, saying that “shining a light on this is important because we need to make sure these hotels know how important it is to respect the service of our veterans before they kick [them] out of hotels to make room.” Toney-Finch, meanwhile, added that the hotels were doing this for money since NYC was paying more for migrant accommodations than her group was offering the establishments.
Naturally, this story was absolute catnip for the right-wing media industrial complex. Fox News and its sister channel Fox Business began covering it immediately after the Post report dropped, frequently featuring prominent Republicans—including Maher—expressing their outrage over Democrats putting the needs of “illegal immigrants” over homeless vets. Newsmax followed suit shortly after.
“It’s an embarrassment, a slap in the face to veterans, who are cast aside to allow for asylum seekers to come here,” Maher told Fox & Friends First this week. “At the end of the day, you have combat veterans who are homeless and told to get out of their hotel, we have tried to let them know we appreciate them. We’re embarrassed by what happened, but we have their backs.”
The rhetoric coming from conservative pundits, however, was even more inflammatory.
During Monday’s broadcast of Fox News midday panel show Outnumbered, for instance, Fox News contributor Lisa Marie Boothe said that this was “intentional” from President Joe Biden because “he is a globalist.” Fox News anchor Harris Faulkner added that Biden “doesn’t mean it” whenever he says “God bless the troops” after a speech.
And while House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) called it “shameful” and GOP presidential hopeful Nikki Haley said this was “liberal insanity at work,” other MAGA commentators went even further. “Fuck Democrats & their bullshit policies,” Donald Trump Jr. tweeted, sharing the original Post story.
However, earlier this week, local media began poking holes in the story. After Maher had provided a credit card receipt from Toney-Finch supposedly showing payment for the rooms at the Crossroads Hotel, The Mid-Hudson News reported that the hotel had no record of the transaction. Additionally, a graphics expert examined the receipt and said it appeared to be altered.
The manager of the hotel also told Mid-Hudson News that no veterans were ever at the hotel, let alone kicked out of Crossroads. No other guests had been displaced either, as the hotel had not been booked to capacity despite housing a group of migrants.
Eventually, Maher ended up denouncing the story as fake and emotionally told the Times-Union he was “devastated and disheartened” after finding out from Toney-Finch that she had made the whole thing up.
After doubt began to spread about the veracity of Toney-Finch’s tale, Maher—who had worked with YIT for three years—said he asked her to meet him at a local bank to get financial statements that would prove her organization paid for the veterans’ rooms at the hotels. After she no-showed, he claimed he told her that he had “no choice but to report this” after she “alluded to the fact that, ‘Maybe it’s not exactly how I said it was.’”
In a separate conversation with the New York Post, which has since added an editor’s note to its original bombshell story that kicked off this outrage cycle, Maher added that Toney-Finch said “I had to help the veterans,” when he confronted her on peddling a hoax.
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The story got even wilder on Friday, however, when Mid-Hudson News further reported that Toney-Finch had recruited a group of homeless men from a nearby shelter to pretend they were the military veterans that had been displaced by migrants.
“On Thursday night he met with a group of seven men at a homeless shelter,” the report stated. “The men said that on Wednesday, two people came into the shelter saying they had work and needed 15 men between the ages of 40 and 60, to take a trip to meet with an elected official for a discussion on homelessness. They were each promised $200 along with food and alcohol. They were familiar with one of the recruiters, Diana, claiming she had previously stayed at the shelter.”
YIT Foundation did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
While the New York Post reported on Thursday that the story is false and added editor’s notes to other articles, Fox News waited until Friday afternoon to address the emerging hoax on its airwaves. In fact, on Thursday night, the network was still hosting local Republicans to rage about the fake controversy. Yvette Aguiar, the town supervisor of Riverhead, told Fox News host Will Cain that the “really disturbing” issue with the Crossroads Hotel “set me off on this journey” to declare a state of emergency regarding migrants.
After publication, a Fox News spokesperson told The Daily Beast that several online articles had been updated and included the following editor’s note: “This report has been updated to clarify allegations surrounding the treatment of homeless veterans.” The network’s digital news division eventually published a story about Maher refuting Toney-Finch and calling for an investigation of her organization.
Additionally, during Thursday afternoon’s broadcast of America Reports, Fox News correspondent Nate Foy gave a “quick update” about the story.
“We are now looking into new reports that a veterans advocate misled lawmakers and media outlets about the story and that some homeless men may have been hired to pose as veterans,” Foy stated. “We have reached out to the organization for a statement but so far have not heard back.”
Not only has Newsmax not reported that Toney-Finch lied about homeless vets being displaced, but the network had run at least three news segments claiming “homeless US veterans have been removed from housing to make room for migrants” on Friday. Newsmax also did not respond to a request for comment.
Later on Thursday afternoon and after publication, though, Newsmax did stop running the news segments and began expressing the faintest amount of doubt surrounding the story.
During an interview with Aguiar, who once again claimed the non-existent incident at the Crossroads Hotel prompted her to push back on accepting migrants, Newsmax host Lidia Curanaj hinted that the story might not be true.
“Um, I think that report is still under question about the homeless veterans being displaced, so we’re still investigating. It seems like there’s a lot of questions surrounding it,” she said before quickly switching subjects.
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