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Mediaite Interview: How Kirsten Powers Became Fox’s Liberal to Be Reckoned With

In an age when political television tends to be either an insular echo chamber or a partisan screamfest, Fox News’ Kirsten Powers is getting heard. Powers, a former Clinton administration official and current Daily Beast columnist, has quietly become one of the most effective and articulate liberal voices on the conservative network, ably rebutting GOP narratives without parroting Democratic talking points, and doing it all minus the cacophony of her cable news compatriots.

Mediaite spoke to her about how she curated a voice both liberal and independent within Fox’s studios, and how she’s grown increasingly disenchanted with the Obama administration’s extension, with the Democratic Party’s endorsement, of Bush-era counterterrorism policies.

“I’m a registered Democrat, I’ve always been a registered Democrat, only ever voted for a Democrats,” Power told Mediaite in an interview in New York this week. “That’s not to say that I wouldn’t theoretically vote for a Republican, there’s just never been a Republican I wanted to vote for. Within the paradigm of Democratic politics, even though people probably think I’m a centrist, I’m more a liberal, except for abortion. Domestic policy, foreign policy, I tend to come down more on the liberal side.”

But if Powers is a liberal, what is she doing at a network so many liberals openly disdain? Powers cited both Fox’s robust operation, and the challenge of getting her views in a contentious environment.

“If I’m going to do TV, I should work for the person who knows most about doing TV, and that’s [Fox President] Roger Ailes,” Powers said. “It was a really well-managed place, people are really happy there, they have a really good product. I also thought I’d have a different voice. Why go to MSNBC, where everybody already thinks what I think? I like the opportunity to offer that other view.”

That other view was most pointedly deployed during a segment this summer on Fox News Watch. As the panelists piled on the narrative that Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and others were focusing on the Trayvon Martin case to the exclusion of the bigger problem of black-on-black violence—an argument that been building across conservative media outlets, especially Fox News’ opinion programs, for days—Powers put a stop to it.

“If conservatives are so concerned about black-on-black crime, it is concerning the only time I hear them talking about it is when they want to stick it to the black community,” Powers told the panel. “Topic A among conservatives is to talk about black-on-black crime. Black-on-black crime is a year-round problem but now everyone is obsessing about it because they can make black people feel bad about it.”

Watch the segment below, via Fox News:

Powers’ comments were replayed for days, as she seemed to many to have seized the motive behind a conservative narrative put into service, perhaps disingenuously, to counteract the miasma of racism surrounding the Martin case.

“It was something that was so overwhelming, I just felt like this was all anybody wanted to talk about,” Powers said, though she didn’t think the other panelists had expressed their views cynically. “I don’t really buy into the idea that there are opinions or narrative…I think it was sincere. I don’t think that there was anything sort of nefarious about it. I think they were taken aback when I said that. To me it just was very clear that it had been the kind of meme that had gone on.”

For all the attention it got, Powers said Fox has never told her to hold back.

“I’ve gotten feedback that my independence is appreciated,” she said. “Nobody ever told me what to say. I have complete freedom. I don’t have to toe any kind of line.”

This doesn’t keep her out of fights on the network. Though Powers is more subdued than the average Fox analyst—“I’m not a yeller,” she told me—she can’t avoid the occasional heated segment, especially when the more pugnacious anchors are ratcheting up the debate.

“I kind of lost it a little with Bill [O’Reilly] a couple weeks ago,” she said. “It was the Trayvon Martin thing. I think I actually started to get visibly upset…I hate it when that happens. I hate it as a viewer when people start talking over each other. It’s just unpleasant, and I don’t think you get your view across.” (By contrast, she named Megyn Kelly as her favorite Fox anchor).

But for all Powers has become a strong voice for the liberal viewpoint, she said the national Democratic Party has drifted away from her, especially on foreign policy issues.

“I’ve been so disappointed with Obama on his foreign policy, and it’s compounded with the way the national Democrats have enabled it, especially after the way they behaved about Bush,” she said. “It’s more like institutional Democrats, who have rallied around assassinating an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, the drone war, escalating the war in Afghanistan, which is a complete disaster, the civil liberties — things that if Bush were doing them, everybody would be hysterical. To me it’s shown that they’re not that serious about human rights and issues they’ve been aligned with.”

Powers described her ideal foreign policy as one of limited engagement, in which the U.S. refrained from intervening in tenuous situations it may not be able to control, or even understand.

“I’m not an isolationist,” she said. “I think we should be involved when we can. I think we are force for good in the world. We are a world leader and we need to act like it. But sometimes we can’t do anything, and I think the Arab Spring is a good example. There was nothing for us to do there but get out of the way…When the U.S. gets involved in things, it’s rare that they make them better. So my feeling is that the Arab Spring is something that we didn’t have any control over. Any time we want to get involved, you have [John] McCain saying let’s arm the rebels, without even knowing who they are. How many times are they going to do that? How many times should we get in bed with the wrong people?”

“The other thing that is so problematic is how frequently Obama says things that turn out not to be true,” Powers added. “All these NSA things—the claims turned out to be false. And with the drone war, that they know who they’re killing; then leaked documents come out that show they don’t know who they’re killing, they’re killing people who aren’t even affiliated, and then any man of military age is a target. This just is not what I voted for.”

[Image via screengrab]

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