The Democratic National Committee announced on Wednesday its plans to reject Fox News as host for a Democratic Primary debate in the run-up to the 2020 General Election. DNC Chair Tom Perez cited Jane Mayer’s recent New Yorker report that raised legitimate questions as to whether or not Fox News plays the role of a pro-Trump administration propaganda arm as the reasoning behind this decision.
There is no shortage of smart people who have lauded this decision. And there are reasons to support shunning a network that often appears to be in the tank for the Trump administration. But it’s my belief that Democratic party is making an enormous mistake by passing over Fox News; a mistake so big that could very well end up costing them the general election.
“I believe that a key pathway to victory is to continue to expand our electorate and reach all voters,” said Perez in his statement to The Washington Post. “That is why I have made it a priority to talk to a broad array of potential media partners, including Fox News. Recent reporting in the New Yorker on the inappropriate relationship between President Trump, his administration and Fox News has led me to conclude that the network is not in a position to host a fair and neutral debate for our candidates. Therefore, Fox News will not serve as a media partner for the 2020 Democratic primary debates.”
Shortly after this news broke, Fox News responded with the following statement by Senior Vice President and Managing Editor Bill Sammon:
“We hope the DNC will reconsider its decision to bar Chris Wallace, Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, all of whom embody the ultimate journalistic integrity and professionalism, from moderating a Democratic presidential debate. They’re the best debate team in the business and they offer candidates an important opportunity to make their case to the largest TV news audience in America, which includes many persuadable voters.”
There are many details in the New Yorker article that would lead anyone to conclude that the seemingly symbiotic relationship between the White House and Fox News is “inappropriate,” and I just explained in a column yesterday why some curious programming decisions made by Fox News execs have placed them under a critical microscope.
But a close reading of the New Yorker piece almost entirely cites evidence from the opinion side of Fox News programming. Any presidential debate would be produced and hosted by members of Fox News news division, including respected news veterans such as Chris Wallace, Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum for example. All are exceedingly professional and journalists of integrity that Democratic candidates should have no reason to fear.
These three hosts will almost certainly ask tough questions from a perspective that candidates will need to face if they want to survive in the general election. That is their job and no one can realistically expect them to not do that professionally.
Perez conclusion that Fox News is “not in a position to host a fair and neutral debate” seems to suggest that conservative stalwarts like Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham or even Brit Hume would somehow be involved, and that is too far-fetched a concept to take seriously. This is a vital opportunity and challenge for the candidates, one of whom will almost certainly have to face off against these anchors in a general election debate hosted by Fox News. Do they really want to face questions then, after snubbing them in the primary?
There is a fair point to make that the Democratic party should not reward a media outlet that is so consistently dedicated to undermining their agenda, often with misinformed and specious arguments. And there is some risk for candidates who would be reasonably wary of an organization that might be more interested in generating viral bites for the general election than conducting an honest debate.
Unlike CNN and MSNBC who often share viewers, Fox News is really the only game in town for right-of-center programming. As such, Fox News viewers are among the most loyal viewers on cable news.
Fox News most popular shows are nearly entirely pro-Trump and anti-Democratic opinion programming, and even much of the “news” side of Fox News programming often present news through a conservative lens. It is not often to see a news report on a Trump tweet that is based on a segment the President saw on Fox News opinion programming. And much of this is not just critical of Democratic policies but paints leading figures in the most cartoonish caricatures imaginable.
Therefore, there is a great benefit for Democratic candidates to present themselves in the live and uneditable format of a primary debate. If to only demystify their agenda and policies in an unmitigated way. In the marketplace of ideas, Democrats should not be afraid to confront their political foes and instead embrace the discourse.
So there is real upside in speaking unvarnished policy to a massive Fox News audience who rarely hear unmitigated reports. It is simply too great an opportunity to pass up.
There is no question we are enduring a hyper-partisan and politically divided time. And we are long overdue for a transcendent experience (that’s not a crisis) that can help everyone move forward. But until that time arrives, rejecting political media rivals is only going to sow more division, which will only likely hurt Democratic candidates at the ballot box in November of 2020.
The DNC is taking a principled action with this remarkable decision, which is sure to earn plaudits from its most loyal members. But practically, this decision could be one that they come to regret.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.