Elizabeth Warren Turns Down Invitation To Appear On Fox News Town Hall
Passing up an opportunity that other Democrats are taking, Elizabeth Warren is declining to appear on Fox News Channel. This seems like an unwise decision.
Elizabeth Warren is declining an invitation to appear in a town hall on Fox News Channel, instead using the invitation as an opportunity to attack the network:
Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said Tuesday that she would not participate in a Fox News town hall as some other Democratic candidates have, calling the media outlet “a hate-for-profit racket” that seeks to turn Americans against one another.
In a series of messages posted on Twitter, Ms. Warren, who is one of 22 people seeking the Democratic nomination for president, accused the network of giving “a megaphone to racists and conspiracists” and providing cover for corruption.
She also returned to one of her campaign’s central themes in her attack on Fox News, framing the network as the sort of corporate “profit machine” she has railed against.
“Hate-for-profit works only if there’s profit, so Fox News balances a mix of bigotry, racism, and outright lies with enough legit journalism to make the claim to advertisers that it’s a reputable news outlet,” she said. “It’s all about dragging in ad money — big ad money.”
“But Fox News is struggling as more and more advertisers pull out of their hate-filled space. A Democratic town hall gives the Fox News sales team a way to tell potential sponsors it’s safe to buy ads on Fox,” she continued. “I won’t ask millions of Democratic primary voters to tune into an outlet that profits from racism and hate.”
The network did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ms. Warren’s stance diverges from some of her Democratic rivals who have appeared at town hall-style events on the cable network, saying that it’s important to reach out to voters of all persuasions.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Tuesday that she had turned down an invitation to appear at a presidential town hall meeting hosted by Fox News, an outlet she characterized as “a hate-for-profit racket that gives a megaphone to racists and conspiracists.”
The decision by Warren (D-Mass.), which was announced on Twitter, underscored divisions among the crowded field of Democratic White House hopefuls about how to treat a cable network with a clear conservative bent but a sizable audience.
Fox News has hosted town hall events this year for Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). It has others in the works with other Democratic contenders, including South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.).
Earlier this year, the Democratic National Committee announced that it would exclude Fox News from hosting any of its 2020 candidate debates, with DNC Chairman Tom Perez saying the network could not be trusted to host “a fair or neutral debate.”
In her tweets, Warren said Fox News was “designed to turn us against each other, risking life and death consequences, to provide cover for the corruption that’s rotting our government and hollowing out our middle class.”
Here are Warren’s Tweets on the matter:
Warren’s decision comes in response to an apparent invitation from Fox News to participate in a town hall, something that Senators Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar have already and which South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg is expected to do on Sunday. The Sanders town hall drew more than 2.5 million viewers, which is the largest audience of any town hall event on any of the three cable news networks. Klobuchar’s town hall, meanwhile, drew roughly 1.6 million viewers, more than twice the number that a similar event with the Minnesota Senator drew when she appeared on CNN. In addition to these candidates, New York Senator Kristen Gillibrand has agreed to do a town hall event on the network in June and both Senator Cory Booker and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro are apparently in the process of scheduling similar events over the summer.
Warren’s decision to turn down a Fox News invitation for a town hall follows in the footsteps of a similar decision by the Democratic National Committee to decline to schedule a candidate debate on the network, continuing a policy that has been in place for the better part of a decade. While that decision seems understandable given the hostility that the network’s opinion hosts have shown in the past toward the Democratic Party and its candidates. However, as Republican strategist Liz Mair argued at the time, avoiding Fox News is arguably not a wise decision on the part of Democrats:
The Democratic National Committee’s decision to bar Fox News from hosting a 2020 Democratic presidential primary debate will undoubtedly, and understandably, prove to be a popular decision with the party’s core, primarily coastal base.
But it’s also very shortsighted and could hurt the party and its candidates. In the minds of many progressive Democrats, Fox News may be synonymous with Sean Hannity. But in the minds of many other Americans, Fox News is synonymous with what they put on to watch Bret Baier, Shepard Smith or Chris Wallace.
These Fox News anchors and personalities do not do the bidding of the Trump administration — go find Mr. Wallace’s recent grilling of the Trump anti-immigration White House policy adviser Stephen Miller if you’re unsure. It’s not a given that their viewers are entirely die-hard Trump fans, or even Republicans. Fox News — the actual news part — is indeed consumed by some Democrats and independents. And its viewership numbers are big enough that the D.N.C. is, in its way, cutting off its nose to spite its face by leaving those potential voters on the table and unspoken to.
According to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey, 3 percent of 2016 Hillary Clinton voters cited Fox as their principal news source, exactly one percentage point behind the number who cited NBC and two points behind those who cited The New York Times as the “main source” of their news. Critically, Pew asked its question about “main sources” in an open-ended way; they were not pushing anyone to reply “Fox News.”
Pew data from 2014 shows similar trends: 5 percent of people who called themselves “mostly liberal” cited Fox News as their “main source” of news about government and politics (the same number as cited MSNBC). So did 8 percent of those with “mixed” political views (MSNBC didn’t rate with them at all).
According to New York Times reporting from 2012, a quarter of “Fox and Friends” viewers were Democrats or Democratic leaners; 9 percent were independents.
It’s possible that in the era of Trump, those numbers have shifted a lot. It’s also possible that every Democrat or independent who watches Fox is a “hate viewer” or views it on mute just to see super-telegenic anchors smiling and looking friendly.
But it’s more likely given that Fox has been the most-watched cable network for 17 years straight, some people who tune in are people Democrats actually want and need to vote for their candidates. That will be especially the case if the economy starts to sour — February’s job numbers offer a hint of that — and voters who were previously more favorable to Mr. Trump start to turn on him. That could easily happen in places where Fox is most likely consumed more by Democrats and independents — like Iowa, the first caucus state, where many farmers are reeling from the effect of Mr. Trump’s tariffs and where, in a packed primary field, 10 votes here or 10 votes there might make the difference between who emerges as a real contender for the nomination and who is culled straight out of the gate.
Smart political campaigns are about looking ahead to where things will most likely stand and what votes will be needed on Election Day — or the beginning of early voting — and not responding to whatever the drama of the day or the week is. Democrats hate Fox, and the pressure not to lend them credibility or “punish” it by allowing it to host a debate is immense.
But giving into it is ultimately more likely than not to prove shortsighted and pointless. The “no Fox debate” rabble rousers will vote Democratic anyway; those Democrats and independents watching Fox might not. Suck it up and do the debate. It’s the smarter move strategically.
Evan Siegfried made a similar argument at the time:
One common misconception about Fox News is that it’s filled with wall-to-wall programming and personalities boosting Trump and his every utterance — a frequent charge of the network’s critics. True, some hosts, such as Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, support the president and do not hide it. But these are the proprietors of opinion programs, and they are no different from opinion columnists like The Washington Post’s Paul Waldman and the New York Times’ Charles Blow, or MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow. On the news side at Fox, several anchors refuse to toe the Trump line and remain devoted to solid reporting of stories and discussion of issues. (Full disclosure: I am an occasional guest on news and opinion shows on Fox News and Fox Business, and I am not compensated for these appearances.)
There is an immediate, highly relevant historical example here: the third and final presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in October 2016. Fox News’s Chris Wallace hosted it, and figures from the left and the right cheered his work. The New Yorker’s television critic, Emily Nussbaum, tweeted: “Gotta say, Chris Wallace is a pro. Cool demeanor, asking clear follow-ups,” while the New York Times wrote that Wallace “mixed humor with scolding and persistence with patience to guide his charges toward the most substantive encounter of an unusually vicious election.”
Lower-profile and lower-stakes coverage follows basic journalistic principles, too. Harris Faulkner earned praise from Slate, a frequent Fox News antagonist, for a segment discussing gun policy that she moderated in 2017 (note: I was one of the participants). Anchors Shepard Smith, Neil Cavuto, Dana Perino, Martha MacCallum, Bret Baier and others have also repeatedly received plaudits for their devotion to presenting the truth. Does the DNC think they have suddenly abandoned those values? (Mayer’s piece alleged that a Fox News reporter was told to kill a story about Trump’s affair with Stormy Daniels. Even if true, the executives who made the decision are no longer with Fox News.)
Further, since the 2016 election, Democrats have openly discussed their desire to win over Trump voters — many of whom are Fox News viewers. According to Nielsen, the network’s viewers are 94 percent white and have a median age of 65: exactly the demographic in which Democrats will need to make headway in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio.
These voters aren’t a transparently lost cause. Just over four months ago, there was a noticeable change in how white Americans voted. White voters backed Trump by a margin of 21 points in 2016 but but preferred Republicans by just 10 points in 2018, according to the Pew Research Center. At the same time, voters 65 and older also saw a seismic shift that benefited Democrats, as these voters went from favoring Republicans by 16 percentage points in 2014 to preferring them by just two points in 2018. These Americans are clearly persuadable if they hear the right message. They may not leap onto Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s bandwagon, but the populism of Elizabeth Warren or the pragmatism of John Hickenlooper might appeal to some of them — maybe just enough of them.
Perez and the DNC have shut the door on a golden opportunity to talk directly to an audience of potential voters whom they have said they want to win over — voters who already trust the likely debate moderators from Fox News’s stable of qualified anchors. The decision may elicit a smile from Democrats now, but probably not on the morning of Nov. 4, 2020, when they might be asking themselves, as they did last time, if they could have done more.
Warren’s decision is somewhat puzzling given the fact that there’s evidence from the campaign trail that her message may be resonating with the “MAGA” crowd that voted for Trump in 2016 but which is looking around now and seeing no real changes from a candidate who promised significant change that would benefit them. Taking this into account, it would seem as though Warren could benefit from appearing on a network where these voters are more likely to see her. Instead, she chooses to attack that network., and while that kind of rhetoric will be cheered on by the hardcore progressive voters that are already inclined to support Warren, it’s likely to be a turnoff to some of those voters who do watch Fox News but who otherwise might be persuadable to vote for a candidate like Warren, Sanders, Klobuchar, Buttigieg, Gillibrand, Castro, or Booker.
While Warren’s decision to use the occasion of a Fox News invitation to blast the network may seem as though it’s politically smart, I tend to agree with Mair and Seigfried that the arguments in favor of courting the network outweigh any arguments against doing so. As has been noted, these programs are not going to be hosted by one of the network’s opinion hosts, but instead would be hosted by one of the “hard news” hosts such as Chris Wallace Bret Bair, or Shepard Smith all three of whom have demonstrated a long-standing history of objectivity and even a willingness to question the ideological bias of their own network. Additionally, as Mair and Seigfried both note, there is at least some segment of the Fox News Channel audience that is persuadable by the candidate. Finally, there’s the fact that one has to argue that candidates such as Sanders, Klobuchar, and Buttigieg get some credit for having the nerve to appear on a network where they may face some hostile questions. Passing that up in the name of tossing out rhetoric about “hate-for-profit” seems like a foolish decision.