The Fox News dilemma for Democrats

There has been some controversy over the issue of whether Democratic candidates should appear on Fox News programs and on the ‘town halls’ that they sponsor, where their hosts interview candidates before an audience. Some have chosen to do so while others have declined. Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, and Pete Buttigieg have chosen to appear but Elizabeth Warren was particularly stinging in her rejection of their invitation, calling Fox a ‘hate for profit racket’. The Democratic party has said that they will not allow Fox to sponsor any of the debates of their candidates.

Let me stipulate from the outset that Fox News is a Republican and Trump propaganda outlet that does profit off spreading hate and division. But I still think that there should not be a blanket condemnation of people who appear on it. I fail to see why any candidate for office should not take advantage of a platform that reaches a large audience. A problem arises when a candidate (or anyone else) modifies their views purely to appeal to what they think that audience wants to hear and in the hope of being invited on the network. That would be problematic. But if they are saying what they would say anywhere else, I do not see why they should completely write off the chance that some members of that audience may be receptive to their message

There is of course the inevitable slippery slope argument. Should one be willing to speak to any group at all, regardless of what that group stands for?. What about an invitation from some openly racist, misogynistic, or xenophobic group? What about the KKK? At what point does appearing with a group become more a way for a dubious group to legitimize themselves rather than a means of spreading one’s message?

Like all slippery slope arguments, it is a matter of judgment and drawing a hard and fast line is difficult. But my opinion is that appearing on Fox News is not a bridge too far.

This tweet captures some of this sentiment


  1. consciousness razor says

    Agreed. The implication that venues like CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, etc., are unproblematic is laughable. I don’t know whether to read it as naive or pretentious or what, but Warren is too smart for it, so I have a hard time taking that position very seriously. And the tweet at the end makes it clear enough that this is not like giving a speech at a Klan rally or what have you — the president needs to be able to address the kind of large, broad audience that’s watching Fox when it hosts such events.
    I think the truth is that Sanders did a great job at the Fox “town hall,” much better than I expected. That’s not an opening act that anyone wants to follow. It’s like you’re told “alright, Coltrane’s done with his set; you’re up.” What do you say? “Nah … the people who own this place are assholes. I’m going to play for those other assholes.”

  2. file thirteen says

    I agree. Moreover:

    Should one be willing to speak to any group at all, regardless of what that group stands for?

    I think in two situations. Firstly when you agree with the group’s ideals (not what you were talking about, but I mention it for completeness). Secondly when the group exceeds a particular threshold of popularity.

    What that threshold is is subjective, but I think Fox passes it. There’s no point in eschewing Fox for, say, Al Jazeera, if a large proportion of the US population watch little other than Fox; not even if Fox is complete anathema to you. You have to be eloquent and steadfast to get your points across in a hostile interviewing environment, but Sanders showed it can be done.

  3. anat says

    Warren is a woman. She has good reason to expect worse and less fair treatment than Bernie by the Trump channel. Sometimes the best move is not to play at all.

  4. file thirteen says


    Sometimes the best move is not to play at all.

    It takes some nerve to play a game that you know is rigged, but as a politician it’s hard to turn away from anything that will give you exposure. The gamble is whether the public attention that she’s gained from her stinging rejection of Fox supersedes what she might have got from taking up their offer.

  5. says

    I agree with substantial portions of Mano’s OP, #1, and #3.

    But I wonder… I recognize that this is an analogy and pushes things a bit, but remember that Warren’s (stated) objection is that her appearance would constitute something akin to fund raising for Fox. She doesn’t want to put money in their hands.

    So… while I recognize that CR’s right as far as #1 goes, an important question not addressed in #1 is what happens when your efforts actually contribute money to Fox News’ pockets? If it’s wrong to refuse to speak to Fox because of an editorial slant (even a very bad one), is it just as wrong to appear as a top-billed guest at a Fox fundraiser? At an NRA fundraiser?

    I recognize that there are differences between going on a for-profit media network’s air and literally doing a fund-raising benefit gig for them, but do those differences matter at all, and if so how much? At what point can or should we consider whether or not we’re raising money for our political opponents?

    This doesn’t (entirely?) save Warren’s comments after all. She may very well have been afraid of following Sanders (particularly, as anat mentions, because she may fear that even if she’s doing a great job the network may do more -- intentionally or not -- to interrupt or interfere because she’s a woman of color). And it’s true that independents and some Dems get their news from Fox. (In a general election I would be particularly focussed on this point, though I think it’s a marginal one in the context of the Democratic primary.) But it’s also true that her point was not that we shouldn’t talk to people who watch Fox, but rather that we shouldn’t help Fox turn a profit (or even stay in business).

    If Buttigieg’s appearance (for example) raised money for a corporation horribly hostile to queer folks, should we as queer folks really be praising his outreach? To what extent does the money matter here?

  6. says

    I do have some questions regarding that Tweet, though. They say, “I think that what Bernie gets — and Nate doesn’t — is that 33% of Fox news viewers identify as Independent or Dem.” (Obviously, I’m not expecting anyone here to answer. I’m just seeing potential flaws in the point and am unconvinced as it stands.)

    -- How many of those are actually Republicans who just call themselves “independents” to fool themselves into thinking they don’t engage in partisan politics (likely to ease cognitive dissonance…but the reason isn’t important to the question)? I ask because if the idea is that this is a way to reach out to potential swing voters, more evidence is needed that these people are actually swing voters. (We know, in part from the fact that there are only a handful of swing states in this country, that there are fewer truly independent voters than there are those who claim to be independent. This should not come as a surprise to many of the readers here.)
    -- How many of the remaining actual independents and democrats regularly view other channels? (In other words, is Fox News by far their primary source of information? Or is it more of a secondary source?) If the idea is that these viewers won’t otherwise here about Bernie, more data is needed to support it.

  7. file thirteen says


    The other side of the coin is that people who identify as republicans are also capable of changing their minds and switching sides.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *