DNC: No Democratic primary debates for Fox News

Eh. It’s a shame that Chris Wallace and Bret Baier have to lose out on an opportunity as sweet as this, but c’mon. This is a network that often operates in primetime as an arm of the White House comms team. The 9 p.m. guy talks to Trump regularly, has been described as his “shadow of chief staff,” and campaigned with him at a rally shortly before the midterms. The former president of the network works in the White House for Trump right now despite the fact that he’s still receiving severance payments from Fox News. A former “Fox & Friends” contributor was all set to be the president’s new ambassador to the UN until her nomination hit a snag. His son and namesake is an item with a former host of “The Five.” Just this week the New Yorker dropped a lengthy story about the “Fox News White House,” claiming that FNC had the Stormy Daniels story in 2016 but chose to bury it.

It’s not a matter of Dems fearing that Wallace and Baier would turn a primary debate into some Hannityesque attack segment, I’m sure, but rather not wanting to reward an operation that’s effectively in a partnership with the man they’ll be facing next fall.

In fact, the New Yorker piece contains a splashy allegation that has to do specifically with Fox, Trump, and presidential debates:

[A]t the debate in Cleveland, [Megyn] Kelly asked Trump a famously tough question. “You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs,’ and ‘disgusting animals,’ ” she said. Trump interrupted her with a snide quip: “Only Rosie O’Donnell!” The hall burst into laughter and applause…

Fox, however, may have given Trump a little help. A pair of Fox insiders and a source close to Trump believe that Ailes informed the Trump campaign about Kelly’s question. Two of those sources say that they know of the tipoff from a purported eyewitness. In addition, a former Trump campaign aide says that a Fox contact gave him advance notice of a different debate question, which asked the candidates whether they would support the Republican nominee, regardless of who won. The former aide says that the heads-up was passed on to Trump, who was the only candidate who said that he wouldn’t automatically support the Party’s nominee—a position that burnished his image as an outsider.

True or false? It seems plausible given the intimacy of the Trump-Fox relationship (Ailes briefly advised Trump after leaving Fox News following his #MeToo crisis), which was probably enough for DNC chair Tom Perez to pull the plug.

“I believe that a key pathway to victory is to continue to expand our electorate and reach all voters. That is why I have made it a priority to talk to a broad array of potential media partners, including FOX News,” DNC Chairman Tom Perez said in a statement Wednesday.

“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,” the statement adds.

Fox replied:

“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.”

What if they let Ocasio-Cortez fan Geraldo Rivera host it?

Nah, just wouldn’t work. Look at it from Perez’s perspective: Even if you had every assurance from Fox that Wallace and Baier would be fair (and they would be), the decision to hand a debate to Trump TV would infuriate many Dem voters and instigate threats of a boycott of some sort. The DNC has spent the past three years trying to heal the rift with the left over the preferential treatment given to Hillary over Bernie Sanders in 2016; choosing Fox for a debate would undo some of those repairs and start a round of “Why are we not punishing our enemies when we have the chance?” navel-gazing about Democratic wimpiness. In the end Perez would be forced to drop the Fox debate under pressure to placate those people. Anticipating all of that, he wisely decided not to bother going through a process that could only divide the base and end with him seeming weak and to rule out a Fox debate up front.

Here’s your exit quotation. It’s nice of him to stick up for his buddies at Fox but this will not disabuse Perez and others of their suspicions that Trump and FNC are more of a partnership than a politician and a news network covering him at arm’s length. And needless to say, he won’t be skipping the gigantic audiences that presidential debates next year will bring him.


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