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Of Course Democrats Shouldn’t Let Fox News Host a Primary Debate

Fair and balanced. Photo: Fox News

The Democratic National Committee has decided that it will not allow a Republican propaganda outfit known for fomenting racial paranoia, facilitating serial sexual assault — and directly advising the GOP president — to host any of the Democratic Party’s 2020 primary debates.

Not that Democrats didn’t consider doing so. As DNC chair Tom Perez said in a statement Wednesday, “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.”

But, Perez continued, “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.”

How Perez could have possibly been unaware of this “inappropriate relationship” before reading Jane Mayer’s latest bombshell is unclear. Nevertheless, The New Yorker article does make said impropriety undeniable. In it, Mayer reveals that, in 2016, a Fox reporter named Diana Falzone had acquired hard evidence of both Trump’s affair with Stormy Daniels and his efforts to buy her silence — only to have an editor kill her story, telling her, in so many words, “Good reporting, kiddo. But Rupert wants Donald Trump to win.” After the mogul’s victory, the network demoted Falzone. She then sued, and won a settlement that included a nondisclosure agreement.

There are many things you can call a media organization that punishes its employees for digging up stories that are politically inconvenient for the Republican Party — “a legitimate news network” is not one of them.

Nevertheless, the DNC’s announcement (bafflingly) inspired “tsk, tsks” from some corners of the Fourth Estate. The AP’s Zeke Miller said of the Democrats’ decision on Twitter, “if you aren’t prepared for tough questions/subjects in a primary debate, how will you handle the general?” NBC News reporter Jonathan Allen echoed this sentiment, tweeting, “There are plenty of quality journalists at Fox, some of whom have been excellent questioners at past presidential debates. And really, if you can’t answer questions — especially if they’re not the questions you want asked — maybe you don’t have good answers.”

The core premise of both these tweets — that Democrats are turning down Fox because they are afraid of tough questions — is bizarre. Imagine someone invites you to play ping-pong at a bar known primarily for hosting dogfights in its basement. If you refuse, is that proof that you are afraid of a competitive game of ping-pong? If you were assured that this bar — where men go to coerce dogs into mauling each other — has plenty of quality ping-pong tables, would you therefore have no excuse not to attend? Or could you reasonably express the concern that those ping-pong tables, as nice as they are, appear to function primarily as a means of softening the image of a fundamentally evil enterprise that deserves to be shunned by all right-thinking people?

This is not a perfect analogy. But, as stipulated above, Fox News is a racist, Republican propaganda outfit that throws a couple of journalists out front to keep up appearances, like so many ping-pong tables at a dogfight bar.

After all, we are talking about a channel whose most-watched program is hosted by one of the Republican president’s most influential advisers. By his own account, Sean Hannity speaks with Donald Trump every night. By the Washington Post’s, White House advisers refer to the cable host as their “shadow chief of staff.” Ahead of the 2018 midterms, Hannity joined Trump onstage at a campaign rally. Two years before that, the host defended himself from allegations of pro-Trump bias by exclaiming, “I’m not a journalist!”

The channel’s second-most-watched show is hosted by man who accused the Democratic Party of “plotting a coup” last summer, one that would use immigrants as its shock troops. Tucker Carlson has also told his viewers that immigrants make “our own country poorer and dirtier.” He has excoriated Macy’s for selling fashionable hijabs (insisting that corporations have a moral responsibility not to cater certain forms of consumer demand), and scolded PayPal for refusing to provide payment services to the white nationalist website VDare (insisting that corporations had a responsibility to serve all would-be customers). White nationalists understandably love him.

The channel’s chairman is a longtime friend of the president. The president’s director of communications was a longtime co-president of Fox News. And for almost all of its history, the channel’s CEO was a Republican operative who saw it as a tool for protecting the conservative movement from the bias of a liberal, mainstream press.

But Fox News doesn’t just look like a racist, Republican propaganda outfit. It demonstrably functions as one. As Vox’s Matt Yglesias recently observed:

A study by Emory University political scientist Gregory Martin and Stanford economist Ali Yurukoglu estimates that watching Fox News translates into a significantly greater willingness to vote for Republican candidates.

Specifically, by exploiting semi-random variation in Fox viewership driven by changes in the assignment of channel numbers, they find that if Fox News hadn’t existed, the Republican presidential candidate’s share of the two-party vote would have been 3.59 points lower in 2004 and 6.34 points lower in 2008. Without Fox, in other words, the GOP’s only popular vote win since the 1980s would have been reversed and the 2008 election would have been an extinction-level landslide.

It would be ridiculous, of course, to argue that absent conservative propaganda broadcasting, Republicans would never win an election. What would happen, instead, is that in order to avoid constantly losing, Republicans would need to do more to bring key aspects of their policy agenda in line with public opinion and display less indifference to the prevalence of scandal-plagued individuals in party leadership. The conclusion, however, remains the same: Fox appears to be a decisive influence in making the Republican Party as currently constituted an electorally viable entity. And these studies are based on Fox’s past — according to Mayer, the network has only become more propagandistic since the 2016 election.

Democrats aren’t cowards for shunning this network. But there’s a decent case that Fox’s few genuine journalists are for declining to do the same.

No, Democrats Should Not Let Fox News Host a Primary Debate