For anyone who thinks Fox News is in some way legitimizing itself by hosting town hall events with Democratic candidates, please direct your attention to the events of the past 24 hours.
It began Sunday night, when the network hosted a town hall event with Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. As was the case when Fox News hosted a similar event with Bernie Sanders last month, Buttigieg impressed, deftly responding to questions by Chris Wallace, and even getting in a few jabs at the network, calling out the anti-immigrant rhetoric of star hosts Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham. “There is a reason why anybody has to swallow hard and think twice before participating in this media ecosystem,” said Buttigieg, ostensibly referencing Elizabeth Warren’s announcement a few days earlier that she had declined to participate in a similar event.
Buttigieg also went after the network’s lodestar, likening Donald Trump’s tweets to “grotesque things.” The president was not pleased. “Fox is moving more and more to the losing (wrong) side in covering the Dems,” he wrote on Sunday. “They got dumped from the Democrats boring debates, and they just want in. They forgot the people who got them there.”
….who got them there. Chris Wallace said, “I actually think, whether you like his opinions or not, that Mayor Pete has a lot of substance…fascinating biography.” Gee, he never speaks well of me – I like Mike Wallace better…and Alfred E. Newman will never be President!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 19, 2019
Trump responded similarly to the network’s decision to host Sanders, calling the appearance “weird,” while bashing hosts Bret Baier and Martha MacAllum. “What’s with @FoxNews?” he tweeted.
The president’s insistence that Fox News hew strictly to Republican guests and talking points is ironic for plenty of reasons, most notably that he’s demanded legitimate news sources he has bashed as biased and liberal cover him in glowing terms. This includes comedy shows. As Media Matters editor Parker Malloy pointed out on Monday, Trump has repeatedly wondered why Saturday Night Live doesn’t give him “equal time,” despite the show inviting him to host during his presidential campaign. Last December, he tweeted that SNL‘s mockery of his presidency “should be tested in the courts.” In March, he suggested there should be “consequences” for the show “knocking the same person (me), over & over, without so much of a mention of ‘the other side.'”
When it comes to Fox News, it’s hard to know whether President Trump is actually concerned the network is “moving more and more” toward coverage of Democrats, or whether he simply sees it as an opportunity to make its more supplicant hosts feel like they need to do something to win back his approval.
Regardless, the hosts of Fox & Friends did all they could to make amends Monday morning, deriding Buttigieg’s policies as “extremely progressive” and even criticizing their employer for allowing the South Bend mayor to stock the event with his “friends,” which is the only explanation they could come up with for why he received any applause. “I think he’s related to the whole audience,” said Brian Kilmeade.
Fox & Friends is shocked that the New Hampshire crowd approved of Pete Buttigieg's call to abolish the electoral college, but Brian Kilmeade says that line only got applause because he stacked the crowd with his "friends." pic.twitter.com/mln5pqxIpj
— Bobby Lewis (@revrrlewis) May 20, 2019
The bulk of the show’s coverage of Buttigieg was focused around comments he recently made to conservative journalist Hugh Hewitt about how Democrats’ “Jefferson-Jackson” dinners should be renamed. “I think it’s the right thing to do,” said Buttigieg of the event honoring the two slave owners. “You know, over time, you develop and evolve on the things you choose to honor.” He added that “we’re not blotting him out of the history books,” speaking of potentially removing Jefferson’s name from the event.
Wallace asked Buttigieg about the comments on Sunday night, to which he reiterated that Democrats should be “thinking twice about naming our events after Jefferson and Jackson,” but that, again, he was not proposing erasing history or “blowing up the Jefferson Memorial,” as some seemed to suggest.
Steve Doocy introduced a clip of his comments to Wallace as Buttigieg clarifying what he had said previously about “going after our Founding Fathers.”
“Should we really be trying to erase our country’s history?” asked Kilemade. “Would we be a country without those men we are trying to erase?”
Fox & Friends uses Pete Buttigieg's Fox News town hall to accuse him of "going after our Founding Fathers" and "trying to erase our country's history." pic.twitter.com/u52Ri4scLk
— Bobby Lewis (@revrrlewis) May 20, 2019
This is a gross misrepresentation of what Buttigieg said, which Fox & Friends even weirdly seemed to acknowledge when they brought on a guest to discuss the comments after the commercial break. After Kilmeade played clips from the town hall to the guest, he asked if they made him “feel better” about what Buttigieg had said to Hewitt (essentially the same thing).
“I think so,” the guest replied. “The way it was originally reported you would have thought he wanted to have Jefferson stricken from the history books.”
The way it was originally reported? You mean the way it was reported minutes earlier on Fox & Friends, the show you’re currently appearing on? “Nevertheless, it shows how radical the Democratic guest has become and what constitutes pandering to them,” he added for good measure.
As Matthew Gertz of Media Matters noted on Twitter, Fox’s next-day coverage of the Buttigieg town hall demonstrates that the network’s willingness to host Democratic candidates is far from some indication that they plan to cover both sides equally; it’s only a way for them to tee up and then later attack Democratic talking points. Make no mistake about it: The network is deep in the pocket of the president, and it would never let any sense of obligation to appear legitimate interfere with promoting his cause.
“These Fox town halls don’t exist in a vacuum, they exist within the context of the network being a propaganda outlet that lies in order to damage progressives and help conservatives,” Gertz wrote. “You can get some good headlines out of doing one and centrist pundits will love it, but the second you leave the stage, Fox will work overtime to undermine your message.”
Elizabeth Warren may have been on to something when called the network a “hate-for-profit racket” last week.