The 2018 midterm election hangover has barely faded but, already, the nation is gearing up for another political bender: the 2020 general election. Before the presidential campaign begins in earnest, a packed Democratic field will battle it out during a primary contest which has, in effect, already begun. The DNC wasted no time in launching its stage management of the party’s nomination process by announcing a decision to bar Fox News from hosting a primary debate.
Pause, here, for dramatic effect and let that sink in: The party that has constantly berated President Donald Trump for his tirades against the media has banned the most-watched cable news channel in America from hosting a presidential primary debate.
One would have thought that if the DNC was confident that the party platform is good for America – better than Trump’s – and that its candidates for president were competent to deliver a winning message, it would welcome the tough questions that Fox News hosts would bring and the attention of the huge Fox audience.
Divining the DNC Motive
It is tempting, then, to believe that the party simply does not want to expose the candidates to the kind of questions Fox veterans like Bret Baier, Martha McCallum, or Brit Hume might put to them. No doubt, the candidates themselves will fare better with CNN questions, such as “If you were an ice-cream, what flavor would you be?” or “Do you think Trump is only slightly racist or literally Hitler?”
Unlike the fawning groupies of CNN and MSNBC, Fox hosts are likely to ask questions that demand substantive, policy-based answers – the kind that will stick to the candidate when he or she carries the nomination and goes head to head with the president.
Democratic Party leadership cites Fox’s Republican and pro-Trump bias in its decision. Obviously, they very much prefer the pro-Democrat, pro-left bias of other networks. CNN has a history of compliance with DNC wishes, including providing, in advance, the preferred primary candidate with the debate questions.
It is true that certain Fox News hosts are rabidly pro-Trump, to an almost sycophantic degree in one or two cases. It is also true that the network features more Democrat and progressive pundits and political operatives during the course of any given day than CNN features conservatives in an entire month.
A number of long-time Fox hosts or co-hosts have, themselves, been the target of much ire from viewers because of their apparent adversarial coverage of the president, and few of those who appear in front of Fox cameras are shy about pointing out Republican shortcomings.
Nevertheless, in the eyes of Democrats, any journalist or media personality who is not completely obsessed with berating Trump is the enemy and such people have no place at a Democratic Party primary debate.
Could this decision to exclude Fox from a series of major television events be more about ratings, however? MSNBC lags well behind Fox News in viewership and CNN cannot even come close. According to figures from data analytics company Nielsen, Fox News had well over three million primetime viewers for the week of February 4, 2019. MSNBC barely managed two million and CNN only just exceeded 1.2 million viewers. Fox also beats the other two cable networks in daytime viewers and, in truth, has dominated the cable news ratings for years.
Perhaps, then, the DNC decision is more about its co-dependent relationship with CNN and a resulting desire to boost the network’s ratings at the expense of its far more popular counterpart.
Trump, the Ratings King, Responds
President Donald Trump will, of course, be campaigning for re-election and will face no serious primary challenge. But Democrats, like a horde of Walking Dead zombies, are already shambling down the long and difficult road toward 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The last thing they need is for Fox to break out the crossbows. Perhaps they deserve a little sympathy, though it is difficult to reconcile this blatant act of censorship with their constant complaints that Trump is scheming to limit the freedom of the press.
When it comes to the popular human pastime of “two can play at that game,” however, it is hard to beat the current occupant of the White House. Responding to the DNC announcement, Trump has threatened to boycott presidential debates hosted by those networks he accuses of dealing in “fake news.” Presidential debates are not sponsored by the networks themselves, but selected hosts do get to ask the questions.
Donald J. Trump is a ratings magnet. Consider the fact that he once orchestrated the world’s most-watched descent of an escalator. Though it would not necessarily be a smart political move to decline to participate in presidential debates, there are, quite simply, no presidential debates without Trump’s involvement. Regardless of who the Democrats nominate to challenge Trump in 2020, the debates will be must-watch T.V. and the networks are going to have to appease the president, whether they want to or not. Thus, the Fox primary embargo will, likely, not stand – especially in light of the additional pressure journalist associations are likely to apply.
Additionally, the left-wing networks and the DNC know very well that, if Fox News does not get to sponsor a primary debate, it will air a competing show, complete with a panel of high-powered political analysts to dissect the candidates’ performances – and that show will attract more viewers than the televised debate itself. The DNC announcement is asinine and does nothing more than further demonstrate the Democratic Party’s refusal to venture beyond its own echo chamber. If the party hopes to put its candidate in the White House in 2020, it cannot afford to shun the attention of those beyond its base.