If only the seven (so far!) Democratic presidential candidates doing or considering Fox News town halls would listen to Pod Save America’s Dan Pfeiffer and Jon Favreau, they might understand why such an event is short-sighted and how they can get the same benefits without giving Fox News undeserved credibility and advertising dollars.
I remain doggedly in favor of Democrats going on Fox News – for the sake of confronting and calling out the propaganda – but I am just as doggedly against Democratic primary candidates doing town halls on the network. And yes, there’s a difference.
A few weeks ago, Pfeiffer and Favreau, both veterans of the Obama White House, got right to the heart of the problem in a discussion (below) following Sanders’ April 15, 2019 town hall.
The podcast cohosts agreed Bernie “did great,” especially when he “needled” the hosts. That made the event a “huge net positive for Bernie’s campaign,” Pfeiffer said. He also pointed out that doing well on Fox was a way for Sanders to send a message that he can beat Trump.
Pfeiffer also said he understands that for a Democrat to get into the lions den is a way of getting a lot of press coverage which can benefit an individual campaign.
But a short-term campaign win is a long-term loss for Democrats.
For one thing, Pfeiffer explained, it is unlikely there are a lot of “gettable primary voters” watching Fox News. As President Barack Obama’s former communications director, Pfeiffer knows a thing or two about reaching voters.
But the larger, more important picture is that a Democratic town hall is a big, undeserved boost in legitimacy and advertising dollars for Fox. FNC is not a conservative version of MSNBC, as Pfeiffer pointed out, but the most odious, anti-Democratic and anti-democratic propaganda. Favreau correctly described Fox as “a cancer on our democracy” that is “even worse than Donald Trump in some ways.”
PFEIFFER: [Fox] is a corporate-funded, racial-grievance machine for the sole purpose of electing Republicans. It exists to protect Trump, it exists to destroy Democrats, news is the coffee grinds in which they smuggle in the cocaine of propaganda. And a great amount of work has been done to make that case to advertisers, to make that case to the public, to make that case to other reporters to take what they say as a grain of salt.
We have come a million miles since Obama was dealing with Fox when we were in the White House in terms of public understanding of the danger of Fox. And if all of a sudden 19 Democrats all go on Fox, it undermines that work. Right? It allows Fox's advertising department to go back to the advertisers who have pulled out because of things Sean Hannity has said, Tucker Carlson has said, Laura Ingraham has said and say look: Bernie Sanders comes on here, Amy Klobuchar comes on here, Pete Buttigieg comes on here, and see we are legitimate…
PFEIFFER: So I do think we have to think about the fact that if you do things that help Fox sell more ads, what you are doing is making it easier for them to keep Tucker Carlson on air. You are supporting their white supremacist programming, which is incredibly dangerous to America, right? And I think that is my concern, is that in -- if the Democratic Party all of a sudden embraces Fox again, and I think we're doing it for sort of dumb political reasons outside of the context of your own campaign strategy. We are doing a lot of work to rehabilitate Fox in the minds of corporate America and the public writ large. And I think that is potentially damaging the long-term progressives' cause of undoing Trumpism in America which requires limiting the influence of the danger of propaganda networks, most notably Fox.
Favreau called that a “very compelling argument.” But he also longed to see “some Democrat go on” Fox “and actually take it right to f***in’ Fox when they have the whole audience there” because the moment would go viral.
I understand the dilemma. But here’s my solution: There are plenty of Democrats who can get booked on Fox who could do that better and more often than a candidate and in a run-of-the-mill segment. Such Democrats may not get asked back but they would certainly get attention and become heroes to the left. More significantly, they will have done a great public service. But it requires more than “needling” the hosts.
When Obama appeared on Fox, Pfeiffer said, that “did more to legitimize Fox” than to spread his message. Also, Pfeiffer rightly noted that Fox weaponized Sanders’ appearance by distorting his message on other shows and on social media. The “true impact,” Pfeiffer pointed out is not just what happens during a town hall but how Fox later uses that content to push its larger propaganda.
Again, my solution is to have other Democrats go on Fox and create those viral moments during a show that does not add prestige to programming. As for the candidates, they should find other ways to get attention. If they really want to go into the lions den, they should do so after the primary, either as a candidate or former candidate. Again, they should do it during regular programming. Then they can go at it all they want. But for democracy’s sake, don’t help out Fox News with a town hall unless you’re willing to rip the network from proverbial limb to limb.
Listen to Pfeiffer's and Favreau's insights below, from their April 17, 2019 Pod Save America (published on YouTube April 18, 2019).
5/7/19 Update: Here's another reason Democrats should deprive Fox News of town halls: they give undeserved credibility to the moderator(s).
I also agree that if any Democratic politician does wish to go on one of the propaganda shows, whether it be with Bret Baier or Tucker Carlson, their focus should be to confront the propagandists and make sure they understand that they are not going to be taken seriously.