Fear No Fox

When asked if she would consider doing a town hall on Fox News, Massachusetts Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren responded like so:

“A Fox News town hall adds money to the hate-for-profit machine. To which I say: hard pass. Fox News is welcome to come to my events just like any other outlet.”

She is not wrong in her assessment. Fox News is such a partisan organization the “News” part of their name should never be found outside of quotation marks. They traffic in racism, xenophobia, and homophobia, appealing to the worst parts of human nature. They promote lies, hate, and fear.

But she’s wrong about not going on the network for a town hall.

How can I say that, you might ask? Especially since I find Fox as unseemly as she does. To tell you the truth, I’m surprised myself. Earlier this year when the DNC refused to consider holding a Democratic Primary debate on Fox, I was as “Good! Screw ’em!” as anybody.

Then Bernie Sanders went on Fox for a town hall.

Let me be very clear: I have no love for Bernie Sanders. I’m not a fan of the every-fourth-year Democrat who has spent over a quarter of a century in Congress mostly renaming post offices, until he lost the ‘16 primary to Hillary Clinton by three million votes and then claimed he was robbed.

I have to give credit where due, though. That crusty son-of-a-gun went on that otherwise useless network and owned the room as well as the hour. He got out his message, and didn’t compromise his viewpoint to do it. The look of shock on the moderators’ faces alone was worth the price of admission as the audience cheered Sanders’ every punchline.

It got me thinking that maybe I was wrong about Democratic candidates going on Fox. And when I saw Mayor Pete Buttigieg hold his own town hall on the network Sunday night, I became sure that I had been looking at things the wrong way.

While Sanders nailed his Fox appearance, Mayor Pete made him look like a warm-up act. Like Sanders, Buttigieg took on every question, parried the moderator (in this case, Chris Wallace) when necessary, took on Trump, and took on Fox itself. And he slayed. While Sanders stole the show with his trademark bluster, Pete was stealthy. He was thoughtful, and detailed. The crazy thing is, he was only talking sense.

It reminded me of the time the GOP congress invited the newly-minted President Obama to their yearly retreat. They put him on stage with the intent of ambushing him. It was one on two-hundred-and-something. And the one handed them their lunches. He knew their issues better than they did. He made mincemeat out of them – and, of course, he was never asked back. Hell, at the end of it, Mike Pence looked like he could use a drink.

That’s when it clicked for me.

Long ago the infamous Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks. He answered, “because that’s where the money is.”

And there it is. Because, like it or not, Fox is the most watched news network on television. In most states across America, if you walk into a hotel, a doctor’s office, or a mechanic’s garage and they have the news on in the waiting room or lobby, it’s probably Fox they have playing. You seldom see or hear anyone doing anything on that network other than sending an anti-liberal echo down the chamber. They get this carte-blanche because our side doesn’t compete.

It’s not hard to figure out why it’s been this way. For a Democrat to go on Fox is to know the talking head they are facing off with will be dismissive, if not openly hostile. It’s not anything one would imagine a serious Democrat looking forward to. But doesn’t the alternative cede all the ground to the series of nodding heads doing nothing more than reflecting each other’s opinions about the evils of the opposing party – namely, us?

I’m aware that the average Fox viewer isn’t open to hearing our message. But that doesn’t mean we still shouldn’t be getting it out. Furthermore, the assumption that only right-wing Republicans watch Fox is wrong. I was surprised to learn that 23% of their viewing audience is made up of registered Democrats and another 18% are Independents. Now, I’m sure that some of those Democrats are folks who just haven’t gotten around to changing their designation, and that the majority of those “independents” are really just Republicans who think of themselves as too good to be a member of any party. But still – some of those people could be willing to listen.

When I think of the three states we most need to win back – Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania – and how close those contests were, or the alarming number of voters in those three states who voted for Obama twice and then turned to Trump in 2016 – I don’t know if we can afford to laugh off Fox anymore.

Again, I’m not expecting us to turn Fox into the “fair and balanced” network they laughably claim to be, or to turn all their viewers into card carrying Democrats – but we don’t need to do that. We only need a small percentage to turn things around.

Because here are the facts of the upcoming 2020 presidential election: the Republican candidate is going to get 45% of the vote no matter what. So will the Democrat. That’s the floor. It’s only the last 10% that’s up for grabs. For the most part, the Democratic Party will be best off focusing on bringing out new voters – much like Obama did. But that doesn’t mean we should leave those voters who we might be able to get back lying on the table.

Aside from the potential strategic value of having our candidates go on Fox to speak to those voters on the margins who could make all the difference in the next election, there’s another, more civic-minded reason to do it:

For going on three years now, we’ve had a president with no interest in talking to anyone but his followers and his voters. He could give a damn about the rest of the country. It may be a quaint notion, but I think an American President should speak to everyone – including those that did not and never will vote for them.

Do we want a Democratic candidate (or President) who would treat half the country like Trump treats our half now? Ignoring them (except to deride them)? Never speaking to them, as if they don’t matter?

Haven’t we had enough of whatever the Hell this is? So, Hell Yeah. Let’s go on Fox. Let’s enter the lion’s den. Then let’s eat the lion. From the inside-out.

It can be done. We’ve seen it done twice in just a few weeks: once by a septuagenarian socialist from Vermont and once by a gay millennial Episcopalian from the Midwest. We can change the game. All we gotta do is show up and be ready.

We might not change a huge number of hearts and minds going on Fox, I’m under no delusions. But what I do know for sure is that if we don’t go on at all, the percentage of hearts and minds we can change is zero. What do we have to lose? As Mayor Pete recently said, we need to meet voters where they are. He is right.

Let’s go rob the bank. Because that’s where the money is.

Author: David Phillips