By Spencer Feingold
The dozens of Democrats vying for the party's 2020 presidential nomination are now being forced to take a position on a matter outside of public policy: whether or not to appear on Fox News. And the dilemma is also dividing Fox News, whose prime-time anchors spend much of their time boosting President Trump and attacking liberals.
"Donald Trump's base is pretty much the same as Fox News' base of audience and certainly Fox News knows that their audience likes Donald Trump," Aidan McLaughlin, managing editor of Mediaite, told Cheddar in an interview Tuesday. "They have to toe this line where they can't be overly critical of him."
The latest Democrat to appear on Fox News was South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, whose town hall broadcast on Sunday reached 1.1 million viewers — more than the viewership of MSNBC and CNN combined — the network said citing early Nielsen Media Research.
"A lot of folks in my party were critical of me for even doing this with Fox News," Buttigieg told Fox News anchor Chris Wallace at the event in New Hampshire. "I get where that's coming from especially when you see what goes on with some opinion hosts on this network."
Buttigieg went on to cite examples of what he sees as Fox's extreme content such as Tucker Carlson saying that immigrants make America dirty and Laura Ingraham comparing detention centers for children at the southern border to summer camps.
The 37-year-old mayor of the fourth-largest city in Indiana — who received a standing ovation from the Fox crowd on Sunday — has conducted a media sprint in recent months with appearances ranging from Fox News to The Ellen DeGeneres Show to a slew of podcasts. Buttigieg follows Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) who both participated in previous Fox News town halls. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is scheduled to appear on the network on June 2 and several candidates have expressed their willingness to appear; even those without invitations from Fox.
Other candidates, however, have rejected Fox News, accusing it of delivering bigoted commentary, of misrepresenting facts and of having close ties to the Trump White House.
"Fox News is a hate-for-profit racket that gives a megaphone to racists and conspiracists—it's designed to turn us against each other, risking life and death consequences, to provide cover for the corruption that's rotting our government and hollowing out our middle class," Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said in a tweet when explaining her refusal to appear.
Warren added that she did not want to give Fox News the opportunity to use her town hall as an example of legitimate journalism in their effort to woo advertisers or alleviate the concerns of brands wary of associating themselves with Fox's rhetoric. "A Fox News town hall adds money to the hate-for-profit machine. To which I say: hard pass," she said.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) has also reportedly turned down participating in a Fox News town hall.
"The calculation is a media play," McLaughlin said. "For Elizabeth Warren it was smart for her to control the news cycle for a week … For Pete Buttigieg it was smarter for him say 'I'm going to do this Fox News town hall' because the past 24 hours news cycle has all been about Buttigieg."
'If You Feel That Negative About It, Don't Come'
The Democratic hopefuls' appearances on Fox News are also dividing the network with several of the far-right opinion anchors pushing back against the critiques.
Both Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson attacked Buttigieg during their prime-time shows on Monday evening. Carlson's show displayed a graphic calling the mayor "RADICAL PETE."
"Don't hop on our channel and continue to put down the other hosts on the channel," Brian Kilmeade, a Fox & Friends co-host, said Monday morning in response to Buttigieg's appearance. "If you feel that negative about it, don't come."
The network's willingness to invite Democrats on-air has also drawn the ire of President Trump, who said the Fox was "wasting airtime on Mayor Pete."
"Fox is moving more and more to the losing (wrong) side in covering the Dems. They got dumped from the Democrats boring debates, and they just want in. They forgot the people who got them there," Trump added in a tweet.
In March, the Democratic National Committee announced that it will not allow Fox News to host a 2020 primary debate citing concerns over the network's ability to produce a fair debate given its executives' close workings with the Trump administration.
Trump again lashed out at Fox during a speech on Monday, saying "what's going on with Fox? … They're putting more Democrats on than you have Republicans. Something strange is going on at Fox, folks."
When Fox is focusing on his one of his opponents, Trump "will get annoyed at Fox, but that dispels pretty quickly," McLaughlin said. "He doesn't really have any other options for a network that is so favorable to him."