Did Fox News apologize to Donald Trump right before Thursday night’s GOP debate? Or did the television network simply let him vent?
The two sides can’t seem to agree on what happened. Trump told CNN that an unnamed Fox executive “apologized” to him for a mocking statement the network issued two days before the debate.
Trump said Fox “could not have been nicer” as it tried to woo him back into attending the debate. But he stuck to his plan of holding a competing event aimed at raising funds for veterans’ organizations.
“I was treated very unfairly by Fox. Since then they’ve been excellent, they’ve been very nice, but it’s too late,” Trump told CNN’s Brianna Keilar in an interview aboard Trump’s private plane.
Fox heard Trump’s remarks and fired back in a statement. The network suggested that it didn’t apologize outright – instead it, “acknowledged his concerns about a satirical observation we made in order to quell the attacks on Megyn Kelly, and prevent her from being smeared any further.”
A Fox spokesperson said Trump offered to show up at the debate if the network contributed $5 million to his charities. “We explained that was not possible and we could not engage in a quid pro quo, nor could any money change hands for any reason,” Fox said in its statement.
Trump’s camp also said that Fox officials were calling “every 15 minutes” on Thursday, “nearly a dozen calls” total.
Fox seemed to refute that part, too, saying that CEO Roger Ailes had just “three brief conversations” with Trump. But the network didn’t comment on how many other calls were placed by Ailes’ deputies.
The fresh back and forth on Thursday night highlighted the animosity between the two sides. Fox began its debate by bringing up “the elephant not in the room,” but then pivoted to other issues, and its post-debate coverage downplayed Trump’s absence.
Fox’s statement said, “In the last 48 hours, we’ve kept two issues at the forefront — we would never compromise our journalistic standards and we would always stand by our journalist, Megyn Kelly. We have accomplished those two goals and we are pleased with the outcome. We’re very proud to have her on stage as a debate moderator alongside Bret Baier & Chris Wallace.”
In the hours after the debate, Kelly’s handling of the delicate situation was praised by commentators.
As for Trump, he likened his decision to skip the Fox debate to how he would lead the country as president of the United States.
“I wanted to fight for myself just like I’ll fight for the country,” Trump said. “You have to stick up for yourself, you have to fight for yourself and you have to fight for your country.”
Trump also insisted – despite many analysts’ arguments to the contrary – that his decision to skip the debate was not to avoid tough questions and said he didn’t believe it would hurt him with Iowa voters, who will head to the caucuses on Monday.
He said he believed Iowans would see him as “the one person that will stand up for himself” and noted that he has “done more interviews than anybody.”
“I have nothing to hide,” Trump said.
Still, Trump dodged a question from Keilar on his previous support for late-term abortions, saying simply that “it’s false, I am pro-life,” before pivoting to attacking his chief rival in the race, Ted Cruz, who has called the billionaire out for his policy shifts.
Trump also suggested that he may have ultimately decided to attend the debate had he not committed to hosting the fund-raising event.
“We’re going to be doing more than talking. We’re going to be raising millions of dollars,” Trump said of his Thursday night plans.
The website set up to collect donations already claims to have raised more than $570,000, funds which are being funneled through the Donald J. Trump Foundation.
Afterward, Trump pronounced it a success, tweeting that “we raised $6,000,000.00 while the politicians talked!”