The Democratic National Committee is keeping Fox News off the presidential primary debate calendar, but Democrats in the House of Representatives – now in the majority and eager to showcase their ideas – are trying to boost their presence on the channel.
House Democratic leaders are actively encouraging members of their caucus to appear on Fox News, viewing the network as an opportunity to spread their policy goals to a wider audience, especially in Republican-leaning districts that Democrats need to maintain to keep their majority.
On Friday, the House Democrats’ messaging arm – formally known as the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee (DPCC) – will host a training session in the Capitol to help members prepare for Fox News appearances.
An invitation sent to lawmakers and obtained by CNN advertises a session titled “Winning on Fox News: Best practices,” featuring communications strategists John Neffinger and Jess McIntosh, who’s also a CNN contributor. The invitation says the training will demonstrate “how to effectively engage anchors, answer tough questions, and develop your own formula for success.”
Michael LaRosa, communications director at the DPCC, said it would be a missed opportunity for Democrats not to speak to the channel’s large audience.
“Members want to go on Fox, and we encourage them to do so. There are three big cable news networks, and one of the three happens to be Fox,” said LaRosa. “So, our view is, why alienate or ignore all of those viewers?”
This question continues to be hotly debated in Democratic circles because Fox’s talk shows are avowedly conservative. Some staunch progressives say Fox should be shunned altogether. But others say that’s poor strategy.
Rep. Debbie Dingell, a co-chair of the DPCC and a Democrat from Michigan, said Democrats should be talking to “everybody.”
“I’ve been doing Fox News since 2000, and I think it’s important that we participate with all the media,” she told CNN. “I believe that you talk to everybody. I believe you listen to everybody.”
The training comes roughly a month after the center-left think tank Third Way hosted a dinner for Democratic members, encouraging them to go on Fox News. According to sources familiar with the dinner, about 15 Democrats attended the event, including a dozen freshmen.
Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy at Third Way, said in an interview that more Democrats should go on Fox to not only share their views but to push back against what they see as conservative-dominated coverage.
“Not everybody who watches Fox News is a Steve Bannon disciple. There are people out there who are persuadable,” said Kessler, who has previously appeared multiple times on the network. “There should be Democrats on there who can make our case and help sow doubt about the right-wing Republican argument.”
“The other advantage of it,” he added, “is that this is an opportunity to speak directly to President Trump, as well.”
Supporters of the effort especially feel it’s a good strategy to advocate policies that can get bipartisan support, such as investing in infrastructure, lowering prescription drugs and protecting pre-existing conditions.
Rep. Nanette Barragán, D-California, said there are some shows on Fox News that she won’t go on, but that, in general, she thinks it’s a “great idea” for Democrats to get more exposure on the channel.
“It’s a network where there’s people in the middle and people who aren’t as far right as some of us think, and so I think there’s an audience there that wants to hear about what the Democrats are working on in Congress,” she said. “I think they’re interested in knowing, and I think that we should make efforts to go on.”
Other lawmakers have been much more critical of Fox and its far-reaching influence. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the channel’s top targets, has torn into “Fox News lunacy” and argued that it damages American society.
The DNC came under scrutiny from members of its own party last month after announcing it would forgo partnering with Fox News for Democratic presidential primary debates, citing what it called an “inappropriate relationship” between the channel and the Trump administration.
The DNC says they believe Democrats should nonetheless be engaging with Fox’s audience, aside from the 2020 debates. Perez, himself, appears on Fox regularly, and DNC spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa appears on the network weekly.
Still, the 2020 debate decision left many Democrats in Congress grumbling that the party was limiting its outreach to voters.
“We ignore Fox viewers at our peril as Democrats,” said Rep. Scott Peters of California, noting that even if Democrats disagree with the network’s coverage, it still has “a huge audience and a voting audience.”
“We should be in front of those people explaining our positions and why we think we have a better alternative than the Republicans,” he added. “And if we think that we have criticism against the President, I think we should be able to explain that.”
Rep. Ben McAdams, a Utah Democrat who won a previously Republican seat last year and goes on Fox for interviews, called the DNC’s decision a “mistake.”
“Large segments of the American people watch Fox News, and we need to go to where the people are and not expect them to come find us,” he said.
Some of the 2020 contenders agree. That’s why Sen. Bernie Sanders took part in a town hall with Fox News last month that got strong ratings.
Up next is Amy Klobuchar, who will field questions at a town hall on Fox this Wednesday. Pete Buttigieg and Kirsten Gillibrand are also on board for town halls later in the spring.
Fox has been courting the Democratic candidates for several reasons. For one thing, it’s good TV. For another, the network wants to emphasize its news side at a time when its higher rated opinion side is a constant source of controversy.
Media Matters for America, a liberal group that opposes Fox, has been leading a campaign to pressure Fox’s advertisers to stop supporting the network. The group says that Democratic appearances on Fox only serve to prop up Fox and lend the network legitimacy that it doesn’t deserve.
Fox’s response, in part, is to point to the ratings.
The Sanders town hall averaged nearly 2.6 million viewers on a Monday evening last month.
Fox on Monday also reiterated its previous statement that “we hope the DNC will reconsider its decision to bar Chris Wallace, Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, all of whom embody the ultimate journalistic integrity and professionalism, from moderating a Democratic presidential debate.”
Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who was first elected in 2012 and whose New York district voted for Trump in 2016, goes on Fox at least two to three times a month, he said, describing it as an opportunity to talk to his constituents.
“We need to be better at talking to people who don’t already agree with us,” he said, before noting the politics of his district. “And if I can’t talk to people who watch Fox News, I’m going to have a problem.”
“It’s not the worst thing in the world that you have to defend your positions,” he added.
This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.