Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren made a bold statement this week: She publicly rejected an invitation to participate in a town hall on Fox. She said the conservative network is a “hate-for-profit racket” that’s in business to harm the Democratic Party.
The anti-Fox stance impressed Warren’s fans and progressives online, but so far there hasn’t been a rush to join her. Most of the 20-plus other candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for president are either welcoming the chance to talk on Fox or are keeping their misgivings to themselves.
The only exception is Sen. Kamala Harris, who has – for now – ruled out a town hall with the network, according to two campaign aides.
“They’ve reached out but we haven’t entertained it,” a campaign spokesperson said in response to CNN’s question on Wednesday.
To Fox or not to Fox? That’s been a question many of the campaigns have grappled with. Fox is unique in the fragmented media universe – it has a big, loyal audience but a divisive brand that many Democrats despise. Warren perceived a political advantage by attacking the network. But most of the rest of the field perceives an advantage, however slight, by reaching out to Fox’s audience.
Fox, for its part, hasn’t responded to Warren’s Tuesday announcement. But a couple of her rivals have.
“If you’re not using your town hall, I will,” former Maryland Rep. John Delaney tweeted at Warren on Tuesday. “Democratic candidates have to campaign everywhere and talk to voters.”
When Bernie Sanders’ campaign manager Faiz Shakir was asked about Warren’s rejection of Fox News, he said, “To each their own” and left it at that. Sanders participated in a Fox town hall on April 15.
And former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper echoed Delaney’s thoughts in a tweet promoting his Wednesday night appearance on Fox Business.
“I agree with @ewarren that our media is too polarized, but I don’t believe we should stop talking to people who don’t agree with us,” Hickenlooper wrote. “Our crisis of division calls for meeting people where they are and putting new, inclusive ideas forward.”
Hickenlooper’s argument is about Fox’s audience – but Warren’s argument is about Fox’s content and business model. In a series of tweets on Tuesday, she said Fox airs “bigotry, racism, and outright lies” balanced out with just enough “legit journalism to make the claim to advertisers that it’s a reputable news outlet. It’s all about dragging in ad money - big ad money.” And she didn’t want to help.
Implicitly criticizing her rivals who agree to town halls on Fox, Warren said “a Democratic town hall gives the Fox News sales team a way to tell potential sponsors it’s safe to buy ads on Fox – no harm to their brand or reputation (spoiler: It’s not).”
Already, two Democratic hopefuls have participated in televised Fox News town halls: Sanders in April and Sen. Amy Klobuchar on May 8.
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg is scheduled to participate in a Fox town hall on Sunday, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has one scheduled for June 2.
Fox executives have said that they intend to be more selective with town halls than CNN, which has pioneered the format and produced more than a dozen such events this year.
California Rep. Eric Swalwell, for instance, told CNN on Wednesday that he would like to do a town hall with Fox, but said the network turned him down last week.
“I would absolutely do a Fox town hall,” Swalwell said, “but they told us we can’t have one which is a little bit confusing to us because they have given them to people who are polling at the same place as us.”
Swalwell told CNN that he found it “frustrating” Fox News was “bemoaning that the Democrats won’t do the debates” on the network while it simultaneously rejected his offer for the town hall. He said the network did not provide criteria it was using to determine which candidates it offered town hall events to, adding, “I can only conclude that they are afraid to give me the opportunity.”
A Fox spokeswoman disputed this and said the network has left the door open for a future opportunity with him.
As a party, the Democratic National Committee is hewing closer to the Warren position. DNC chair Tom Perez said that Fox News will not be included in the mix of networks that will host Democratic primary debates in the months to come.
But Perez himself occasionally appears on the network and hasn’t taken a position about others doing so.
Fox News’ most popular talk shows, in the morning and at night, are avowedly anti-Democrat in topic choice and tone – sometimes viciously so. This has led many progressive activists to argue that the network is a propaganda organ that shouldn’t be supported by Democrats in any way, shape or form.
But some Democratic politicians have taken a different approach by occasionally saying yes to the network’s interview requests, particularly on newscasts and political interview programs like “Fox News Sunday.”
For now, most of the 2020 contenders aren’t risking a public battle with the country’s most-watched cable news network.
“A lot of America happens to watch that network,” Gillibrand said Wednesday on MSNBC. “So I would like to do a town hall so I can speak to all Americans about their values, their views, their priorities and where I stand.”
The list might grow from there.
Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro is in talks with the network to hold a town hall, a campaign spokesperson said recently. Beto O’Rourke said he’d be willing to appear on Fox News. And, according to Axios, Sen. Cory Booker has said he is considering one.
Aside from the town halls, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Swalwell, and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard have all made recent appearances on the network for interviews.
All that said, it’s unclear where former Vice President Joe Biden, who is widely viewed as the frontrunner, falls down on the issue. When reached on Wednesday, a campaign spokesperson declined to comment on the matter.