Fox News has been lobbying Democratic primary candidates to try to persuade them to appear on the channel. It's also been lobbying the rest of the media -- you know, the folks its core audience regards as "fake news" -- in the hope of obtaining favorable coverage. I understand why a Democratic candidate might want to appear on Fox, even though I wouldn't if I were running. I don't understand why a rival news organization would want to help a competitor build its audience and increase its ad revenue. Under the rules of capitalism, that makes no sense.
But "liberal media" self-hate has led The New York Times to side with its rival. Here's a Times story telling us that if you're a Democratic candidate, you really should go on Fox, because all the cool Democrats are doing it:
The Fox News Primary? How Trump’s Favorite Network Became a Democratic Power Player
Three months ago, Democratic Party leaders took a stand: Fox News, President Trump’s favorite channel, and a reliable soapbox for attacks on liberals, was barred from participating in the party’s 2020 presidential debates. The move would ice out the network derided by critics as “state TV” from influencing the outcome of the Democratic primary.
Things have not exactly gone to plan.
By Sunday, the centrality of the Rupert Murdoch-controlled network to the party’s presidential contest was all but assured, as Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York became the fourth Democratic contender to sit for a Fox News town hall.
... Fox News — a network whose prime-time hours are often devoted to praising the president and skewering prominent Democrats — has squirreled itself into the heart of the Democratic primary.
Fox is now "central" to the Democratic race? There are 23 Democratic candidates. Four have done Fox town halls -- that's fewer than the number of candidates who did CNN town halls in one night in April. There's one more Fox town hall scheduled (Julian Castro next week). Other candidates are considering appearances -- the Times mentions a candidate who's not exactly "central" to the race, Bill de Blasio.
What's the point of a Fox town hall anyway? Bernie Sanders did one on April 15. Since then, his Democratic primary support in the Real Clear Politics poll average has gone from 21.7% to 16.5%. Pete Buttigieg appeared on Fox on May 19. His numbers went from 7.0% to 5.8%. Cause and effect? No -- but it's clear that appearing on Fox isn't helpful to Democrats.
The most obvious sign that Democratic candidates don't need to do Fox town halls is that Joe Biden, who's leading the race by double-digits, hasn't done one. It's easy to imagine him going on Fox, but he doesn't need to and hasn't bothered. Elizabeth Warren doesn't seem to need to, either -- she's up from 8.3% to 9.0% at RCP since she turned Fox down. And there's been no impact on general election polling for either the Fox attendees or the refusers.
Why would going on Fox have a positive impact for Democrats? Sure, you get an hour to make your case. But Fox viewers don't watch Fox program by program. They watch it incessantly. And until the rest of Fox's programming becomes more receptive to Democrats and Democratic ideas, nothing these candidates say in the brief, self-contained Democratic bloc will have any impact.
Sanders did a well-received Fox town hall in April -- and was slammedon several Fox programs immediately afterward. Buttigieg appeared on Fox in mid-May -- and a couple of weeks later Laura Ingraham hosted his brother-in-law, who accused Buttigieg and his husband of lying about family history. Kirsten Gillibrand appeared on Fox last night -- and now she's being accused of hypocrisy on Fox.
So what's the point?
But Democratic town halls are good for Fox, as the Times notes:
The network could ... be in a tough position with its cable news rivals CNN and MSNBC if it had no foothold in covering the Democratic side of the 2020 race. Andrew Heyward, a former president of CBS News, said that Fox News does not want viewers to stray elsewhere for news, particularly on a story as consequential as a presidential primary.
“Fox’s value to its fans is that it super-serves them, and they don’t really need to go anywhere else,” Mr. Heyward said. “There are many people who watch it exclusively. So the idea that you could have a story as big as this, and Fox doesn’t have a hand in it, is actually not good for its reputation, relevance, ratings, or its revenue.”
Advertisers, too, expect the network to keep up its high ratings for news programming as well as prime-time commentary. Fox’s president for ad sales, Marianne Gambelli, told advertisers in March that news was a priority for 97 percent of the network’s audience and pledged that its dominance would extend through the 2020 election.
... “Anything that Fox does that shows they’re a serious news organization that covers both Democrats and Republicans fairly has to help their overall image,” [Ken] LaCorte [a former Fox senior vice president] said.
So Elizabeth Warren was right -- if you're a Democrat and you appear on Fox, you help Fox. You don't help yourself or the Democratic Party.
Of course, if you're The New York Times and you say that Fox now has "centrality" in the Democratic race, you're helping Fox, too. Why would you do that?
Published with permission of No More Mr. Nice Blog