Elizabeth Warren Critics Miss the Point: Starving Racism is More Important Than Winning Fox News Viewers


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Massachusetts Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren is taking criticism from media figures like Mika Brzezinski and Whoopi Goldberg for her decision not to appear on Fox News, but those critics are ignoring or dismissing Warren’s powerful reason for that decision. The crux of the critique is that Democrats are missing an opportunity to reach a large audience, as well as to prove themselves in a crucible of adversarial fire from Fox News journalists. Both points of view were expressed by The View co-hosts Goldberg and Sunny Hostin, while MSNBC’s Brzezinski at least acknowledged Warren’s reasons before making the same point. Since DNC Chairman Tom Perez decided to exclude Fox News from debates, I’ve walked a wobbly line between schools of thought on this issue. While I agreed with Perez that the network has demonstrated an inability to “play it straight,” I remained persuadable that under the right there could be some benefit to individual Democrats appearing on the network. The size of Fox News’ audience wasn’t very compelling, as I’m not convinced that the undetermined number of persuadable voters in Fox’s audience could not be reached some other way. But as a voter and a news consumer, the idea of candidates going into the lion’s den has tremendous appeal. I agree that anyone who wants to be president should be able to handle questions — not just from Fox’s pair of respected journalists, Chris Wallace and Shepard Smith — but even their most frothing opinion hosts. If someone like Sean Hannity or Tucker Carlson can trip you up, maybe you don’t deserve the nuclear codes. More than that, though, I would absolutely relish the sight of Kamala Harris handing Hannity or Carlson their own asses, and so would every other Democrat. And I would love to see someone like Julian Castro ask Wallace — an otherwise skillful and equal-opportunity interrogator — why he still calls undocumented immigrants “illegals” when objective news outlets have long abandoned the term. There are risks to this strategy, as Bernie Sanders found out when he participated in a Fox News town hall, and the “hard news” anchors accused him of attacking Fox even though he had not, in fact, attacked Fox. Sanders was also tripped up several times, which was on him, but turned in an overall winning performance. What, exactly, did he win? Well, he earned some praise in the media (and from Fox), but his poll numbers didn’t really move. Even so, I remained in the camp that appearing on Fox was a matter of individual calculation for the Democratic candidates. Elizabeth Warren changed my mind with one tweet. Warren announced her decision via a series of tweets that laid out the case in compelling detail, but it wasn’t until she managed to sum it up in 193 characters that I became irrevocably convinced. “I won’t do a town hall with Fox News because I won’t invite millions of Democratic primary voters to tune in, inflate ratings, and help sell ads for an outlet that profits from racism and hate,” she wrote, with a link to a petition. Whatever it is that Democrats think they can win by appearing at Fox News town halls, one thing that is certain is that Fox News will win huge ratings, as they already have with the Sanders town hall, and with Sen. Amy Klobuchar‘s (D-MN) more recent event. This is no longer an argument about giving Fox some sort of philosophical imprimatur or unearned legitimacy, it is about dollars and cents. Appearing at a Fox News town hall is an in-kind contribution to the racism and bigotry that the network peddles incessantly, and the racist president it defends. If Chris Wallace and Shepard Smith — or even less-deserving Fox personalities — really want to contribute to the 2020 dialogue on the Democratic side, they should offer to meet the candidates on neutral ground, like a public television forum. And Democrats should absolutely accept such an offer. But any Democrat who agrees to appear at a Fox News town hall after Warren’s stand is either saying that they don’t believe Fox News is an enterprise fueled by racism and bigotry, or that they think there’s something more important than denying it aid and comfort. Neither should be acceptable to Democratic voters.

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