(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Tom Perez, the head of the Democratic National Committee, is absolutely right when he says Fox News is basically an arm of the Republican Party. He is also correct in his belief that Democrats generally don’t get a fair shake on the network. But he’s 100 percent wrong to bar Fox from hosting a primary debate for Democratic presidential candidates.
The proximate cause for Perez’s action was an article in The New Yorker that documents the deep ties between Fox News and the Republican Party, particularly its Trumpian wing. While the article is filled with detailed new reporting, the truths it reveals have long been visible. The relationship between network and party may have intensified, and the revolving doors may be spinning a little faster than before, but the contours of the story are familiar.
Which means that Perez’s act of political theater is worth rethinking — especially because Democratic candidates stand to lose more than Fox.
For one thing, Fox is the most watched cable news network in the U.S., with an average of 2.4 million viewers last year. (ESPN comes in second, with 1.9 million viewers, followed by MSNBC with 1.8 million and HGTV with 1.3 million.)
More significantly, its audience is not monolithic. Fox-watchers are heavily Republican, yes, but there are a lot of self-identified independents, too, and even a few Democrats. Conservative Republicans make up less than half the total Fox audience, a 2017 poll found. Add to this the fact that 15 states conduct open primaries — in which voters can cast a ballot for any candidate, regardless of party affiliation — and the case for staying off Fox’s stage gets weaker still.
The Democrats’ other concerns don’t hold up, either. They could be forgiven for feeling protective of their events if there were only a few of them. But the political calendar ahead is dotted with candidate debates and forums. Giving one to Fox would not crowd out a more compatible network. In fact, it might spice things up, as would letting Fox co-host a debate with another news source or platform.
Biased moderators with loaded questions could be trouble. But Fox has put forward Chris Wallace and others who are equally fair-minded. Sean Hannity will not be lobbing spitballs. In any case, history shows that, in debates, the moderators are mostly talked over.
And, really, what’s there to be afraid of? Fox News “is not in a position to host a fair and neutral debate for our candidates,” Perez said. That may be so. But where are candidates’ debates fair and neutral? Not on MSNBC. What’s more, presidential primaries are a gantlet. Candidates who wither in unfriendly environs probably aren’t cut out to be president.
Rather than shy away, the Democratic Party should embrace the opportunity. It’s a golden chance for the candidates to debate not just one another but Fox itself, to raise questions about the network’s tactics and methodology, its history and the role it has played in our national life — before Fox’s own viewers.
A Democratic debate on Fox doesn’t validate the network. It gives Democrats a chance to reach a broader audience. The “d” in Democrat shouldn’t stand for delicate. The DNC should reverse course.
—Editors: David Shipley, Mary Duenwald.
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