Some years ago, I was among a group of liberal journalists interviewing Nancy Pelosi in the speaker’s office. That doesn’t happen every day, so I prepped what I thought was a juicy and provocative question.
I can’t remember what was going on at the time. Maybe it was a mass shooting, maybe something to do with Iraq. But whatever it was, Fox News had revved it up into fifth gear, spouting more lies and propaganda than usual. So I turned to the speaker of the House and gave a couple of sentences of background and asked: Why do Democrats even go on Fox News? Why don’t you boycott it?
She looked at me as if I’d sprouted a third eyeball. A few people around the massive table—and these were liberal journalists, remember—chuckled. She dismissed me and moved quickly to a “serious” question.
Who’s laughing today?
My position now is the same as it was in 2007, except even more so: Democrats should boycott Fox News, starting this week.
The reason is simple: We know now with certainty that this is not a news organization in any way, shape, or form. And every time a Democrat sits in a Fox News chair and answers those loaded questions, she or he is saying: I, and we Democrats generally, accept your legitimacy as a news organization.
Democrats can no longer do that.
Read Peter Baker’s mind-blowing account in Sunday’s New York Times about what went on at Fox in the days and weeks after the network was the first to call Arizona correctly for Joe Biden. In mid-November 2020, after Biden was the president-elect, Fox News execs Suzanne Scott and Jay Wallace called a Zoom meeting to discuss how, in Baker’s words, to “keep from angering the network’s conservative audience again by calling an election for a Democrat before the competition.” Scott said in the meeting: “Listen, it’s one of the sad realities: If we hadn’t called Arizona, those three or four days following Election Day, our ratings would have been bigger. The mystery would have been still hanging out there.”
Think about this. Fox’s Decision Desk was right: Biden won Arizona. And they were first. These cable networks are in insane competition to be right and first on election night. Fox was both. It did what cable news networks all want to do.
And yet nearly everyone at Fox saw it not as a victory, but a crisis. Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, on-air personalities who for some reason have reputations as “news” people, both suggested that numbers alone were not a sufficient basis on which to call elections (!?). In a separate conversation with a colleague, Scott whined that Bill Sammon, who headed the Decision Desk, had displayed “arrogance” in calling Arizona and failed to grasp that his job was to “protect the brand.”
Usually, when a news network goes through an episode this embarrassing, some heads roll. And heads did roll. But not Scott’s or Wallace’s or Baier’s or MacCallum’s. No. Instead, Fox News axed the people who got it right: Sammon and political editor Chris Stirewalt. And in Sammon’s case at least, the directive came from Rupert Murdoch himself. “Maybe best to let Bill go right away,” Murdoch is quoted as saying in the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit papers.
Also in those papers, as we have learned previously, Murdoch is quoted as admitting under oath that Fox News anchors lied about the 2020 election result even as he and other Fox executives, and most of these very same on-air hosts (Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Maria Bartiromo, etc.) knew that the Big Lie was a lie. We also learned from those papers that Murdoch—not some exec or flunky, but Murdoch himself—gave Jared Kushner advanced confidential information about ads the Biden campaign had cut that were about to air on Fox News.
This is just a stunning piece of news that hasn’t gotten quite the attention it deserves. It raises two questions.
One: How can the head of a “news” organization leak one side’s unaired campaign ads to the other? That’s a propaganda organization pure and simple.
And two: What in blazes was the Biden campaign doing advertising on Fox News in the first place?
I get it. Fox News, tragically, is the default channel in bars and hotel lobbies and hospital waiting rooms and what have you in vast swaths of the country. Not everybody who watches it is an insurrectionist, and some portion of the Fox News audience is probably reachable.
But is it worth it now? How, in the face of what we have learned in the last few weeks, can Biden or any Democrat treat Fox as anything other than a right-wing agitprop network? They can’t. And they can’t afford to lend it any more legitimacy.
Biden took a good first step by refusing to grant Fox the traditional presidential Super Bowl interview. Now Democrats need to go further. They should stop appearing on the network altogether and cease advertising on it. To those who say they’d be forfeiting their one chance to have their views represented on Fox, I say that horse left the glue factory ages ago. We’ve blown way past the point where any Democratic or liberal point of view is going to be presented on Fox with anything approaching fairness. There may be a small number of Democrats from red states who still need to reach that audience—Joe Manchin and Jon Tester, for example—so I might give them a pass. But for nearly every other Democrat, the only thing accomplished by going on Fox News is giving it cover as a news organization, which we know now it is not.
Play some hardball, Democrats. Fox News is clearly out to destroy your legitimacy. Go destroy its first.