Fox News Was Never Going to Treat Pete Buttigieg Fairly
On Sunday evening, South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg became the third 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful to headline a Fox News town hall, sitting for an hourlong conversation with moderator Chris Wallace before a mostly-friendly New Hampshire studio audience.
To the extent that any single television event matters to the success of a White House bid, Buttigieg’s performance was perfectly fine. He outlined a vision for a fairer tax system, expressed his support for electing the president by national popular vote, and—to enthusiastic applause—offered a pithy “I don’t care” when asked to weigh in on Trump insulting him via tweet. Acknowledging progressive critics of his decision to appear on the network, Buttigieg also called out some of the more infamous anti-immigrant screeds from Fox News “opinion” hosts Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, who he described as as “not always there in good faith.” This is kinder than Elizabeth Warren’s recent description of Fox News as a “hate-for-profit racket that gives a megaphone to racists and conspiracists,” but it is better than politely pretending as if the network’s resident white nationalist cheerleaders do not exist.
The next morning, the hosts of Fox & Friends promptly excoriated Buttigieg for all of it.
“What a clown,” said Brian Kilmeade, accusing Buttigieg of trying to “erase our country’s history” by suggesting that Democratic politicians should consider renaming the party’s annual Jefferson-Jackson fundraiser dinners after someone who didn’t own slaves. (Party leaders in Buttigieg’s home state of Indiana made the switch in 2016.) Buttigieg’s comments just show “how radical the Democratic base has become,” said conservative author and Fox & Friends guest James Robbins, who asserted that “looking at all the negatives” like this will cause people abandon their loyalty to and love for America.
The original comment from Buttigieg, which he made during a Friday interview with conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt and then clarified on Sunday, was as follows: “It’s not like we’re blotting [Jefferson] our of the history books, or deleting him from the Founding Fathers.”
The Fox & Friends trio was not kinder to the more substantive aspects of Buttigieg’s politics. “If you’re going to go to the polls and vote for him, you’ve got to know where he stands on these issues,” warned Ainsley Earhardt. “He’s extremely progressive. He wants to get rid of the Electoral College?!” Buttigieg mischaracterized Trump’s tax cuts as primarily benefiting the rich, opined Kilmeade, and showed “absolutely no courage” by denouncing Ingraham’s and Carlson’s racism without appearing on their shows. After co-host Steve Doocy noted that the audience reacted positively to the candidate’s support for abolishing the Electoral College, Kilmeade was ready with a dismissive explanation: “Because they’re all his friends.”
When discussing their choices to do a Fox News town hall, candidates like Bernie Sanders have cited to a desire to appeal directly to Fox News’s audience—people who might otherwise learn about his agenda only via Tucker Carlson’s jokes. For Sanders and company, the chance to reach a new constituency outweigh the risks associated with legitimizing the network as a serious news source. “If we unilaterally decide that they shouldn’t hear my or other Democrats’ messages, then we shouldn’t act surprised if they have a distorted view of what we believe and who we are,” Buttigieg wrote in an email to supporters last week. “If we don’t show up, the conservative media will tell our side of the story for us.”
Buttigieg did his level best to provide a clear picture of what he believes and who he is. Yet of all the topics on which he and Wallace touched, Buttigieg’s musings on what to name a Democratic party fundraiser—a subject about which Fox News viewers care a great deal, I am sure—are what earned the most in-depth in-house coverage. Otherwise, his condemnation of bigotry became evidence of his cowardice; his observations about Trump’s tax policy were dismissed as lies; and in Kilmeade’s telling, the only reason the audience applauded Buttigieg was because everyone in the audience was a Buttigieg supporter.
There is preliminary evidence that audiences are more interested in tuning in to Democratic town halls on Fox News than they are in tuning in to Democratic town halls on other networks. Sanders’s event last month, for example, was the most-watched town hall of the 2020 primary season. But it isn’t clear how many of those people are regular consumers of Fox News’s firehose of conservative propaganda—the ones Sanders and Buttigieg really want to reach—and how many of them are just watching in the hopes of seeing sparks fly.
Source : Jay Willis Link