“There is nothing in those documents to show they operate like a real news organization,” said Doug Gordon, a Democratic strategist. “If you are running a campaign in 2024, how do you in good faith hand your ads to Fox when you know they handed them over to Republicans? If there are any general election debates, how do you let Fox be a moderator?”
There is no indication, at this juncture, that major Democratic entities are ready to halt their ad buys on Fox News, let alone its many affiliates. But that is partially because few Democratic campaigns or causes are currently spending ad money. In the interim, the Dominion lawsuit revelations have led to louder calls for the party to make a firm break from any involvement with the cable channel, whom they view as functionally a campaign arm for Republicans. Democrats spanning the ideological spectrum have even started calling on the White House Correspondents’ Association — the group of news reporters advocating for press access — to boot Fox News reporters from the briefing room.
“They are arguably the most important entity of the American right and the Republican Party,” said Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg, suggesting that The Associated Press include in its stylebook that Fox News is not a news organization. “There needs to be a serious conversation now about whether Fox can continue to be a member of the White House Correspondents Association. Keeping them there seems not to be OK.”
Even with its reputation for airing reliably conservative content, Fox News remains a major player in Democratic politics. More self-identified Democrats consistently watch the network than any other cable channel, according to Nielsen MRI Fusion. And a faction of Democrats sees value in both reaching those voters and trying to persuade the independents and Republican-leaning ones who tune into the channel.
In the 2020 campaign cycle, the network hosted a presidential debate, accepted some $7.4 million in advertising from Joe Biden’s presidential campaign to Fox News, according to the tracking firm AdImpact, and held town halls with Democratic primary contenders. While Biden administration officials have selectively chosen to appear on Fox News for interviews, the president’s aides have also sought out opportunities to use the network as a cudgel against Republican lawmakers — whether on economic issues or matters of public safety.
White House officials, for their part, describe their relationship with Fox employees who cover them closely as combative but mostly cordial. But they also view the Dominion lawsuit revelations as a cover of sorts to treat Fox News with a bit more frostiness than other media outlets. Biden aides have privately bristled at news reporters who just weeks ago piled on criticism of the president for side stepping a customary Super Bowl interview with Fox.
“Regardless of any new revelations of media bias and hypocrisy during the 2020 campaign, Joe Biden won the most votes of any candidate in American history because of his vision for the middle class, his message, and his record,” White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement. “And anyone who is surprised by such revelations hasn’t been paying attention to — or watching — Fox News lately.”
Bates and others have been trolling Fox of late, including sending a statement to the network for inclusion in a story questioning whether viewers and readers should trust Fox News’ reporting on Biden, citing executives’ reported kid-glove treatment of Trump. The White House statement to Fox was reported by Semafor.
Fox, in turn, accused the White House of resorting to “junior varsity campaign style stunts.”
Other Democrats want the president and his party to react more aggressively. On the House floor, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) teed off on censorship legislation, arguing “it would still be strange to say that Fox News was censoring itself” when it knowingly amplified 2020 election lies. MoveOn, the liberal advocacy outfit, urged cable service chief executives to make Fox News optional. And the Progressive Change Campaign Committee called for the White House Correspondents’ Association to remove Fox from the press pool.
Congress’ top two Democrats also weighed in, writing to Murdoch to urge his network to stop spreading false election narratives and “admit on the air that they were wrong to engage in such negligent behavior.”
Fox News has resisted covering the Dominion lawsuit. But in a statement, a Fox representative said, “Dominion’s lawsuit has always been more about what will generate headlines than what can withstand legal and factual scrutiny, as illustrated by them now being forced to slash their fanciful damages demand by more than half a billion dollars after their own expert debunked its implausible claims.”
“Their summary judgment motion took an extreme, unsupported view of defamation law that would prevent journalists from basic reporting and their efforts to publicly smear FOX for covering and commenting on allegations by a sitting President of the United States should be recognized for what it is: a blatant violation of the First Amendment.”
Another spokesperson for the network said it not only tops competitors combined in the ratings, “but has the most politically diverse audience with more Democrats and Independents watching than either CNN and MSNBC. This is another predictable attack by left-wing groups desperate for attention and relevancy.”
Intermittent lashings of Fox News from the left are not a new occurrence. Democratic politicians from the White House to statehouses have long weighed whether trying to reach the network’s coveted audience is worth the cost of appearing to legitimize the network. Those who advocate for engagement say it’s folly to imagine the channel will have less impact if the party ignores it. Those who call for a boycott argue it makes no sense to push the party’s agenda on daytime airwaves only to find it demonized at night. And increasingly, they think that whatever editorial line existed between its dayside hosts and its bombastic prime time names has become blurrier and blurrier.
As the debate starts anew, several top strategists and communications aides said they believe the Dominion revelations will spur legitimate news organizations to stop treating Fox as one of their own.
“Democrats reached a verdict on Fox News many years ago. The only open question is does the rest of the political media ecosystem treat them as legitimate or not?” asked Eric Schultz, a deputy press secretary under former President Barack Obama. “The latest revelations mostly call into question everybody else’s long-standing defense of the network.”
But even those, like Schultz, who argue that Fox News’ reputation should be permanently tainted by the Dominion suit are reluctant to call for Democrats to completely shut out the network.
“It would be like unilaterally not engaging on Facebook — in many ways a toxic platform but where millions of people get their information,” he said.
James Carville, the veteran Democratic strategist, said there was no reason to approach the network differently now because of the Dominion lawsuit revelations.
“They get viewers only because they tell viewers what they want to hear or see,” he said. “They want to be brainwashed. They show up at the front door of the cleaners. They leave their brain there — ‘wash and fold and I’ll pick it up.’”
Instead, Carville offered that there was a utility to having the network as a foil, noting that Biden’s White House hasn’t suffered from having Fox News in the briefing room, led by network scion Peter Doocy.
“Sites on the left love when they smack Peter Doocy back,” he said. “And usually, for more than half the people who see it, it’s Fox that looks stupid.”