Fox News is trying to entice Democratic presidential candidates to participate in town halls on the network, as Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT) is scheduled to do on April 15. Though Sanders has explained his reasoning for wanting to do a town hall on Fox, there are plenty of good reasons why other candidates should think carefully about whether they want to partner with the network.
Fox is a pernicious propaganda machine for the Trump White House, and it has a long history of both denying and downplaying climate change and helping to block climate action. Fox is currently at the peak of its political influence, but it's also at a precarious point both financially and in the court of public opinion. Many advertisers have fled and others are considering following suit, not wanting to be associated with the network's bigoted and toxic commentary. Fox is now desperately courting advertisers by trying to paint itself as a legitimate news outlet ahead of May 13, when it will host an “upfront” event at which it aims to sell about 60 to 70 percent of its advertising space for 2020. Democratic candidates might want to keep their distance and not enable Fox's attempt at whitewashing its toxicity.
Fox consistently spreads right-wing misinformation, lies, and climate denial
The New Yorker recently exposed how Fox News has developed a symbiotic relationship with the Trump administration and has become a nexus of the right-wing disinformation network. And earlier in April, The New York Times Magazine detailed how Fox founder Rupert Murdoch’s media empire “helped elevate marginal demagogues, mainstream ethnonationalism and politicize the very notion of truth” in the U.S. and beyond, “destabiliz[ing] democracies around the world.”
After the New Yorker published its piece in March, the Democratic National Committee barred Fox News from hosting any of its upcoming presidential primary debates.
Fox News has been especially destructive on the climate change narrative, serving as an echo and amplification chamber for climate denial and environmental deregulation efforts. For years, Fox has played a critical role in undermining the public consensus around climate change by eroding trust in climate scientists and scientific institutions, according to a 2013 study. A separate study by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that 72 percent of Fox News segments about climate science in 2013 “contained misleading statements.” In the years since, the network has continued to parade a coterie of network personalities, fringe cranks, and conspiracy theorists to push misinformation about climate change and attack those working to confront the climate crisis.
During the Trump administration, Fox News has also provided a safe haven for disgraced officials like former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Not only did Pruitt and Zinke prefer Fox News over other news networks, they both used their appearances on Fox to question climate science and to advocate for harmful environmental rollbacks, often with little to no pushback from fawning hosts.
Fox's “straight news” anchors are not honest brokers on climate change and other critical issues
Fox News claims that Martha MacCallum and Bret Baier, the Fox hosts who will anchor the town hall with Sanders, are straightforward newscasters. But a closer look at their past comments and reporting reveals that they cannot be trusted to foster good-faith discussions about key issues, including climate change.
MacCallum has denied basic climate science and made ridiculous claims about global warming. In 2014, on Fox News Radio's Kilmeade & Friends, she said:
MARTHA MACCALLUM: I mean the climate has changed over the course of the thousands and thousands of years that the Earth has been in existence. It has changed, you know, by several degrees up and down over the course of it. I just don't think that there is convincing evidence that the presence of man has altered that more dramatically than say the earth being covered with volcanoes emitting, you know, naturally noxious gases.
That same year, MacCallum downplayed the importance of climate change and argued that Democrats in Congress should be concentrating on other issues instead. And in March 2015, after the Obama administration announced a voluntary emission-reduction pledge ahead of the U.N. climate talks in Paris, MacCallum was critical of the move and falsely said that the U.S. was going to the “upper end of the range” with its commitment and “nobody else has to do it.” In fact, dozens of other countries had by that point announced targets to cut or curb their greenhouse gas emissions, including the European Union, whose target was more ambitious than the one the U.S. put forth.
Baier has a reputation for not being as bad as some of the more explicit climate deniers on his network, but according to a 2014 analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists, he has still aired “a number of segments containing inaccurate statements about climate science.” He has given climate skeptics a platform to attack climate science and climate action, often with very little pushback.
Fox is now desperately trying to convince advertisers that it's not toxic
In March, Fox News executives held an unprecedented meeting with its advertisers to persuade them not to abandon the network after more than 30 companies had dropped their ads since the initial push began in December of last year. Recent calls for companies to pull their ads from Tucker Carlson Tonight and Justice with Judge Jeanine came in response to Media Matters releasing audio of Fox host Tucker Carlson's racist and misogynistic rants on the Bubba the Love Sponge Show from 2006 to 2011, and to Fox personality Jeanine Pirro’s anti-Muslim tirade against Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN).
For years, Fox News has let its prime-time hosts spew bigotry, propaganda, and dangerous conspiracy theories on a nightly basis, while using its so-called “news” programming to give the network a veneer of respectability. But the “news” side and the “opinion” side of Fox News are two sides of the same coin. Fox is dangerous and corrupt from top to bottom.
The Fox executive wooing Democratic candidates has actively hampered honest reporting on climate change
Bill Sammon, Fox's senior vice president and Washington managing editor, is courting Democratic candidates for town halls and trying to get the DNC to reconsider its decision not to let Fox host a debate.
Sammon has a notoriously terrible record on climate change. In 2009, he sent a memo to Fox journalists ordering them to curtail honest reporting on climate change:
We should refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question.
He sent the memo out less than 15 minutes after a Fox correspondent accurately reported that U.N. scientists said the 2000-2009 period was “expected to turn out to be the warmest decade on record.” When the correspondent returned to the air a few hours later, he added views from climate “skeptics” into his reporting. Sammon has also tilted Fox's coverage of other issues further to the right.
Four years ago, Sammon played a key role in crafting questions for a Republican presidential primary debate. Do Democratic candidates want to invite Sammon to craft questions for them now?
With Fox on the ropes with advertisers, Democratic candidates should consider if they want to throw Fox News a lifeline this spring.