Well, that was a disaster.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ much-anticipated Twitter Spaces campaign announcement on Wednesday night was supposed to launch him into the upper echelon of the 2024 Republican presidential primary while cementing Twitter as the new Fox News. Instead, everyone involved is a punchline after an audio-only event that started with a series of embarrassing technical failures and ended with DeSantis displaying his obsession with the niche concerns of the extremely online right.
Fox’s response to the debacle shows that the network is not willing to be easily displaced by the rising alliance of Musk and the right-wing stars who have said they plan to make his platform their home. Fox hosts typically celebrate Musk and the changes he has brought to Twitter. But they’ve been highlighting his incompetence in the hours since the DeSantis announcement.
Fox’s website dubbed DeSantis’ event a “disaster on Twitter” while it was still underway, and used the opportunity to plug his subsequent interview with Fox’s Trey Gowdy for those who “want to actually see and hear” the candidate.
That interview began with Gowdy cracking jokes at Twitter’s expense.
“I can't promise you that I won't crash, but Fox News will not crash during this interview,” Gowdy said. “Gov. Desantis, if you broke Twitter, my daughter and the Kardashians are going to be very upset with you. I don't know if that's what happened with Elon Musk or not, maybe just had a big audience.”
That mocking tone held up on Fox through the night and into the next day. Fox’s personalities generally liked the content of DeSantis’ answers, both in the Twitter Spaces conversation and in his interview with Gowdy – after all, he’s fixated on the same weird obsessions they talk about every night. But hour after hour, they pummeled Twitter’s failure. They implicitly suggested DeSantis would have been better off launching his campaign on one of their shows – and at times explicitly pointed the finger at Musk for flubbing the governor’s announcement.
Sean Hannity contrasted DeSantis’ Gowdy interview with the Twitter announcement, which he said “did not go well after Twitter had one technical glitch after another.” Laura Ingraham described the glitchy start of the Twitter event as “21 minutes of pain” that had been orchestrated by “the Keystone Cops,” while her guests compared it to “a bunch of college kids in a frat house trying to figure out how to work the Zoom call” and “an A.V. club podcast.”
Fox & Friends First kicked off the network’s Thursday by highlighting how the platform’s technical issues had delayed the launch and driven “away most of the audience before he could even get the word out.” A correspondent noted, “This was supposed to be an innovative campaign launch on the Twitter Spaces platform, but it quickly went south as that platform just got overwhelmed, running into one problem after another before it finally got underway.”
Later that morning on Fox & Friends, co-host Ainsley Earhardt said that DeSantis had made his announcement “on this platform that most people don’t use a lot, have never heard of,” adding that “the servers used by Twitter [were] unable to cope with all the traffic yesterday, the audio regularly cut out, and for 20 minutes, the feed was totally dead silent.”
“The announcement was messy, overshadowed by technical problems and some glitches,” Brian Kilmeade later said, adding, “Not his fault, blame the billionaire Elon Musk.”
Kilmeade returned to the topic later in the show, saying that DeSantis “had a great interview and a one hour with Trey Gowdy at 8:00 p.m. last night, so, it’s not like he just went on Twitter Spaces.” He added, “if anyone, you’ve got to blame the guy who owns it, Elon Musk. It is not DeSantis' fault. If I’m interviewing someone on Fox and it goes down, you can't blame the person I’m interviewing.”
Earhardt responded by asking “if they thought about all of this before, there are going to be so many people watching this, you have got to make sure it works,” before imagining a conversation in which DeSantis agreed to announce on Twitter but only if Musk assured him that it wouldn’t crash.
“But he’s sending rockets into space, he could handle Twitter Spaces,” Kilmeade replied.
Fox, long the central node of the right-wing media, is in a vulnerable position, with its ratings down and its image with both the right wing and the broader public in tatters. But as would-be rivals conspire to steal away its viewers, Fox’s hosts seem unwilling to relinquish their throne without a fight.