Stuart Varney and Dana Perino with a podium and a reddish background
Andrea Austria / Media Matters

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Fox’s Republican debate moderators have a long history of pushing biased and extremist commentary

Fox hosts Dana Perino and Stuart Varney have peddled bigotry, undermined unions, cheered for government shutdowns, and taken sides in the GOP primary

Fox News has chosen two of its TV personalities, Stuart Varney and Dana Perino, as the moderators for Wednesday’s Fox Business Network/Univision Republican presidential debate. Both have pushed misinformation and extreme positions on key contemporary issues including workers’ rights and wages, immigration, and government shutdowns. On top of that, Varney has clearly picked a favorite candidate among those appearing at the Republican primary debate itself, promoting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis while dismissing the indicted former President Donald Trump as the Republican standard-bearer, with Perino also making remarks in support of DeSantis.

  • Varney and Perino are partisans with a clear pro-DeSantis bias in the primary

  • As far back as 2010, Fox Business host Stuart Varney openly admitted that he is “very clearly partisan” and that he was was rooting for Republican electoral victories. Fox News anchor Dana Perino was a press secretary for President George W. Bush before joining Fox, and then she used her position at the network to repeatedly whitewash that administration’s record. More recently, Varney has shown a clear preference for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over Trump in the GOP presidential primary, and Perino echoed DeSantis' talking points about Florida as a “blueprint” and defended him over possible legal action due to his migrant trafficking stunt, dispelling any notion that they can perform as unbiased debate moderators even within the narrower context of Republican politics.

    • Varney: “If there is a Trump-DeSantis contest, it will be between forward-looking landslide winner and backward-looking former president who cannot accept his loss.” After the 2022 midterm elections, Varney argued on his Fox Business program that DeSantis, who had been elected governor of Florida, was “considered presidential material” and " surely the de facto leader of the Republican Party,” concluding that “Florida is the turning point for the Republican Party.” [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 11/9/22]
    • Varney on Trump’s post-midterm attacks against DeSantis: “Bad move. Trump is the past. DeSantis, according to the New York Post, is DeFuture.” [Twitter/X, 11/9/22]
    • Varney replied “dream on” to an assertion that Trump could play a constructive role in “DeSantis’ party.” Fox host Charles Payne said, “I really believe that this is DeSantis’ party right now. And I really believe that Trump could play a great role if he would play a great role and not try to mess things up.” Varney replied, “Dream on, Charles.” Payne responded, “Yeah. I know. I know.” [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 11/9/22]
    • Perino said to DeSantis, “You have a lot of results,” and then asked him if “somebody like you as governor could then maybe run and take that blueprint and make Florida's model resonate across the United States?” The question closely echoed the subtitle of DeSantis’ book — Florida’s blueprint for America’s revival. [Media Matters, 3/3/23]
    • Perino suggested that possible criminal charges over migrant trafficking could be useful “earned media” opportunities for DeSantis. On America’s Newsroom, Perino said that threats of legal action over DeSantis’ migrant flight stunts give “Ron DeSantis a way to get in the news with some earned media, and not, you know, a campaign stunt. Because in a crowded field, it is difficult to figure out a way, how can you stand out? And this, I don’t know if Newsom realizes it actually helps Ron DeSantis in a Republican primary, by being able to talk about it.” A day earlier on Fox & Friends, Perino similarly said: “Can I just say, if I were the Ron DeSantis campaign, I would say, ‘Please, give us more of this.’ Because it’s kind of a crowded GOP field right now, you’ve got to find a way to get in the news.” [Media Matters, 6/7/23]
  • While labor strikes are becoming a campaign topic, Varney and Perino both have anti-union histories

  • Union activity is in the news, with the Writers Guild of America having reached a tentative deal to end its monthslong strike in Hollywood, and the United Auto Workers strike that began in mid-September drawing visits from both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. But over the years Varney has blamed unions for economic problems in America, openly sided with management in his coverage of organized labor actions, and opposed efforts to organize workers, including by the UAW. Perino repeatedly spread misinformation about unions and the rights of workers, and defended anti-union “right-to-work” laws.

    • Perino falsely claimed that union health insurance plans got a special “carve-out” from Obamacare. Perino claimed that during the 2010 legislative debate on the Affordable Care Act, unions “wanted their carve-out so that their Cadillac plans weren't going to be taxed,” and “they ultimately got that.” But the legislation at the time had applied that delayed taxation “carve-out” to all high-cost insurance plans, not just union health insurance plans. [Media Matters, 4/9/10]

    • Varney blasted unions as “the antithesis of freedom” and an innovation killer. [Fox Business, Freedom Watch, 9/4/10]

    • Perino spread misinformation about a National Labor Relations Board decision. Conservative media figures had claimed that the National Labor Relations Board was seeking to ban companies from moving to states with lax labor laws by filing a complaint against Boeing's decision to move the production facility for a 787 Dreamliner to South Carolina. In fact, the NLRB's general counsel alleged that Boeing moved its 787 production line in retaliation for strikes by Boeing workers at its Seattle-area plant, which would constitute a clear violation of federal labor laws. Perino claimed that the NLRB was “rewarding friends” of the Obama administration. [Media Matters, 5/11/11; Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 5/11/11]

    • Varney attacked a plan by then-President Barack Obama to revitalize infrastructure because it “favors the unions entirely.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 9/6/11]

    • Varney demonized UAW’s “sweetheart deal” with GM, while leaving out the union’s concessions on cost-of-living wage increases. [Media Matters, 9/20/11]

    • Varney conducted a pro-management interview with a Walmart spokesperson about a planned strike by workers in a segment that was sponsored by Walmart. During the interview, Varney did not mention the concerns of the company's workers, instead praising the company for “taking on” unions, asking if they planned to fire striking workers, and plugging the company's charitable efforts following Hurricane Sandy. Following the segment, Fox News ran a banner ad explaining that “this program is brought to you by Walmart,” followed by an advertisement for the company's Black Friday promotion. [Media Matters, 11/19/12]

    • Varney responded to the free-rider problem in Michigan’s “right to work” law by calling the law “a flat-out good thing.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 12/13/12]

    • Varney failed to disclose the corporate ties of a lobbyist he interviewed, who dismissed a fast-food worker strike. In July 2013, Varney interviewed Richard Berman of the Employment Policies Institute to provide a critical analysis of planned walkouts. Berman dismissed the idea of raising fast food employee wages, claiming that the hike in pay would result in lower employment. Berman, a corporate lobbyist, was allowed to provide this input without disclosing his organization's ties to the fast food industry. [Media Matters, 7/29/13]

    • Perino seemingly blamed teachers unions for gun violence in schools. While criticizing then-film producer Harvey Weinstein for saying he would make an anti-NRA film, Perino suggested that he could better “tackle gun violence if” it “would take on the teachers unions.” [Fox News, The Five, 1/16/14]

    • Varney portrayed unions as a drag on the economy when discussing a UAW attempt to organize workers in a Tennessee plant. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 2/13/14]

    • Perino falsely claimed that unions could make direct political contributions while defending a Supreme Court ruling overturning individual contribution limits. In defending the April 2014 McCutcheon v. FEC decision overturning the $123,200 individual direct political contribution limit per two-year election cycle, Perino claimed that unions face no limits on contributions. But she was incorrect; like corporations, unions could spend unlimited amounts for independent expenditures during elections, but they were still barred from making direct contributions to candidates or political parties — which is what the McCutcheon case was about. [Media Matters, 4/4/14]

    • Varney and his guests repeatedly assailed low-wage restaurant, home care, and university workers who were taking part in nationwide demonstrations organized by the Fight For $15. Over the course of six segments, Varney and hisguests attacked the protesters for demanding a $15-per-hour minimum wage and pushed frequently debunked myths that increased wages would destroy jobs and hurt business. On two occasions, Varney allowed restaurant executives — White Castle Vice President Jamie Richardson and Bennigan’s CEO Paul Mangiamele — to claim that increased wages would actually hurt workers. [Media Matters, 4/14/18]

    • Perino framed the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, a bill that sought to provide protections for workers attempting to organize, as an example of overreach by the federal government. “In the bill, they have something called the PRO Act,” Perino commented, during an interview with Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA). “If this passes, basically what that would do is supersede any state that has right-to-work laws. So the federal government basically trying to come in and layer on on top of states whose citizens have made decisions.” [NPR, 3/9/21; Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 4/1/21]

  • Varney and Perino have repeatedly urged Republicans to shut down the government

  • The House GOP continues to veer toward a government shutdown, which could be a topic during the debate Varney and Perino are helping to moderate. But their questions may be colored by their long history of supporting such GOP-led shutdowns when they thought it would benefit the party politically.

    • Perino encouraged a government shutdown, saying that it might be a “GOP winner this time around.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 1/3/11]

    • Varney also said shutdowns could be a political winner for the GOP: “The conventional wisdom is that if you shut the government down like Newt Gingrich did back in the '90s, you lose politically. I'm saying that's nonsense. I think you could shut the government down right now and voters would love you.” [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 2/17/11]

    • Perino and Varney agreed with Fox host Sean Hannity that voters wouldn’t blame Republicans for a shutdown in 2011. [Fox News, Hannity, 3/8/11]

    • Varney joined Hannity in urging Republicans to reject a budget compromise and shut down the government. [Fox News, Hannity, 4/12/11]

    • Varney dismissed economic damage from a government shutdown: It’s “not that big a deal for Wall Street.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 9/30/13]

    • Varney on furloughed federal government employees: “I want to punish these people.” Varney further said federal employees should not “get their back pay.” [AM 560, The Big John & Amy Show, 10/2/13]

  • The white nationalist “great replacement” conspiracy theory has infected both Varney’s and Perino’s coverage of immigration

  • Many personalities at Fox have pushed the white nationalist “great replacement” conspiracy theory, which posits a nefarious plot to “replace” white Americans with nonwhite immigrants, and has inspired several mass shooters who have targeted minority communities, including Hispanic immigrants, Black Americans, and a Jewish synagogue. Varney and Perino have both spread or allowed a guest to spread this racist conspiracy theory on their programs, while also pushing other anti-immigrant and anti-refugee narratives and defending the Trump administration’s inhumane family separation policy at the border.

    • Varney flirted with the idea of letting immigrants and their children starve by denying them government assistance. During a 2013 discussion of an immigration reform proposal, Varney said, “I'm interested in the idea that they cannot be refused any or all government services. They can't.” He then went on to suggest that immigrants should be left to starve rather than receive the same food stamps benefits as citizens. [Media Matters, 7/31/13]

    • Varney complained that undocumented immigrants can access low-cost health care in the U.S. During a March 2016 discussion with then-Fox host Tucker Carlson, Varney complained, “So, now you add on top of this the free coverage that's given in some counties in America and you've basically got health care coverage for illegal immigrants being paid for probably by middle America.” He continued: “What you've got here is that you are stabilizing the illegal population in the United States. They've got education. They've got health care.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 3/25/16]

    • Perino excused the Trump administration’s family separation immigration policy: “They also try to separate them because the adults go to a place that you wouldn't want to have children in, so let's find a different place for them.” [Fox News, The Five, 5/29/18]

    • Varney complained that media outlets were covering “children in cages” rather than “the good news on the economy” during the Trump administration’s family separation policy. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 6/21/18]

    • Perino agreed with a Fox co-host that Republicans should campaign on “the brown wave overwhelming the southern border” during the 2018 midterm elections. [Fox News, The Five, 8/9/18]

    • Varney repeatedly approved of threats of violence against migrants. On his Fox Business show, Varney played a video clip of Trump talking about using troops to shoot at migrants throwing rocks at the border and approvingly said, “Well I’d call that pretty tough stuff. … Front and center, tough line Trump.” Months later, Varney said he “can understand” why a “militia” group detained hundreds of asylum-seekers at gunpoint. [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 11/2/18, 4/19/19]

    • Varney called migrant caravans an “invasion” of the U.S. During an exchange with former acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Sandweg, Varney said that unauthorized immigration through the southern border “sounds to me like an invasion.” He continued: “You got tens of thousands of people, they walk in, and they stay for a very long time, and we put them up. That's an invasion.” [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 11/5/18]

    • Varney pushed the “great replacement” conspiracy theory: “America is being changed without our consent.” On his Fox Business program, Varney said: “Let’s get right to it. We’ve reached the breaking point. The border has been flooded — overwhelmed.” He continued, echoing the white nationalist “great replacement” conspiracy theory: “My opinion — and this may sound harsh — I believe this is deliberate. This administration does not really want to stop the flow. On this issue, with this administration, I’m a cynic. The Democrats have given us an open border because they believe the people who flow into America are future Democrat voters. This is Friday, April the 9th, we’re right at the breaking point — and America is being changed without our consent.” [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 4/9/21]

    • Days after the racism-inspired Buffalo mass shooting, Perino allowed the Texas lieutenant governor to push the great replacement theory unchallenged. After Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said Democrats’ “plan is to bring in millions of people into this country illegally that they can give them a green card, citizenship, and throw them into voters, so they can control the country,” Perino later said: “We hear the frustration that you have, indeed, and thank you so much for being on with us.” [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 5/20/22]

    • Varney again pushed the “great replacement” conspiracy theory to smear Democrats over immigration. Varney said: “Do you think the open border is deliberate? A deliberate allowing in of millions of people, which changes the — I’m going to say, the ethnic balance of the country. Are they deliberately doing this?” [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 12/15/22]