During a recent Fox News town hall, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg was asked a misleading question from a leader of an anti-abortion group who identified herself merely as a “proud, pro-life Democrat.” Their exchange and abortion opponents’ extreme reactions online to Buttigieg’s answer show why Fox town halls only serve as an opportunity for right-wing media and abortion opponents to maliciously attack Democratic candidates in an attempt to rally support for conservatives in 2020.
On January 26, Buttigieg attended the town hall moderated by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, who represents Fox’s so-called “news” division (although he himself has a history of spreading anti-abortion misinformation). Wallace called on Kristen Day to ask Buttigieg a question about abortion. Day is the executive director of the anti-abortion organization Democrats for Life of America, but Wallace did not identify her as such. Day’s affiliation was shown only in a listing below her name that read “Democrats for Life”:
Day’s initial question centered on whether Buttigieg would “want the support of pro-life Democrats” and if he would “support more moderate platform language in the Democratic Party to ensure” the inclusion of “pro-life Democratic voters,” such as herself and “about 21 million” others. Buttigieg answered that he was “not going to try and earn your vote by tricking you,” saying, “The best I can offer is that if we can’t agree on where to draw the line, the next best thing we can do is agree on who should draw the line. And in my view, it’s the woman who is faced with that decision in her own life.”
Wallace followed up and asked Day if she was “satisfied with the answer” she got from Buttigieg. Day said she wasn’t and tried to spin the Democratic Party’s pro-choice platform as extreme, claiming that it “contains language that basically says that we don’t belong, we have no part in the party, because it says abortion should be legal up to nine months.”
Day’s questions and comments show the importance of differentiating between people who are personally anti-abortion and those like her who want to “force their beliefs on others through law,” as NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue pointed out on Twitter. (Hogue also explained that Day’s claim about the number of anti-abortion Democrats is suspicious on face value.) Day’s questions also play into the idea that right-wing media -- and sometimes outlets beyond this ecosystem -- often push by claiming Democrats are too “extreme” on abortion to be elected. In reality, allegations of supposed “extremism” have been created and exploited by right-wing media outlets, especially Fox News, to discredit Democratic candidates whose views actually align with the overwhelming public support for abortion access in the country.
During other candidates’ town halls on the network, Wallace and other supposedly “straight news” personalities have asked candidates incendiary questions about abortion -- drawing on the same misinformation pushed by their own network. In those instances, other right-wing media and anti-abortion figures have reacted to answers from candidates with vitriol and lies about how supposedly “extreme” Democratic candidates are on abortion. Those town halls, including the most recent one with Buttigieg, play into right-wing media's playbook for the 2020 elections by providing a platform for right-wing personalities to ask candidates anti-choice questions with faulty framing, spin the candidates’ answers into a faux outrage news cycle, and downplay the anti-abortion connections of the questioner in order to suggest there is more “grassroots support” for anti-choice policies.
Right-wing media and abortion opponents reacted to Buttigieg’s abortion answer with false spin
- Fox News’ Katie Pavlich:
- Anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List):
- SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser:
- Eternal World Television Network’s Catherine Hadro:
- Washington Examiner:
- The Daily Caller’s Mary Margaret Olohan:
Right-wing media downplayed or ignored Day’s affiliation, implying her position was more “grassroots”
- Day, who is apparently writing a piece about her question for The Federalist, is identified in another article for that outlet as simply “affiliated with Democrats for Life.” The headline of the piece also omitted Day’s position as a leader of an anti-abortion group in favor of framing her as just a “Pro-Life Democrat Voter.”
- The Daily Wire’s write-up of the event identified Day as “a Democrat voter” and “a member of the audience.”
- National Review’s article only named Day as “a pro-life Democratic voter” and an “audience member.”
- The Daily Caller identified Day only as “a pro-life Democrat.”
- TheBlaze called Day “a pro-life Democrat” and an “audience member.”
- During a discussion of Day's question during a Fox News @ Night segment, Day was referred to only as a “pro-life Democrat.”
- Washington Examiner’s Becket Adams wrote that Day “self-identified as a pro-life Democrat," not mentioning her leadership of an anti-abortion group.
It has become a trend for the right-wing media to generate an outrage-driven abortion news cycle after every 2020 Democratic candidate's Fox News town hall, no matter how the candidates answer abortion-related questions. If candidates continue to engage in these town halls, they should well remember the role Fox News plays in that faux outrage ecosystem and in fueling the spread of anti-abortion misinformation more broadly.