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Democrats Reject Fox News as Partner in Primary Debates

Network Responds By Noting 'Journalistic Integrity' of Key News Anchors

WASHINGTON — The Democratic National Committee will not partner with Fox News for the upcoming primary debates, citing a story in the New Yorker that reported on the close ties of the news channel to President Donald Trump.

DNC Chairman Tom Perez said in a statement that “recent reporting in the New Yorker on the inappropriate relationship between President Trump, his administration and Fox News has led me to conclude that the network is not in a position to host a fair and neutral debate for our candidates. Therefore, Fox News will not serve as a media partner for the 2020 Democratic primary debates.” 

Bill Sammon, senior VP and managing editor of Fox News in Washington, said, “We hope the DNC will reconsider its decision to bar Chris Wallace, Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, all of whom embody the ultimate journalistic integrity and professionalism, from moderating a Democratic presidential debate. They’re the best debate team in the business and they offer candidates an important opportunity to make their case to the largest TV news audience in America, which includes many persuadable voters.”

The Washington Post first reported on the Democrats’ decision.

Perez said he had been talking to the news channel about partnering on a debate, along with other outlets, before the New Yorker piece. “I believe that a key pathway to victory is to continue to expand our electorate and reach all voters,” he said.

But he likely would face a backlash from a number of party activists and some other groups, like Media Matters for America, had he agreed to have Fox News host one of the events. They see Fox News as a kind of state-run media for the administration, even as its journalists say there is a distinction between its editorial side and opinion personalities.

Perez’s statement does not apply to credentialing of Fox News figures from covering the event, just the exclusive right to telecast one.

The DNC already has announced that MSNBC, NBC News and Telemundo will partner for the first primary debate, scheduled for some time in June, while CNN has the telecast rights to the second in July.

The Democrats are planning 10 other debates throughout the primary cycle, and have made plans to accommodate up the 20 candidates.

Networks have been jockeying for the rights to host one or more of the events, which proved to be highly lucrative in 2016.

Fox News drew more than 24 million viewers to the first primary debate in Cleveland, a figure that shattered records for primary season audiences. News channels saw significant audiences for later debates as well. CNN drew more than 15 million viewers to the first Democratic debate in 2015.

Fox News did not host a Democratic debate in the 2016 election cycle, but it telecast a town hall with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in March of that year. The candidates appeared separately on stage in Detroit.

During the 2008 cycle, Fox News was to co-sponsor a presidential debate with the Nevada Democratic Party, but those plans were canceled, amid the furor over a joke that then-chairman Roger Ailes made about Barack Obama’s name and its similarity to Osama Bin Laden. That year, the progressive group MoveOn.com also organized a campaign calling for candidates to boycott Fox.

The New Yorker article, “The Making of the Fox News White House,” written by Jane Mayer, reported that in the prelude to the first Republican debate in Cleveland in 2015, Ailes may have tipped Trump to a question. The moderator of the event, Megyn Kelly, asked Trump about some of the derogatory names he has called women. “You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs,’ and ‘disgusting animals,’” she said. Trump interjected, “Only Rosie O’Donnell.”

Trump responded to the news that the DNC had banned Fox from hosting any other their debates by threatening to restrict access to the general primary debates next year.

“Democrats just blocked Fox News from holding a debate. Good, then I think I’ll do the same thing with the Fake News Networks and the Radical Left Democrats in the General Election debates!” he wrote on Twitter.

In fact, the general election debates are not organized by major parties or the networks, but a debate commission. The events are carried by all networks and across media platforms.

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