Fox News is a 24-7 pro-Republican, pro-conservative propaganda outlet that over its 24-year history has frequently aired content designed to inflame racist, homophobic, misogynist and otherwise bigoted sentiment. The goal of this content is to elect Republican officials at the local, state, and national levels.
And Democrats and progressives consistently help them to do it. Progressives aid this cause by repeatedly appearing on the network, either as guests or in some instances as paid network analysts.
These appearances are made out of a belief that appearing on Fox helps with outreach to conservative communities, in the hopes that some voters and supporters can be peeled away from the right.
But Fox News appearances do far more to legitimize the network’s harmful content. Appearing on Fox raises or props up support for conservatism and the bigotry expressed by the network’s programming.
Fox News creator and serial sexual assailant Roger Ailes, a former aide to President Richard Nixon, devised the outlet as a vehicle to elect Republicans. He launched the network with the slogan “fair and balanced” and portrayed the outlet as a straight news venue that would offer up supposedly under-covered conservative issues.
In practice, however, Fox quickly showed this was not the case. Instead, the network aired slanted programming, elevating false right-leaning information to smear Democrats and progressives, while distorting or simply hiding legitimate information with the goal of helping Republicans. In some instances, Fox simply aired propaganda from the Republican National Committee and labeled it as news content.
For the first ten years or so of Fox, this process worked. The network was accepted within mainstream journalism as simply a slightly right-leaning venue, rather than the propaganda moniker it truly deserved.
This worked because few in the mainstream media, and even within progressive circles, watched Fox News. Dipping into the network for a few minutes, which most did not bother to do anyway, would not reveal the full extent of Fox’s all-encompassing right-wing vision. It was not until organizations like Media Matters for America (where I worked from 2004-2017) and programs like The Daily Show popularized Fox’s content, that more of the public became aware of what was happening.
Over the last fifteen years, perceptions of Fox have shifted closer to reality, with more of the public now aware of how the network marches in lockstep with the right, and is rarely willing to report on information harmful to the right. The rise of Donald Trump, who became a political figure through frequent appearances on Fox, has greatly helped to make this clear.
Yet Democrats continue to go on Fox News.
When figures from the left appear on Fox, it communicates to the audience that Fox is legitimate, rather than partisan. For a Democrat to show up validates Fox’s existence, it fulfills the “balance” part of the “fair and balanced” promise, even though the network gave up this slogan as its partisan agenda was exposed.
Fox’s audience and casual observers are told Fox is “real” when Democratic candidates for the presidency allow the network to host town halls. These same town halls are later excerpted out of context and commented on Fox for hours and days later, with the goal of undermining or attacking progressives.
Despite the apparent belief in the power of Fox to reach out, it is notable that Vice President Joe Biden did not have a Fox News town hall, nor was he interviewed by Fox figures, and still racked up massive primary victories on his way to the nomination.
In 2007, Democrats chose not to have primary debates on Fox (and did the same in 2020). The decision brought criticism from Ailes, who said it was a sign of party weakness. In that same election President Barack Obama set the record for the highest popular vote in U.S. history and trounced Senator John McCain.
Fox viewers are overwhelmingly composed of diehard conservatives, who believe many of the right’s most absurd conspiracies and attacks about Democrats. They are largely not open to Democratic candidates or progressive messages, and for the few viewers who may express interest in the left, they are overwhelmed by conservative viewers who are further indoctrinated.
Temporary Democratic “victories” in sporadic Fox News appearances are quickly forgotten and replaced by hours and hours of anti-Democratic coverage. Yet the legitimization effect lingers. As viewers watch another anti-Democratic broadside, the network reminds viewers that Democrats appeared, validating Fox’s existence, and deepening the effect of anti-Democratic propaganda (as well as dangerous medical information).
There are many venues available for Democrats and progressives to reach right-leaning audiences. Despite a preference for Fox, right-leaning audiences – like everyone else – are exposed to outlets like the Wall Street Journal (right-leaning) along with widely consumed media like the Associated Press, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times.
Appearing in or speaking to those outlets gives the left a chance to reach right-leaning Americans without the downside of giving Fox an assist in its demagoguery. An isolated Fox would continue to preach to a rapidly aging choir, taking potency away from the network’s programming.
The fewer who are exposed to Fox’s rotation of bigotry, the less chance there is of those ideas and notions entering the wider conversation.
Abandoning Fox would assist some of the most vulnerable communities in America, while continuing to appear spreads harm and hate.