Democrats, Fox, and the Widening Divide

In response to the news that the Democrats will not work with Fox News for a single debate, I tweeted the following:

A predictable swarm pounced.

Mathew Dowd of ABC News is a good stand-in for one objection:

Andrew Kirell, a senior editor at the Daily Beast, is a good stand-in for another.

A few responses.

First, I completely understand why many progressives dislike Fox. And while there’s much I can’t defend on the opinion side of Fox, it’s easy for me to defend the work of people like Bret Baier and Chris Wallace and the Fox News division. If you go back and look at any of the debates hosted by Fox — Democrat or Republican — you will be hard pressed to find any evidence that they were anything other than professional.

Second, this isn’t about defending Fox. Fox is the most watched cable-news network. And if you think there are zero voters out there that Democrats need to reach out to, then this isn’t a big deal. But that’s simply not the case. I was merely making an analytical point. In a world where millions of people voted for both Obama and Trump, the idea that the Democrats don’t need to speak to audiences outside of their base is just dumb, even if Democrats feel they don’t get a fair shake from Fox.

Third, there’s Kirell’s “too easy” tweet and its imitators. He’s right: It is too easy. I’ll start with another analytical point. The GOP in 2016 did have legitimate reason to be annoyed with MSNBC. But shunning MSNBC was not the same thing as shunning all of the liberal or MSM media. The GOP worked with CNN, CNBC, CBS, and ABC in 2016.  The simple fact is there is an asymmetry here. Fox is the only mainstream right-of-center news network (which is one of the reasons it’s number one in the ratings). When the Democrats shun Fox, they are shunning an audience they might not be able to find elsewhere. Shunning MSNBC for CNBC or CNN or ABC doesn’t present the same problem.

Then there’s a personal response: I’ve changed my mind. I don’t know what Joe Scarborough said specifically to elicit that response from me. But whatever it was, I’m in a different place now. I’ve been fighting against the polarization and tribalism afflicting both the right and the left quite a lot over the last few years since then — and I have the scars to prove it. I even wrote a book on the topic. The reason I changed by mind is not that I think Scarborough’s reasoning at the time was wrong, but because I think the cycle of people refusing to hear from — or talk to — people they don’t like is getting unhealthier by the day. I think Democrats should go on Fox News more and Republicans should go on the other networks more. Everyone is talking to their own bases at the bottom of their own vertical silos, making them ever more comfortable into turning their political opponents into abstract and evil cartoons. This decision is just one more small example of that dynamic. Whether you think Fox deserves this or not is irrelevant because deserve ain’t got nothing to do with it.

So yeah, it’s too easy. It’s too easy because I changed my mind because the facts changed. I don’t know how Kirrell does things under similar circumstances.

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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