taking on fox news

Posted on May 2, 2008


“How are you going to stand up to the terrorists when you’re afraid of Fox News?” Jay Leno famously mocked the Democrats’ refusal to appear on Fox News-sponsored debates during his monologue on his nightly “Tonight Show”. 

But these days, it looks like the Democrats have toughened up and are bravely taking on the channel seen as the voice piece of right-wingers.

In the short span of this week, both Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have appeared on Fox News.

Obama finally put a stop to Fox News’ comical “Obama Watch” clock that counts down the days since he agreed to appear on Fox News but still hadn’t, when he sat down with Chris Wallace last Sunday.

Clinton went a step further, taking on liberals’ favorite bashing-boy Bill O’Reilly during a campaign stop in Indiana.

She was feisty, argumentative and relaxed despite O’Reilly’s in-your-face, you’re-wrong-and-i’m-right style of questioning. Clinton looked like she was actually having fun sparring with O’Reilly. She does her best when cornered, after all.

And this weekend, Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean himself will appear on Wallace’s show. The cable news network has trumpeted the interview, saying it’s the first time in 18 months that Dean has appeared on the channel.

Strategically, it was a brilliant move by both candidates to cavort with the enemy.

Fox News might have a reputation for being the bastion of conservative punditry but its audience is not just conservative, high income-earning white males ready to bash Democrats. 

Along with the largest reach among cable news channels (1.78 million viewers during prime time), Fox News has the added advantage of an audience of varied political hues.

The LA Times reports that consumer research firm Mediamark Research found in a survey of 10,000 people, that 39 per cent of Fox News’ viewers described themselves as being very or somewhat conservative, 47 per cent as middle-of-the-road or undecided, and 14 per cent as very or somewhat liberal. That’s not too far off from its biggest rival CNN, which has 33 per cent conservative, 47 per cent middle-of-the-road and 20 per cent liberal viewers.

Going into next Tuesday’s open primaries in Indiana and North Carolina, where independents and even Republicans are likely to weigh in and vote, Clinton and Obama’s appearances on Fox News are shrewd attempts to appeal to those people that could make a difference in the margin of victory or defeat. 

Looking at the longer term, these same people could help the eventual nominee during November’s general election.

While MSNBC could be described as the Obama campaign cheerleader, Fox News has surprisingly given Clinton a fairer treatment.

Maybe it’s a part of “Operation Chaos” propagated by right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh at work here — the Republicans want Clinton to be the Democratic nominee, as they think she would unite and energize the Republican base in November better than Obama. 

But for Clinton, her acceptance of O’Reilly’s interview is apparently also prompted by the better treatment that the Clinton campaign feels Fox News has accorded it. 

“Fox has given Hillary Clinton better coverage than all the other cables,” Clinton campaign chair Terry McAuliffe said in a recent radio interview.

Strange as the detente between Democrats and Fox News would seem, there is no denying that both need each other. It would not be in the best interest of the Democrats to be silly and continue ignoring Fox News and pretend that it does not matter.    

Instead, the Democrats could be better off using Fox News to reach voters that aren’t in the choir yet. And Fox News sure would not begrudge the viewership boost from appearances by top Democrats. It would be a win-win situation for all if they just agreed to co-exist while agreeing to disagree.

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