The Democrats Were Right, and the Democrats Were Wrong
I firmly believe people can disagree on a political topic, and they can do so without an extraordinary amount of divisiveness. In that spirit, I present you with what I consider to be the best reasons why the DNC made the right (and wrong) decision when they announced Fox News would not be allowed to host a Democratic primary debate.
The Democrats were right
DNC chair Tom Perez argued, based on Jane Mayer’s New Yorker piece, that Fox News is incapable of being an honest broker for Democrats. Chris Wallace, the potential moderator for the debate on Fox News, demonstrated this when he insulted many of the Democratic presidential candidates by referring to the left-wing of the party as having “Fox Derangement Syndrome.” In debate terms, we call that “feeding the argument.”
2. Promotes programming.
If independent and liberal viewers come to watch the debate on Fox News, they might stay and watch some more. Even if promotions during the debates didn’t sway opinions, the network could certainly reinforce moderately conservative voters to increase their viewership. Plus, research shows how persuasive those programs can be to swing more people into voting Republican in the next presidential election.
3. Executives will use the Democratic debates in bad faith.
Mayer’s piece detailed how the executives at Fox News can’t be trusted to act in the public’s best interest. It’s quite possible that some of the questions, known or unknown to the moderators, would be a set-up for later Fox News talking points. Since Fox News has demonstrated in the past that no conspiracy theory is off-limits, there is good reason for the Democrats to be skeptical.
4. Legitimization of Fox News.
Even if nothing nefarious comes from Fox News hosting the Democratic debate, simply asking them to hold the event undercuts the argument that Fox News has become anti-democratic, full of disinformation, and serves as propaganda for the president.
5. It’s not uncommon.
Fox hasn’t hosted a Democratic debate since 2004, so it’s just not a big deal if the Democrats decide to bypass their network. In fact, the RNC pulled out of a debate for similar reasons in 2016.
The Democrats were wrong
1. Fox News is influential.
Not only are they the most highly-rated network on cable, but the primary debates from 2016 were extraordinarily popular. As Fox News managing editor Bill Sammon said, many of these viewers are persuadable. Indeed, some Fox News viewers self-label as liberal and even 3% claim to have voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. If it’s true that Tom Perez’s first criterion for finding debate hosts was that he wants “as many people as possible see our candidates,” then there is no excuse to skip the network. After all, in a debate, the Democrats can control their own arguments, policies, and spin in ways rarely seen on the conservative network.
2. The Fox News debates would be fair.
Fox News separates their commentary and news divisions. Indeed, the Fox News debate team, and especially Chris Wallace, previously hosted debates to bipartisan positive reviews. Besides, the debaters are all Democrats. Even if the moderators were biased, it’s unclear how this would manifest itself in a “Democrat only” debate.
3. Contentious moderators are good.
As a debate coach, I’ve traveled our teams into the rival’s territory on many occasions. In the end, it made us more prepared to win the national championship. We welcomed a tough cross-examination. In this case, taking the Democratic candidates to Fox News will only better prepare their eventual nominee.
4. Shunning a network is a terrible strategy.
Dissenting opinions are needed, and currently very few people on the center or left fly the airways of Fox News. Plus, when the Democrats refuse to allow Fox News to host a debate, it feeds the popular conservative narrative about bias of both Democrats and competing news organizations. Indeed, President Trump is already rolling with his attacks on the DNC’s decision and threatening retaliation.
5. Some Democratic candidates may be more suited for Fox News viewers.
It was reported that 12% of Bernie Sanders supporters ended up voting for Trump. It’s not out of the question that many Republican voters would be excited by at least one Democratic candidate. With this decision, though, the DNC just ruined their best chance of gaining visibility for those candidates.
There you have it. Armed with reasonable arguments from both sides, hopefully you can make up your mind without any lingering animosity toward those who disagree with you. And isn’t that the way it should be?
Dr. Todd Graham, America’s Debate Coach™ is the Director of Debate at Southern Illinois University. His debate teams have won five national championships and he’s been recognized three times as the national debate coach of the year. Dr. Graham also served as the CNN.com debate expert for the past two presidential debating cycles. You can find him here.