In the United States, the media plays a critical role in defining how people of different political affiliations see one another in the political realm. As credible media sources grow more involved in people’s lives with the ongoing pandemic and the advancement of technology, so does media that is purposefully misinformative or heavily skewed in a biased manner. Such is the case with today’s Fox News, a conservative channel that has become more radicalized and inclined towards brazenly spreading fear throughout the past few years. Fox News has promulgated misleading sound bites and theories about Democrats, undocumented immigrants, activist organizations and other groups in opposition to the Republican ideals of today. A common practice for Fox News is to popularize among its viewers a sentiment of skepticism and mistrust, claiming that the channels and publications they deem “liberal media” are either lying or not providing the whole truth. Fox television hosts like Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro, Maria Bortiromo, Laura Ingraham and others are infamous for their anti-immigrant sentiments and their animosity for ideals of social justice and diversity, and they tend to portray themselves and other conservatives as victims when they are denounced by others. As Fox News inches closer and closer towards matching the kind of propagandistic and even conspiratorial rhetoric voiced by radio show hosts like Alex Jones and Rush Limbaugh, Democrats need to seize the opportunity given by their control of the government and their recent passage of the American Rescue Plan Act to establish a channel of communication with disillusioned Fox News viewers.
Whether their views are racist, grossly misled, confused or skeptical, a wave of distress has washed over many Trump supporters and conservatives nationwide. Some believe that they truly live under an illegitimate government considering that they view the world through a Trump-framed lens in which he won the 2020 election. Some may just be disappointed that Democrats successfully wrested control from Republicans in the legislative and executive branches. Others may watch Fox News hosts like Carlson because they could be unsure of their political stance, pressured by their environment or just susceptible to fear in such a divisive time. After all, when fear of the opposition is the main engine of the program, rather than acceptance and compassion, harmful divisions proliferate. President Joe Biden just passed the American Rescue Plan Act and is getting ready with fellow Democrats to usher in more legislation that helps the economy and well-being of Americans recover, which is why they need to start making their pitch. House and Senate Democrats or other affiliates should appear on Fox segments or town halls if invited and calmly, but also proudly, lay down their agendas and visions for Fox viewers at home to see, especially those who are politically confused, those who may be swayed. A bridge needs to be built between the large body of Americans who gravitate towards dishonest media and the Democratic Party, which, given its executive and bicameral control of government, will be held responsible for everything that happens between now and at least the next 21 months.
Critics of Democratic appearances on Fox News say that it helps to legitimize a network enveloped by lies, and that it allows people to see that the words of people like Donald Trump affect the Democrats, implying that publically rebutting rather than ignoring them is a sign of weakness. What they fail to understand, however, is that there is an overwhelmingly large difference between a Fox News host and a potential Fox News viewer who turns on the TV in good faith. Senator Bernie Sanders noted that reality as a presidential candidate in 2019. For somebody like Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D) to appear on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” seems unthinkable, but it should not mean that she is currying favor with people like him; rather, she would be using the show to speak to the millions of Americans who tune in every day, and appearing on the channel on a consistent basis would allow people to know more about who she is, rather than who she is made out to be.
The argument that opposes showing up on Fox News because it would legitimize the fear-mongering components of the program makes sense. After all, Democratic members of Congress would not show up on unpopular fringe websites that explicitly push for violence. The problem with Fox News is that the program is far too popular and every effort that was made to boycott it had no effect. The network grew, the most controversial TV hosts are gaining steam in name recognition, and 12 million more people voted for Trump in 2020 than in 2016. “Hannity” and “Tucker Carlson Tonight” have finished off 2020 as the most watched cable news programs in the entire country. As foreboding as their prominence is, the solution needs to be focused on countering their division with substantial discussions on how to move America in the right direction. As the country becomes more diverse and liberal, there is a large body of conservative Fox News viewers that supports politicians who seek to reverse the rights won for minorities to vote or engage civically. Regular Fox appearances by Democratic politicians, or even Republicans and Independents opposed to Trump and his politics, could mitigate the effects of the painful political division exacerbated by Trump, something that came painfully close to resulting in a massacre in the halls of the Capitol on Jan. 6.
As a prominent supporter of the Biden-Harris presidential campaign, current Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg has appeared on Fox News numerous times. What was the result? He garnered more favorability than he already had and went viral after an audience at a Fox News town hall applauded his comments about abortion, the flaws of the electoral college and division in the media. Today it seems as though we can’t hear the end of Republican complaints about the Dr. Seuss books, the firing of Mandalorian star Gina Carano or their favorite topic of the last week, Biden falling while going up the stairs of his plane. This can very well be attributed to their desire to divert substantivity in discourse given the fact that many of Democrats’ top priorities are very popular with the American people. The Economist and Media Matters do indicate that Republicans are less divided when it comes to “culture wars” such as these. There are voices like Buttigieg, Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Cory Booker, Representative Jaime Raskin, Representative Pramila Jayapal and many others who I believe can expose these hosts for their obsession with “culture wars” and actually foster robust, substantial discussion about policy and recovery. It seems like an impossible task to help Fox viewers see a different narrative after they already tolerated four years of the Trump administration, but it’s important to acknowledge that while the network is desperate to preserve anti-democratic traditionalism and socially conservative values of oppression against those who have been historically marginalized, the viewers as a general body are not a monolith of radicalization. There is some semblance of hope in building bridges and reasoned discussion between the hosts whom they have familiarized themselves with and those who have been made out to be the enemy. Carlson makes his arguments more attractive to Fox viewers when he successfully associates pieces of his perceived opposition together: elites, CNN, The New York Times, Democrats. If Democrats branch out from their favorite media sources and appear often on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” and other shows within Fox, this association between elitist oppression towards conservatives and the Democratic Party will weaken. Also, wouldn’t it be a plus for Democrats to combat the “liberal tears” and “liberal snowflakes” narrative by accepting Fox News invitations and bravely engaging with those with whom they passionately disagree?
Warren declined an invitation in May 2019 for a televised town hall with Fox News, blasting the network as a “hate-for-profit racket,” echoing common, yet not inaccurate, criticisms by liberals and leftists that the network is a highly partisan propagandistic machine. She defended turning down the invitation by adding that she is not dodging hard questions because she has already done hundreds of interviews and several town halls with other media channels, including CNN. She also stated she does not want to give legitimacy to a program trafficking in fear, but the sheer size of the Fox News audience makes that argument moot. Liberals have the upper hand in power and policy. Democrats control Congress, and the policies on the table that an overwhelming number of them support (raising minimum wage, climate change legislation, sensible gun control, voting reform, the American Rescue Plan Act, etc.) are popular with a majority of the American people, according to various polls. If there is ever an opportunity to engage in Fox News town halls, or even request to venture into the lion’s den of Tucker Carlson’s concerned facial expressions and Sean Hannity’s misogynistic sound bites to finally help at least some see truth, it is now.