Fox News has made no secret of its goal of hosting a Democratic presidential debate. Back in February, host Bret Baier asked Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz if she could deal in the network on one of the pending tilts.
“Ha ha ha ha,” responded the party boss. “You know, we’ve got a lot on our plate and I’m really happy to be here with you on your network. There aren’t a whole lot of Democrats who come on and I always look forward to our conversations, Bret — look forward to sparring with you and some of your hosts all the way through the campaign.”
That sounded like a no, but Fox News isn’t quitting. The network today sent letters to both Democratic presidential aspirants — Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton — requesting their participation in a debate to take place in California before the state’s June 7 primary. “Democrats have not debated on Fox News for the last 12 years,” reads the letter to Sanders. “By ending that dry spell, perhaps the party can bring some sense of closure to this long and robust primary season. In the process, you and Secretary Clinton will reach a vast number of viewers – many of whom are certainly open to persuasion – just as we pivot to the general election.” Bolding added to highlight the shorthand for Fox News’s sizable following among independents.
The letter, obtained by this blog and written by Vice President of News Washington Managing Editor Bill Sammon, states, “The Fox debate would be moderated by anchors Megyn Kelly, Bret Baier and Chris Wallace, the respected journalists who were widely praised – by Democrats and Republicans alike – for their fair but rigorous questioning in a series of GOP presidential primary debates dating back to August, the cycle’s first debate. That same team is now poised to bring that same level of fairness and rigor to the cycle’s last debate.” Noting that the June 7 primary is fast approaching, Sammon requests a “prompt reply.” The debate, writes Sammon, would be “DNC-sanctioned.”
The request is a longshot, for a couple of reasons: One, the DNC, as Wasserman Schultz explained, has misgivings about doing a debate on Fox News; two, it’s not clear that any network is going to do another debate. In February, the DNC and the campaigns agreed to extend the 2016 primary schedule by four debates, though only three of those have taken place. The final one was supposed to happen in May, but there’s no indication that’s possible at this point. Last week, Politico’s Hadas Gold wrote that the “sun is setting” on the process.
The Erik Wemple Blog has led the cheers for Fox News hosting Democratic debates, as well as for MSNBC hosting Republican ones. The grilling of candidates should be a pluralistic enterprise. Over the course of the 2016 race, Fox News has hosted exclusively Republican debates; MSNBC has hosted one Democratic debate. CNN has hosted on both sides of the partisan divide.
In his letter, Sammon assured the campaigns that the Fox News Democratic debate wouldn’t take place on a weekend, a reference to debates that were buried on slow-news weekends on the broadcast networks. The last Democratic debate took place last month under the CNN banner in Brooklyn on a weeknight. Asked by the Erik Wemple Blog why the DNC had chosen CNN for that event, Wasserman Schultz said, “Because they would give us a weeknight.”
Attempts to secure comment from CNN, MSNBC and the DNC were unsuccessful. The Clinton campaign said it would keep us apprised of developments.