“I looked at Twitter and saw some other reporters tweeting that he was going to make the announcement at the train station,” Doocy recalled recently. He rushed over to the station and caught the moment.
His first question for the 2020 candidate: “If you’re the best choice for the Democrats in 2020, why didn’t President Obama endorse you?”
“I asked him not to endorse,” answered Biden. Fox News hosts replayed the answer, and others mocked it, throughout the day.
For Doocy, who is one of the reporters Fox has covering the Democrats, the story is an example of how he and his team have to be creative on the campaign trail, since none of the candidates really seem to want to talk to him.
It is also a story about the tense dance that goes on between Fox News and the Democrats, sometimes needing one another and sometimes disdaining one another.
Doocy’s reporting on the 2020 race is just one chapter in the decades-long fraught tale of Fox News and the Democratic Party, one littered with the cable channel’s enthusiastic embrace of the story of Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky; and its relentless depiction of the Benghazi embassy attack as a failure of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; the segments it aired questioning Barack Obama’s birthplace; allowing its commentators to voice conspiracy theories surrounding the death of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich; and, of course, there was the time that an then-anchor said she wanted kids to know that Santa was white not black.
All of that rolls down to Doocy, standing in a parking lot in the January cold, waiting to yell a question.
At nearly 6-foot-5, the 32-year-old stands out in what political reporters breezily call a “gaggle,” the disorganized question-and-answer session that politicians sometimes grant reporters. Doocy’s deep baritone carries, too, and sometimes that is enough, he says, to catch a candidate’s attention.
Doocy has been assigned to cover the Democratic field writ large, and he was on the road for much of 2019, crisscrossing the country to report on whichever Democratic presidential candidate felt significant in the moment. He will eventually cover the party’s nominee in the general election against President Trump.
Doocy’s father is the longtime “Fox & Friends” host Steve Doocy, who is tall and blond like his son. These days, when spotted together, they are sometimes mistaken for brothers. The two are close, and Peter Doocy, who was born in Washington, D.C., and raised in New Jersey, speaks glowingly of his father.
Between 2015 and 2018, Peter Doocy filled in three times for his father on weekends when the show was short-staffed. But since the midterm elections, the younger Doocy has been solely occupied with political reporting for the network. (A Fox spokeswoman says he was a registered Democrat, but currently has no party affiliation because he’s covering the campaigns.)
Peter Doocy has only ever worked at Fox News, and in the canon of Political Media Personalities, Doocy and his father can feel like they are Fox’s version of Tim and Luke Russert for the Trump era.
“Where the other networks can count on somebody among the ranks nailing or landing a sit-down interview with these top-tier Democrats, for whatever reason, these candidates have decided they don’t want to do sit-downs with Fox,” Doocy said at a campaign event for Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg in Des Moines, just days before the Iowa caucuses.
“Sorry to interrupt,” said Doocy’s public relations handler, who reminded him of the multiple Fox News town-hall events at which Fox News anchors such as Chris Wallace and Bret Baier have hosted Democratic candidates. “So it’s not like we don’t get the candidates.”
Doocy corrected himself: “I should have said ‘some of the candidates.’ . . . And so that doesn’t mean that we should not try to get them.” If that means figuring out where a candidate’s car is waiting for a couple hours outside an event, he’ll do that.
“Our bosses never told me, ‘You need to go get Joe Biden or else we’re not going to get it.’ But if they’re going to assign me to the Democratic field and we have the ability to be mobile, why not go try? And so we’ve had some luck.”
In March 2019, the Democratic National Committee announced it would exclude Fox News Channel from televising any of its candidate debates during the 2019-2020 cycle. DNC Chairman Thomas Perez cited an article in the New Yorker that outlined the network's close ties to Donald Trump as a reason for the decision.
But Fox News hasn’t hosted a Democratic primary debate since 2004. The channel lost a planned debate in 2007, after its late co-founder Roger Ailes made a crack about then-Sen. Barack Obama’s name, deliberately mixing it up with Osama bin Laden’s. “It is true that Barack Obama is on the move. I don’t know if it’s true that President Bush called [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf and said, ‘Why can’t we catch this guy?’ ” Ailes said in a speech before an industry trade group that year. The DNC canceled that debate, but in 2016 Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders agreed to participate in a town-hall-style debate on Fox News moderated by chief political anchor Bret Baier. (Chris Wallace moderated a general-election presidential debate between Clinton and Trump during the 2016 race, the first time for a Fox News personality.)
In the wake of the DNC decision last year, Fox News injected the network into the primary race through a series of high-profile town hall events that several Democratic candidates agreed to participate in. Some, such as Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, said they would not be part of a Fox event. Warren called Fox a “hate-for-profit racket.”
But others, including Sens. Bernie Sanders and Kirsten Gillibrand and former mayors Julián Castro and Pete Buttigieg, have participated in Fox News town halls. Sanders’s event was the highest-rated town hall of the cycle, with nearly 2.6 million viewers. According to Nielsen Media Research, Fox News just marked 18 years as the country’s top-rated cable news network, and whatever their objections to Fox News programming, some of the candidates want access to that audience.
Lis Smith, Buttigieg’s communications director, has said that their decision to engage with Fox News’s town halls derives from their belief that “you have to reach out and go places that are uncomfortable,” in a presidential campaign. When he appeared on “Fox News Sunday” in late January, Democratic candidate Andrew Yang told Wallace that he thought the DNC’s decision not to have a primary debate on Fox News channel was “a mistake.”
While many Democrats regularly appear on Fox News, it is indeed uncomfortable for some of them. Jennifer Palmieri, who was Hillary Clinton’s communications director during her 2016 presidential run, recalled a meeting that she and campaign chair John Podesta had with Fox News executives as part of their tour of the networks to discuss concerns about Clinton coverage.
“I felt that they were still reeling from Trump winning in the primaries and that they were wavering between being dubious about him and doubling down,” she recalled in an interview. Fox News assigned a veteran national security correspondent, Jennifer Griffin, to the Clinton campaign, and Palmieri said she saw that as a “deliberate move on their part that I welcomed, to show us they were serious.”
But overall, Palmieri said, Griffin’s reports were wedged in between other programming that Palmieri said “was atrocious. They lived off the Clinton Foundation, her emails, and they picked up every utterance Trump made about her health,” long before her bout with pneumonia caused her to collapse during a 9/11 anniversary service. Palmieri, who is currently an MSNBC contributor, said that for years, Clinton was Fox News’s “cash cow,” and that “they less covered her than programmed her,” meaning that she was an object of derision and entertainment more than she was a news story.
Bret Baier, the host of “Special Report With Bret Baier” and the channel’s chief political anchor, defended Fox’s coverage, saying: “We are in the spotlight and we have always been. Listen, I get it. We are different from the pack, and people paint us with a broad brush, but I speak for the news shows and the election coverage and we bend over backwards to be fair.”
He said he met with Palmieri a number of times to try to get more Clinton surrogates on Fox News and always had a good relationship with her.
When Fox engages with Democrats on air, it often draws the ire of President Trump. After Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) appeared on Fox News to discuss impeachment, Trump tweeted that it was “really pathetic how @FoxNews is trying to be so politically correct” and noted that “Dems wouldn’t even give Fox their low ratings debates,” and then asked, “what the hell has happened to @FoxNews. Only I know! Chris Wallace and others should be on Fake News CNN or MSDNC.” Trump wrote that such coverage would be the end of the network.
Doocy got his start in journalism as a college student at Villanova. During the 2008 presidential campaign, John McCain was visiting campus soon after Hillary Clinton had been featured on the front page of the local paper drinking shots with Pennsylvania residents. Doocy took the microphone and asked McCain if he thought Clinton was “hitting the sauce” because she was so behind in the polls. He then asked McCain if he would take a shot with him.
Doocy’s ability to crack wise and create a viral moment has served him well at Fox News. Early on, Doocy asked Biden how many times he had spoken to his son, Hunter Biden, about his business dealings. Biden shot back that he never discussed them, and then jabbed his finger toward Doocy’s face and scolded him to “ask the right questions.” Trump, not Biden, was the one who should be interrogated, Biden said.
Doocy said he was “surprised” at Biden’s reaction, which was cheered back in campaign headquarters as a sign of Biden’s strength and viewed in other quarters as evidence of Doocy hitting a nerve.
“It had been a couple of days since the news had broken that Hunter Biden was somebody President Trump was talking about in the Oval Office with a foreign leader. But nobody had asked Joe Biden about that. I was expecting that he would have a prepared answer when I asked him. . . . Because I know if somebody asked my dad, ‘How many times have you spoken to your son about his business dealings?,’ he’d probably say ‘five times a week.’ So I was surprised with how enthusiastic he was. . . . That is the only time that I can remember that a candidate has had his finger in my face.”
More recently, in November, Doocy asked Biden about the child Hunter Biden fathered out of wedlock. Biden responded that it was a private matter and that he had no comment. “But only you would ask that,” he said, his mouth stretching to a hard smile. “You’re a good man, a good man. Classy.”
While Biden can appear frustrated by the questions, his campaign has never cut off Doocy’s access.
“There were people at the beginning who said you are giving this job to him just because he’s Steve Doocy’s son,” said Baier, “So that was a hurdle for him, and he went way above that hurdle. He asks pointed questions, and every night, I know he will have a solid piece on the day’s big events.”
Fellow correspondents on the trail note how frequently Doocy asks about Hunter Biden or John Bolton or other topics that appear suited to the Fox audience, rather than drilling into policy questions. But he creates viral moments. Doocy said that other reporters are always friendly, though “there have definitely been times when we’ve shown up places and seen social gatherings we weren’t invited to.” He is entirely untroubled by this.
Cherie Grzech, vice president of Fox News’s Washington bureau, said that Doocy asks questions “everybody wants to ask but is afraid to” and that he “is very involved in asking the question of the day that will drive the political conversation.”
Because of the early-morning schedule, Steve Doocy was always at home when his son and two daughters got out of school.
“We could wait for him to wake up from his nap and then talk to him about whatever big thing was going on in the news,” Peter Doocy said. He always felt that his dad “had the best job in the world.”
Would he want to follow his father’s path to a seat on the “Fox & Friends” couch?
“If that’s something that they think I would be good at at some point, then that could be a fun thing to do. But right now, I have to worry about what exit Joe Biden is going to go out of!”