Media critic

Every four years, the suits at Fox News lobby officials with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to join forces in staging a presidential primary debate. Such an event provides revenue and ratings for the network, as well as precious assistance in promoting the Fox News brand as fair and balanced. Alas, this election cycle, the DNC has spurned the partnership, citing the intimacy between the Trump administration and the No. 1 cable-news network.

Fox News is getting a debate anyhow, just not the sort that it had courted.

The debate concerns whether Fox News is, in fact, a news organization, or something far different. On Tuesday, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) lent her voice to the discussion in a statement that reads, in part, “Hate-for-profit works only if there’s profit, so Fox News balances a mix of bigotry, racism, and outright lies with enough legit journalism to make the claim to advertisers that it’s a reputable news outlet. It’s all about dragging in ad money — big ad money.” Warren had other choice critiques of the network.

The harsh words arise in part from a problem that Fox News is making for itself. It invited Warren to do a town hall event on the network, something that other Democratic presidential candidates, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, are embracing.

See how that goes? Warren accepted not the invitation to appear on Fox News but the invitation to comment on it.

There’s a lot to comment on, too. On Monday, for instance, “Fox & Friends” co-host Ainsley Earhardt on Monday morning spoke with Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) about Georgia’s restrictive “fetal heartbeat” abortion law. The two had a highly sympathetic conversation, epitomized by this thought from Earhardt: “I think it backfired on those Democrats when they all said you can have an abortion even after the baby is born or kill the baby after the baby is born.”

Perdue didn’t challenge Earhardt’s sentiment, but, as Mediaite’s Colby Hall noted, that’s false. Such distortions — and they happen with some regularity — prey on the inarticulate comments made in a January radio interview by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) — himself a physician — when discussing how doctors and patients should handle a “fetus that’s nonviable.” Here’s how PolitiFact assessed the comments:

Northam, a physician, never said he would sanction the execution of newborns. What he did say during a radio interview is that in rare, late-pregnancy cases when fetuses are nonviable, doctors deliver the baby, keep it comfortable, resuscitate it if the mother wishes, and then have a “discussion” with the mother.

In a Feb. 11 rally, President Trump himself addressed Northam’s comments, saying that Northam “stated that he would even allow a newborn baby to come out into the world … then talk to the mother and talk to the father and then execute the baby.”

Trump says it, so “Fox & Friends” says it.

There are plenty of opinions on the proper course of action for Democrats. Comedian Bill Maher, for example, believes they need to head straight into the lion’s den and take on the network. Politico’s Jack Shafer assesses that if you’re “afraid of Shep Smith, you probably shouldn’t be president.”

Fear is not the question, though. As Warren notes, the issue is aid and succor. Do Democratic candidates really want to hand Fox News a highly promotable campaign event that’ll broaden its audience and nourish the lie that it treats both sides fairly? “I’ve done 57 media avails and 131 interviews, taking over 1,100 questions from press just since January,” reads another passage in Warren’s statement. “Fox News is welcome to come to my events just like any other outlet. But a Fox News town hall adds money to the hate-for-profit machine. To which I say: hard pass.”

Other candidates differ. Let them fight it out, because a long, national debate over the role of Fox News in contemporary America is a welcome development.

Read more:

Erik Wemple: Fox News host to Dems: Don’t criticize Fox News on Fox News

Helaine Olen: How Fox News accidentally revealed the truth about support for Medicare-for-all

Erik Wemple: Trump hates it when Fox News gets it right