That’s at least in part because the questions often reflect a network or right-wing consensus that hasn’t been exposed to any significant scrutiny. Little grains of ice snowball into scandals, with Sean Hannity, Dan Bongino and whoever else packing on more and more — and then they get removed from the cooler and placed on the sidewalk. It often doesn’t take long for it to melt.
At other times, the inflection of Doocy’s question itself gets at the point. As was the case Thursday evening, when President Biden called on Doocy after brief remarks about the suicide bombing outside the airport in Kabul.
“Let me take the one question,” Biden said, “from the most interesting guy that I know in the press.”
This was not really meant as a compliment.
“Mr. President, there had not been a U.S. service member killed in combat in Afghanistan since February of 2020,” Doocy said. “You set a deadline. You pulled troops out. You sent troops back in. And now 12 Marines are dead. You said the buck stops with you. Do you bear any responsibility for the way that things have unfolded in the last two weeks?”
When Donald Trump was asked a similar question in March 2020 about the failure of coronavirus testing, he answered like Donald Trump: “No, I don’t take responsibility at all, because we were given a — a set of circumstances, and we were given rules, regulations, and specifications from a different time.” Rejection of the idea that he deserved blame and a pivot to his predecessor.
Biden's been doing this longer, so he accepted blame — and then pivoted to his predecessor.
“I bear responsibility for, fundamentally, all that’s happened of late,” Biden said. “But here’s the deal: You know — I wish you’d one day say these things — you know as well as I do that the former president made a deal with the Taliban that he would get all American forces out of Afghanistan by May 1. In return, the commitment was made — and that was a year before — in return, he was given a commitment that the Taliban would continue to attack others, but would not attack any American forces.”
This is a fair description. A deal struck between the U.S. government and the Taliban in February 2020 included the trade-off outlined by Biden.
At that point, though, Biden went in a different direction: He challenged Doocy to admit that he knew that his own framing of the question was unsound.
“Remember that? I’m being serious,” Biden said to Doocy.
Doocy tried to interject that Trump was no longer the president, but Biden kept at it.
“Now wait a minute,” he said. “I’m asking you a question. Is that — is that accurate, to the best of your knowledge?”
“I know what you’re talking about,” Doocy conceded, before then trying to get Biden to opine on why Americans might be frustrated with the situation in the country. Biden, after resting his head on his hands in apparent frustration, replied that Americans “have an issue that people are likely to get hurt” as they had that day.
He then returned to the prior point: that U.S. forces had avoided attack thanks to the deal made by Trump that had included a withdrawal pledge. This was the case, he said, “whether my friend will acknowledge it” or not — his friend being Doocy.
Fundamentally, that was the Biden’s point. Doocy and his network often don’t provide or consider the context that would subject their theories to heat from the outset. As New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait pointed out Thursday, Fox viewers often aren’t really tuning in to the network’s offerings for a considered debate on the news of the day. What keeps them engaged and watching is the diaspora of voices and range of volumes fuming at the day’s outrage.
For all of the right’s focus on Biden’s mental acuity, he’s sufficiently adept at the sort of exchange seen Thursday to be able to put Doocy on the defensive. Not that this friction between Fox News and a Democratic White House is newly emergent. Biden’s willingness to engage offensively with Doocy echoes the disparagement and criticisms that were a frequent feature of Barack Obama’s administration.
What’s different now are the stakes. Fox News is powerful, capturing an audience of millions of viewers a night. It shifted during the Trump administration in part out of an effort to retain the attention of Trump’s more fervent supporters. In 2013, Fox News’s prime-time lineup flowed from Greta Van Susteren to Bill O’Reilly to Megyn Kelly to what was then its populist anchor, Hannity. Now, the channel is hosting a rotating slot of right-wing personalities in the 7 p.m. hour, before handing things over to Tucker Carlson, Hannity and Laura Ingraham. If those names aren’t intimately familiar to you, trust me when I say it’s a significant move away from the center.
The network (and Carlson in particular) remains a lodestone for much of the often-self-contained conversation on the political right. In November, after it became obvious that Biden had won the election, I pointed out that with Trump vanquished, Biden’s main opponent — misinformation from the right — remained potent. (Right-wing misinformation, driven by Trump, then spent months claiming that no such vanquishing had occurred.) Biden and his team clearly recognize this threat, as evidenced by their willingness to engage with Doocy.
There’s an overly neat analogy that could be drawn here about the White House entertaining a representative of a hostile power, but it’s not entirely wrong. Doocy gives the White House a way into the often-sealed discourse on the right, a way to draw those snowballs into the sunlight. Psaki and Biden are confident in their ability to handle Doocy’s questions and eager to reframe them. It’s a bit like doing an interview with a local television station in rural Texas: You’re pretty much guaranteed airtime that you wouldn’t otherwise get.
Not that it seems to be having much effect.