Elizabeth Warren refuses Fox News town hall appearance, bucking trend of 2020 rivals

Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Senator Elizabeth Warren. Matt Rourke/Associated press/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Senator Elizabeth Warren announced Tuesday that she is refusing an invitation to appear on President Trump’s favorite TV channel, bucking the trend of Democratic 2020 hopefuls appearing on Fox News town halls to broaden their voter outreach.

“Fox News is a hate-for-profit racket that gives a megaphone to racists and conspiracists,” Warren said in a series of tweets Tuesday. “It’s designed to turn us against each other, risking life & death consequences, to provide cover for the corruption that’s rotting our government and hollowing out our middle class.”

The decision sets Warren firmly on the anti-Fox News side of an emerging debate within the Democratic Party about the nation’s top-rated cable news network. And it once again has the Massachusetts senator breaking ground in the sprawling primary field with an attention-getting move — as she did with her call to start impeachment proceedings against Trump last month — while positioning her to the left of her chief liberal rival in the race, Senator Bernie Sanders, on engaging with Fox News.

Sanders did a Fox town hall last month. But Warren said Tuesday that Democrats appearing at those made-for-TV question-and-answer events give the network more ad revenue and harm advertising boycott efforts, as she became the first top-tier candidate to publicly turn down an invite.


“I won’t ask millions of Democratic primary voters to tune into an outlet that profits from racism and hate in order to see our candidates — especially when Fox will make even more money adding our valuable audience to their ratings numbers,” she wrote in an e-mail to supporters, as she quickly sought to raise campaign money off the announcement.

A Fox News spokeswoman did not return a request for comment.

The Democratic National Committee has barred Fox News from hosting any of the party’s upcoming primary debates, and some liberals believe Democrats should avoid appearing on the network because of its pro-Trump tilt and sometimes racially inflammatory programming.


But a handful of Democratic candidates for 2020 have appeared in Fox town halls anyway, saying they want to make their case to all voters. And House Democratic leaders have also urged their members to appear on Fox, CNN reported recently, in order to reach the cable network’s many viewers, not all of whom are conservative.

Fox News’ large audience, especially compared to some recent low-rated CNN town halls, is a major part of its draw. More than 2.5 million viewers watched Sanders’ Fox town hall in April — twice the number who tuned in when he did a CNN town hall in February.

The Fox News appearance was a boon for the Vermont senator, who appeared to capture the conservative-leaning crowd when talking about the need to reform the nation’s health care system.

The town hall also gave Sanders the added benefit of jabbing Trump on his go-to channel. “Whether you’re a conservative, a moderate, or a progressive, I don’t think the American people are proud that we have a president who is a pathological liar,” he said. Trump later tweeted that it was “weird” to see Sanders on Fox News, and criticized the moderators for being too friendly to him.

Of the other Democratic presidential candidates, Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York are scheduled to appear on the network for town halls in the coming weeks, while Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar already has. Other candidates, such as Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, Senator Kamala Harris of California, and former Texas representative Beto O’Rourke, say they’re considering a town hall on Fox News as well.


While many liberals shun the outlet, a 2017 Pew poll found that less than half of Fox News’ viewers identified as conservative Republicans overall. Ten percent identified themselves as liberal Democrats.

“Like it or not, a large number of Fox’s audience are people that will be voting in Democratic primaries,” said Joe Trippi, a Democratic consultant who led Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential run.

Warren’s move may have been aimed at differentiating herself from Sanders by making an implicit critique of his decision to appear on the network, Trippi added.

That could boost her in chipping away some of Sanders’ liberal support, and fits with the Warren campaign’s larger pattern of announcing initiatives to the left of Sanders — including backing impeachment and wanting to nuke the Senate filibuster to make it easier to pass liberal legislation.

She often pairs the announcements with fund-raising appeals to her supporters.

“If you’re trying to decide who’s the real progressive, then let me show you,” Trippi said, summing up Warren’s strategy. “I’m sure there are progressives who feel that way.”

But Brian Fallon, a former top aide to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid, said he believes Warren is taking a principled stand against Fox News by walking away from a valuable opportunity to reach a large audience. “It takes somebody willing to step outside their personal interests to reject an invitation like this,” Fallon said.


Warren stressed Tuesday that she is not afraid of taking questions from voters, touting the 70 town halls she’s held since January, including ones in red states such as West Virginia and Tennessee. She said Fox News was welcome to cover her campaign events “just like any other outlet.” Warren has also appeared on Fox News in the past and has acknowledged that it’s beneficial for candidates to be able to reach all audiences.

But she called the network a “propaganda machine” in a March interview on MSNBC, after a New Yorker article found that Fox News killed a story about Trump’s involvement with the adult film star Stormy Daniels. That story also prompted the DNC to cut ties with the network for debates, arguing that Fox is operating as an arm of the Trump administration.

In recent months, activists urged a boycott of advertisers on Fox News after host Jeanine Pirro questioned Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar’s patriotism for wearing a hijab, comments that resulted in Pirro’s temporary suspension.

Last year, commentator Tucker Carlson also lost advertisers after saying immigrants make the country “poorer and dirtier.”

Liz Goodwin can be reached at elizabeth.goodwin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizcgoodwin