Bernie Sanders announced on Wednesday that he would participate in a town hall on Fox News on April 15, which seems like an ironic day to take his message of imposing higher taxes to fund an expansive welfare state to Fox’s conservative, often well-heeled viewership.
The move, though, is pure Sanders. He has long touted himself as someone willing to engage with audiences on the other side of the ideological divide. The town hall will take place in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, one of those old steel mill towns that have suffered under globalization over the last few decades. It will focus on jobs and the economy, which is one area in particular where Sanders and his supporters think his policy prescriptions can land with right-leaning voters, especially those in the working class.
The move is also pure Sanders in its tone-deafness to Fox’s image with the Democratic Party, which officially banned the network from hosting any of its primary debates in the upcoming election. (On Wednesday, the DNC said it had no objections to Sanders participating in the town hall.)
The town hall comes at a time of heightened awareness of just how insidiously Fox News has entwined itself with both the Trump White House and the nationalist, white supremacist movement that has been activated and encouraged by Donald Trump’s election. Fox has catered to this sort of ethno-populism, particularly in its choice of primetime opinion hosts.
There is Tucker Carlson, whose nightly hour of white grievance politics has earned it the derisive nickname “The White Power Hour” and also made him, allegedly, the favorite talking head among America’s resurgent white supremacist population.
There is Sean Hannity, so reliable a mouthpiece for Trump he practically serves as de facto press secretary, who uses his nightly hour to reinforce conspiracy theories about a “Deep State” trying to take down the president and agitates for federal investigations of all perceived enemies, including past presidents.
And that’s before you get to the know-nothingism of the two Fox anchors selected to host the Sanders town hall, Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum. Though Fox touts both as objective, hard-news journalists, a Media Matters employee on Wednesday quickly put together a list of times when both have toed the hardcore conservative line to deny climate change, praised Brazil’s right-wing strongman Jair Bolsonaro, and engaged in fear-mongering over undocumented immigrants.
This is not just misinformation. This is an entirely parallel universe, a reality where insidious forces in the Obama administration conspired to frame Trump for Russian collusion as part of a “coup,” where Democrats regularly steal elections and want a Green New Deal not to save the environment, but to exert their own power and control over American lives. Where Bernie Sanders’ brand of democratic socialism, which has much more in common with the lost New Deal liberalism of Franklin Roosevelt than anything else, is touted as an existential threat to capitalism and the American way of life.
We are only slowly coming to understand the psychological effects that Fox has had on public life. In an effort to counter some of the poison leaching into the American bloodstream, leftist activists have organized in the last couple of years to put pressure on Fox’s advertisers and get them to stop supporting some of this programming. The pure, unadulterated racism from the likes of Carlson and Ingraham has led to boycotts aimed at hurting the network’s bottom line. There is some evidence it is working too, as blue-chip advertisers have been notably absent from Fox’s primetime shows in recent weeks.
Now Sanders is throwing the network a sort of lifeline, granting it a level of legitimacy at a time when much of the left has been working hard to tear down the facade Fox hides behind in claiming it is an objective news source. In doing so, he is undermining those leftist activists and their work. All for an hour of network exposure controlled by this machine that will be doing everything possible to make him look ridiculous. It’s a silly risk to take in the hopes of converting an infinitesimally small number of voters to his cause.