Biden walks fine line with Fox News
President Biden is walking a fine line with Fox News, needling it this week on the subject of vaccine misinformation but avoiding an all-out war with a cable news network.
Biden has yet to sit down with Fox News for an interview, a move that could lead to criticism from the left.
Yet he has also signaled an interest in keeping the lines of communication with Fox open and reaching its large audience.
Administration officials regularly appear on “Fox News Sunday” with Chris Wallace. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, senior Biden adviser Cedric Richmond, national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have all gone on the show to promote the White House’s talking points and agenda since the start of June.
Biden officials also have appeared on news programs anchored by Neil Cavuto and Martha MacCallum.
Still, while Biden has done interviews with NBC, ABC and CBS since entering office and has conducted two town halls with CNN, he has yet to appear on Fox News.
Wallace in July 2020 said he had consistently asked for Biden to come on his program again, following his last interview with him as a candidate in March 2020.
“In our interview last week with President Trump, he questioned whether his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, could handle a similar encounter,” Wallace said at the time. “This week, we asked the Biden campaign for an interview, and they said the former vice president was not available.”
“We’ll keep asking every week,” Wallace added.
The White House and Fox News have been in touch on vaccinations, a point of contention given rising COVID-19 cases and statements by some Fox hosts, most notably Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, criticizing vaccine mandates and saying Americans should not feel compelled to get the shot.
The White House held a briefing with Fox officials in May on vaccination rates, though the two sides disputed it involved high-level executives or was unusual compared with other networks.
Even as the White House is conscious of its outreach to Fox given its massive audience, the network has been a recurring foil for Biden dating back to the campaign.
When Peter Doocy, now the network’s White House correspondent, asked Biden last August who his running mate would be, then-candidate Biden shot back “you” as he whisked by on a bicycle.
Biden did not call on Doocy during his lone solo press conference at the White House thus far, something the network perceived as a slight. But Fox gets near-daily questions at briefings with press secretary Jen Psaki, and Biden has fielded questions from Doocy during scripted events, sometimes nodding to the tension between the administration and the network.
“I know he always asks me tough questions, and he always has an edge to them, but I like him anyway,” Biden said of Doocy during one of those exchanges early in his presidency.
Longtime Biden allies acknowledge the delicate dance with the network, including with vaccinations.
The president “has to walk a really fine line there,” said one source close to the White House. “It would get instantly politicized, even much more so than it has already.”
The ally said Biden should appear on Fox in an effort to help lure more voters.
“The campaign focused on Biden being president of all the people, and this would send a clear message that he’s doing exactly that,” the source said.
The ally acknowledged that Biden would get some heat for appearing on the network. “But who cares? It seems like it could be worthwhile.”
During a CNN town hall on Wednesday night, Biden poked at Fox News anchors for now urging viewers to get vaccinated, saying that “they’ve had an altar call,” invoking the religious act of stepping forward to make a spiritual commitment.
“All of a sudden they’re out there saying, ‘Let’s get vaccinated. Let’s get vaccinated,'” Biden said without mentioning Fox or any hosts by name. “The very people before this were saying — I shouldn’t make fun of it. That’s good. It’s good. You just have to keep telling your truth.”
Biden has actually been more critical publicly of Facebook. He hammered the social media giant for spreading vaccine misinformation, saying it was “killing people.” The striking broadside was then walked back on Monday.
If Biden were to attack Fox and certain hosts over misinformation, battle lines would be drawn.
Former President Trump didn’t shy away from attacking the media and blaming reporters for unflattering coverage, including those at Fox, which would often outrage the press and lead to further tensions.
Biden has taken a more careful approach, notwithstanding the attack on Facebook. After that Biden criticism, a number of Fox News personalities did take to the airwaves to press for viewers to get vaccinated, something that also coincided with a rise in cases and worries that the unvaccinated were endangering themselves and others.
Fox’s Sean Hannity this week told viewers that “I believe in the science of vaccination,” and Steve Doocy said on “Fox & Friends” that the majority of people dying of the coronavirus are unvaccinated.
Reached for comment, a Fox spokesperson noted that Carlson in May said, “Vaccines are not dangerous” on his show. Ingraham in May said, “Those who want to get the vaccine as adults have the ability now to get the vaccine. It’s their choice.”
The spokesperson also pointed to initiatives the network has taken for vaccines, including a PSA and a town hall anchored by Harris Faulkner in February. Trump appeared on Fox in March 2021 and said he “would recommend it,” and Hannity in January said he’d been telling his friends he’s going to get the vaccine.
Psaki on Wednesday was asked if she’s encouraged by the shift in messaging by Fox News on vaccines and said she wouldn’t “designate it around one individual or one network or one social media platform.”
If Biden were to appear on Fox, it would give him a microphone to speak to the network’s audience about the vaccine, similar to how he and others in the administration have traveled the country to promote the vaccine in various and diverse communities.
“I would see it as more of an opportunity for him, if you want to reach people in Arkansas, that going on with Bret Baier or Chris Wallace would be a smart thing to do. It becomes tougher with more opinionated hosts, but on the news side, those are opportunities that should be sought after,” said Doug Heye, a GOP strategist.
Democratic consultant Tracy Sefl agreed, adding that Biden “seems due for a civil, thoughtful sit-down with, say, Chris Wallace. Short of that, thankfully surrogates are doing an excellent job on their own.”
“The administration has said their battle is with the virus itself. That’s the message he could take to Fox News,” Sefl added.