Super Bowl snub is latest dust-up between White House, Fox News
The White House’s decision not to have President Biden sit down with a Fox News journalist for an interview during the network’s pregame coverage of this year’s Super Bowl signals a potentially frosty road ahead for Biden and the nation’s top cable news company.
The two sides have given conflicting versions of what went on behind the scenes in the days before the interview, to be aired on Fox, was called off.
While some observers have argued Biden, who is preparing to run for a second term, had little to gain politically from sitting down with Fox, others say the White House made a mistake passing on an opportunity to have the president share his message with millions of Americans before the nationally televised event.
“One of the few remaining ways to reach out beyond your base is to go into the ‘opposition media’, ” said Matthew Baum, professor of public policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. “We’ve gotten more polarized since 2012 and it’s unclear that Biden would have been treated as gently as Obama was by [Fox host Bill] O’Reilly back then. It could end up being a case that’s more red meat for the Fox News base than a chance for the president to, in his own words, make his case.”
The White House and Fox Corp. which owns Fox News, gave a series of dueling statements late last week indicating negotiations about a sit-down were not going well. Fox leadership had been lobbying for weeks to have Biden sit with an anchor from its news division, likely Bret Baier or Shannon Bream, which the White House declined to entertain.
The White House instead said it was interested in giving an interview with Fox Soul, a less-watched and little known streaming service catering to Black Americans, which it said Fox ultimately decided against.
Presidents have skipped pre-Super Bowl interviews with the network broadcasting the big game in the past, but Biden sat with NBC’s Lester Holt last year and CBS his first year in office.
Biden also gave two interviews the week of the Super Bowl with PBS NewsHour and Telemundo, two networks with fractional viewership compared to the tens of millions that typically tune into the Super Bowl pregame show.
The snubbing of Fox highlighted the fact that the president still hasn’t sat for an interview with the top-rated network on cable, though a number of White House officials and Cabinet members have appeared on the network’s various programs.
The president has also answered shouted questions from Fox reporters like Peter Doocy during press conferences and other media availability. Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre typically fields questions from Fox News reporters during daily briefings.
“The takeaway is more than just this president and Fox. Biden is hiding from almost all the media,” said Tobe Berkovitz, a communications professor at Boston University who has worked as a political media consultant. “It’s a huge mistake for Biden [to decline a sit-down before the Super Bowl.] We’re talking millions of viewers. This is not the Fox News Channel diehards. This is the broad swath of America.”
Many of Fox’s top opinion hosts spend each night attacking Biden, his administration and his family. The president’s frustration with Fox and criticism from the media more generally has boiled over several times during his first term.
Biden lashed out at Doocy last winter when a hot mic caught him calling the White House reporter a “stupid son of a bitch” after he asked a question about inflation. Biden later called Doocy to apologize.
Biden’s defenders on the left said the decision to decline a sit-down with a Fox News journalist was the right one.
“I just, I have trouble believing that he should sit down even with a Shannon Bream or even with a Bret Baier, because the bottom line is they work for a network that puts forth conspiracy theories,” said Sunny Hostin, a political commentator on ABC’s “The View” who is frequently critical of Fox.
“They’re not fans of Fox, but I feel like there’s this hunger for Joe Biden to strike a blow against the evil empire but honestly his people go on there with some regularity,” said Ben Smith, a prominent media critic and columnist, during an appearance Monday on CNN. “And I think when they see it to their tactical advantage, he’ll be there immediately. I’m not sure he sees reshaping truth in the media ecosystem as the thing he’s trying to do here.”
Other observers say the White House could have used momentum gained from last week’s State of the Union address to promote his talking points ahead of an expected run for a second term.
“If Joe Biden had brought the energy and feistiness of his State of the Union address to that Fox interview, he would have given as good as he got, and might even have picked up a handful of new supporters,” Jeff Greenfield, a former network television analyst and author, wrote in an op-ed published in Politico Magazine this week. “The way our elections have been going recently, that could make all the difference.”
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