Though running for president as a Democrat, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is again showing his independent streak, bucking the Democratic National Committee by appearing on Fox News.
Sanders, who also will hold a rally in Pittsburgh on Sunday, has called most of Fox News “right-wing propaganda” that supports President Donald Trump. But he’ll appear on the network to face questions from anchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum in a town hall meeting Monday at 6:30 p.m. in the shadow of an abandoned steel mill in Bethlehem, Pa.
DNC chair Tom Perez stands by his decision to not allow Fox News to host a Democratic primary debate, citing a New Yorker article that outlined the network’s promotion of Trump and his agenda.
“I have respect for [Fox News anchors] Chris Wallace and Bret Baier, but people above their pay grade are doing a disservice to our democracy and a disservice to objective journalism by putting their thumb on the scale," Perez said this week on the San Francisco Chronicle’s It’s All Political podcast.
But Baier contended that the news and opinion sides remain separate, and that outspoken Trump cheerleaders such as Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro don’t impact on the network’s news division.
“Our opinion folks, yes, they have defended the president, and yes, they have opinions that line up with the administration. But it’s the easiest thing to paint with a broad brush,” said Baier, the anchor of Special Report.
Baier and MacCallum spoke to The Inquirer about the town hall with Sanders, criticism of Fox News, and what they think about Trump’s obsession with their network. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Baier: We have a lot of viewers — the most in cable news — who have a broad swath of ideologies. It’d be a shame to not have arguments and questions about the substance of the big issues that we’re facing. So we’re trying our hardest to get as many Democrats in this format, but obviously we also hope that the DNC still opens the door to debates down the road.
MacCallum: I think Bernie Sanders said it best, that he knows that there’s a lot of viewers who watch Fox News who are reachable and probably persuadable. So I think any candidate who’s serious about running, this is going to be a stop that they’re going to want to make.
MacCallum: I think it’s a reflection on what you see across the country … there’s such a divide. I think it does a disservice to everyone. … I think that camaraderie among journalists, especially when the president has come after the media in a big way, is something that would really benefit everyone.
Baier: We stood up for them. [CNN’s] Kaitlan Collins out at the White House, [CNN’s] Jim Acosta about the press pass. ... It hasn’t been that vocal coming the other way. But I think it is part of the time. Fox has been No. 1 for a long time. And we’ve been under the spotlight and under attack for a long time. ... I think that journalists who cover media are a little skittish in the current environment to speak up.
Baier: In this current environment, it’s just so heated, that the top priority for folks is not to stand up and defend us. We don’t need it, we’re fine. We all have personal relationships in the business who say to us all the time, ‘You guys are very fair.’ Democrats on the Hill say it to us all the time. That’s why they come on.
Baier: Well, unique, and a challenge at times, because you have to cover it all — the good, the bad and the ugly, no matter where it falls. And that’s what we do. You can see that in our day-to-day coverage of the administration. It took me 600 days to get a sitdown with President Trump. We’re trying for another, but we’ll see.
MacCallum: Bernie Sanders is a democratic socialist candidate, which is a very new phenomenon in America at this level of politics. So in my mind, one of the most significant questions to talk about is capitalism and socialism and what is working in in America today, and how that might look in a place like Pennsylvania.
Baier: It’s largely driven by audience questions, and we’ll follow up and redirect. We’re kind of the moderators within the moderator — the real questioners will be citizens who want to find out more about Bernie Sanders.
Baier: (Laughing) I can’t break the news, but we have a lot of interest, and we’re working on a lot of different things, but can’t confirm anything today.
When: Monday, April 15
Where: Bethlehem, Pa.
Time: 6:30 p.m.
TV: Fox News