It’s a rather small cadre of politicians in this country: the Democrats who frequent Fox News to argue the left’s case to Fox’s right-leaning audience. Some of this cadre’s more prominent members have included Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.).
But in the panic after Election Day 2020, which led Fox to often credulously air the voter-fraud conspiracy theories that have now landed it in legal trouble, high-ranking Fox executives suddenly decided that less was more.
In a little-noticed Nov. 8 email revealed this week in Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation lawsuit, Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott forwarded a message from Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch lamenting Fox’s ratings. She informed Fox News President Jay Wallace that Murdoch and his son Lachlan were “expecting” a few things.
Among them: “audiences don’t want to see too much of the Mayor Pete’s and Coons etc in the news hours. Need to be careful about bookings next 2 months-especially in news hours.”
It’s not entirely clear what became of the request. But while Coons was a frequent Fox guest in preceding weeks — he appeared about half-a-dozen times in the previous month, including on Election Day and the day after, Nov. 4 — his appearances soon dried up. He doesn’t seem to have returned to Fox’s airwaves until April 2021.
Likewise, Buttigieg was on air Nov. 2 and on Election Day but appeared to be suddenly less welcome after Scott’s email.
A Fox News spokeswoman didn’t comment specifically on why Buttigieg and Coons were singled out, but she said, “We’ve had a number of prominent Democrats on our air leading up to and following the 2020 election, as well as featured numerous op-eds from top leadership, including President Biden, on our website.”
She listed a series of appearances after Scott’s email and Fox having run op-eds by Democrats. But few appearances were focused on the election or Donald Trump’s election challenges, specifically. And none featured top Biden campaign surrogates Buttigieg and Coons, whose previous appearances had included talking about respecting the election results and, in the case of Coons’s last interview before Scott’s email, sharply criticizing Trump’s legal maneuvers.
(Khanna, who wasn’t mentioned in the email, went on to appear on at least two occasions before the end of the year — once to talk about foreign policy and another in a segment about Democrats’ “infighting after down-ballot election losses.”)
Scott’s email appears to be the only mention of Coons in the Dominion lawsuit exhibits released this week.
But she mentioned Buttigieg again two days later in a text message to an unknown recipient. In the middle of a redacted text, she appeared to take issue with a news show airing a clip of Buttigieg.
“Also Doocy was still using Buttigieg sound in his reporter hit during special report last night,” Scott said Nov. 10.
The recipient responded, “On it.”
The message referred to Fox reporter Peter Doocy. He had played a clip from the previous day of Buttigieg saying that GOP Senate Leader “Mitch McConnell’s going to have to decide whether he wants to help move this country forward and influence progress or whether he wants to stop progress.”
(In the same string, Scott also texted about a “negative reaction” to another Fox reporter, who the night before had done a report about how McConnell and Biden might work together over the next four years.)
The timing of Scott’s messages is notable given all the other ways in which it has become clear Fox was tailoring its editorial decisions to an audience it feared it was losing, particularly after it became the first network to call Arizona for Joe Biden.
First and foremost, that involved airing the stolen-election conspiracy theories they saw other conservative-leaning outlets giving a platform to — and often without covering them skeptically. The lawsuit has revealed, on multiple occasions, objections being raised to on-air talent challenging those claims.
But the revelations in the lawsuit have also shown high-ranking Fox officials often speaking as if they were allied with Republicans and guiding even supposedly neutral news coverage accordingly.
And the timing of the Buttigieg and Coons messages are also conspicuous for another reason: Shortly before them, a series of outlets had run stories and analyses about how Buttigieg’s Fox appearances stood out.
“Why Pete Buttigieg’s Fox News appearances keep going viral,” wrote CNN on Oct. 14.
“The Remarkable Effectiveness of Pete Buttigieg on Fox News,” wrote the New Yorker on Oct. 15.
“‘Slayer Pete’: Buttigieg emerges as Biden’s unlikely Fox News fighter,” wrote the Guardian on Oct. 13.
“Pete Buttigieg Is Calling Out Trump on His Home Turf: Fox News,” wrote Vanity Fair on Oct. 8.
“Pete Buttigieg Keeps Popping the Fox News ‘Bubble,’” wrote the Daily Beast on Oct. 9.
Less than a month later, it was apparently decided there was too much Buttigieg in the bubble.