Donald Trump is boycotting Thursday’s final pre-Iowa GOP debate. And every Republican candidate should. Fox News is treating Trump worse than any liberal media outlet would–worse, even than John Harwood and CNBC.
Last week, moderator Megan Kelly convened a special panel of anti-Trump writers from National Review to mark the launch of their attack on Trump. This week, Fox News prepared for the debate by inviting a Muslim activist who has criticized Trump to be one of three YouTube personalities to question the candidates. And on Tuesday, as Trump considered whether to participate in the debate, Fox issued a petulant, snarky press statement mocking him:
We learned from a secret back channel that the Ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president — a nefarious source tells us that Trump has his own secret plan to replace the Cabinet with his Twitter followers to see if he should even go to those meetings.
No candidate should agree to participate under those conditions. Indeed, the other GOP candidates–including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who led the charge against Harwood–should be standing with Trump against Fox, on principle, instead of attacking him. And conservatives who are mocking Trump should look in the mirror and ask themselves whether they are applying a different standard to center-right Fox News than they do to the mainstream media.
Fox News’ behavior after Trump’s withdrawal vindicates his decision. The network issued a statement that attacked Trump politically–“We’re not sure how Iowans are going to feel about him walking away from them at the last minute”–and accused him of “terrorizations.” Kelly followed up with radical leftist filmmaker Michael Moore on her program for what the Washington Post called a “televised love-in,” where Moore defended her against Trump.
How hard would it have been for Fox News simply to issue a statement expressing disappointment and reiterating that the debate would proceed as planned? Instead, Fox cast aside neutrality and integrity to join the political fray.
Indeed, Politico is openly wondering whether Trump walked into Fox News’ “trap.” No news network should try to “trap” a presidential candidate, but that is what Fox News appears to have done to Trump, damning him either way.
Every candidate should expect difficult questions, and no presidential candidate has the right to dictate to networks which journalists should be allowed to ask them. If it were just a matter of Trump ducking Kelly’s tough questions, he would deserve to be criticized. After all, as Trump himself once told Kelly, debating takes courage. The nation already has one president who thinks he can bully the media, and Fox News in particular. It does not need another.
But Fox News’ behavior towards Trump is the kind of bias viewers have turned to Fox to avoid. We would not tolerate it from NBC or CNN–and we should not tolerate it when Fox News sinks to–and below–their level.