Donna Brazile Defends Her Decision To Join Fox News
Donna Brazile, who has twice served as the interim chair of the Democratic National Committee, is one of the most prominent political strategists of recent times. Brazile, Al Gore’s campaign manager in 2000, was the first African-American woman to run a campaign for a major-party Presidential nominee; she had previously worked on the Presidential campaigns of Jesse Jackson, Walter Mondale, Dick Gephardt, and Michael Dukakis. She went on to spend fifteen years as a regular commentator on CNN, until, in October, 2016, she resigned. WikiLeaks had revealed that Brazile, who was serving as the chair of the D.N.C. and was on leave from the network, had shared questions for CNN Democratic primary debates and town halls with Hillary Clinton’s campaign. (She later wrote a controversial memoir, in which she argued that the Party had favored Clinton over Bernie Sanders.)
On Monday, Brazile announced that she would be joining Fox News as a contributor, writing, in a piece on the network’s Web site, that she is “excited to join the honest and passionate debate at Fox News about our future.” She described the decision as “rooted in the belief that you cannot make progress, let alone reach compromise, without first listening to, and understanding those who disagree with you on critical issues.” The news came during a particularly fraught time for the network. In recent weeks, the D.N.C. announced that it will not allow Fox News to host a Democratic primary debate (citing The New Yorker’s reporting on the network’s close ties to the Trump Administration), and the Fox News hosts Jeanine Pirro and Tucker Carlson came under new fire for bigoted remarks. (CNN reported that Pirro had been suspended.)
On Tuesday, I spoke by phone with Brazile. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed her hopes for her work on Fox News, the network’s role in fomenting hate, and why she is so frustrated with partisanship in the media.
Why did you think it was important to join Fox?
Over the last six months, I have had an opportunity to go on various shows on the Fox network, as well as MSNBC. As you probably have heard or read, CNN and I severed our ties back in 2016, after WikiLeaks distributed part of my e-mails that put me in a very awkward position of not being able to defend what I did to create more debates, town halls, and forums for the Democratic candidates in 2016. So I wanted to have access to the TV world. I consider myself a pundit. I am not a journalist. I am a pundit with a partisan point of view.
MSNBC is quite an interesting place. From 9 A.M. until 9 P.M., you can go on that [network] and agree not with just the types of topics and questions that are often posed but also make your case. Well, after six months, I just found myself thinking that, you know what? What if I tried to do the same thing with Fox? I went on Dana Perino’s show, and then when my book came out, a book I co-authored with three other women, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Politics,” I spent literally three days on Fox. I went from the morning shows all the way to prime time. And I came away believing that it was important to talk to that audience. Not because they agreed with me but because they were willing to listen. And the Fox audience was different—it was a different response.
Why do you think Fox wanted to have you on so much?
After Election Day, I started getting more calls from Fox to appear on the network, and the calls ranged from “Who are these new members [of Congress]?” to “What is up with the Democratic Party?” What I found interesting was that the challenges I would often have by appearing on Fox News were the kind of challenges I thought we needed. To be able to talk to people in the suburbs, to be able to talk to people in the city, to be able to talk to people who may be left of center or center-right. I found it challenging to be able to communicate and to, you know, disagree. I wanted to get back to that period where you could sit across from somebody who disagreed with you but did it in a respectful way, so you could talk to the audience and not just shout at the host or the anchor. I am going to have to, from time to time, lower my volume so I can listen, and the reason why I did it is simply because I still want to be in the game and I want to win and I am looking at the long game and not just the short game. And the long game is, if you want to help the country, if you want to try to improve democracy, you have to go into places where you are uncomfortable and try to stir things up.
You wrote, “But it concerns me, as it does the majority of good Americans, that our national debate has become hostile and disrespectful. We no longer simply agree to disagree. Too often we demonize the intentions of others. Our lines of communication are frayed, if not broken.” Do you think that Fox is a medium to help that, or has it played a role in exacerbating it?
Well, look, I don’t think Fox is alone. Do you know who you are talking to? I have been on the air now since 2001, since September 11th. Not only 9/11. I have been there after Hurricane Katrina. I have been there after the election of the first black President. I have been there twice in our electorate when the winner of the popular vote lost the Electoral College. Of course I have seen it up close and personal. Is Fox responsible alone? No. This is not just one imperfect part of our institutions. All of our institutions are broken. I don’t want to blame it on one entity. Is Fox responsible for the lack of civility?
Well, now that you mention it . . .
We have a democracy that is coming apart at the seams, where people can’t even agree to disagree. It doesn’t just exist in politics. It’s across the board. People have self-segregated. I know people who come to my classroom at Georgetown and say they don’t want to go home for Thanksgiving because their parents are talking about X and they want to talk about Y. Perhaps this is how society changed once we got into a post-industrial era, with technology where we communicate with sound bites. We often like the superficial and don’t want to get into the substance. But, no, I don’t want to put the blame on one entity. This is something we all have to decide we are going to improve.
So you don’t feel like Fox is sui generis among news or journalism networks, if we are going to call it that?
Look, you are asking me to condemn Fox without looking at the entire media landscape? You are talking to somebody who saw reporters take bait and food from WikiLeaks and turn it into a front-page story. They built their political narrative on hacked, stolen e-mails. Are you calling the right person? I am saying to you, as a journalist, that I have seen the media itself tear us apart by using material that was stolen. I mean, c’mon. Don’t call me and say, “Donna Brazile, can you now explain to us the Fox business model?” I can’t explain MSNBC, CNN, any cable channel.
We can all agree that there are major problems with the media ecosystem that go beyond Fox News. There are a lot of things that are screwed up that you and I would agree on.
Correct. Including my Church. I am a lifelong practicing Catholic and I have been to church five times this year. Is it screwed up? I don’t even have an archbishop or a cardinal. Of course. But has that turned me against religion, or turned me against my faith? No. I am using that as my analogy. I want to be a part of a network that I hope will allow me to speak to people who don’t agree with me because they don’t see me, they don’t hear me. I am invisible to them.
Do you think there is a specific role that Fox has played in terms of racism, in terms of Islamophobia, in terms of blindly supporting this President, who practices both of those things and others—
I have very strong views about Fox News that I can put in writing and post on their Web site, because I am a contributor. I took into consideration the heat and the backlash I would experience once I put my name on the dotted line. I understood that. And with that came the responsibility to speak truth to power, which I am prepared to do.
Who is the “power” you are speaking truth to by going on Fox?
I am speaking truth to power.
Who is the power?
I am speaking truth to those who are not only part of the Fox network, the Fox viewers, but anyone I can speak truth to in connection with my assignments on the Fox News network.
So this is you speaking truth to Rupert Murdoch, or whomever else?
Well, he heard my truth. I was at a dinner with him on December 3rd. I had no idea I was in the room with him, and I guarantee the way I am talking with you today, the way you have seen me talk in the past if you have ever seen me talk, that was the way I was speaking that night. And you can ask Mitch McConnell and everyone else who was there. I never back down. The same thing I would say in a room with Rupert Murdoch is the same thing I would say in a room with Barack Obama, George W. Bush, anybody else I have been in the room with. I have been in the room with Presidents, Prime Ministers, people who are powerful.
The person I am today is the person I have always been. I didn’t become chair of the Democratic Party because I am some shrinking violet. I became chair because I worked my way up, and I had worked my way to know governors, senators, congresspeople, and I have helped them get into the position they are in so they can listen to the person I am. When I tell you that I want to be able to speak to people who are not like me, who may see me or may not see me, it is because that is where I want to be at my age and my experience. That is where I have decided to be. And this is something I wanted to do. I don’t have to do it.
Believe me, I know that.
This is a decision I made.
I just want to return to this: you have, over your career, talked a lot about bigotry. Are you concerned about the amount of bigotry and racism in our society, and do you have any concern about the network you are working for propagating those things on a nightly and daily basis?
I have a concern about society in general.
And I hope whenever I see it, I am going to call it out.
You will be seeing it a lot now, so that will be good.
I hope you understand that you are having a conversation with me because I chose to call you back. I chose to get your digits, and I chose to call you. I understood that when I made this decision to call you that you probably wanted to get up in my crap about going on Fox. I made my position known. I wrote a column and I put out a statement. I knew people were going to call and say, “Don’t you know the house might stink up?” “Yeah, but is that the only house that is stinky?”
I just want to be clear that you were—
No, no, I want you to be clear that I have my marbles. This is Donna Brazile. You are not talking to a phantom. You are talking to me. Don’t call me and act as if you are somehow appalled that a black woman, or a woman, or a liberal progressive, would go, “Hell, yeah, I want to go in that den.” And I want to fight from inside and fight from the outside. I may be naïve in my judgment, but I am wise in my view that, long term, we are not going to make progress by simply being out throwing rocks. I don’t want to do that. This is my decision.
It’s not courage I am used to seeing.
But you don’t know me. That’s my point. You don’t know the battles I have had to fight and wage in my life. You don’t know the struggles and the stresses I have had to deal with throughout my life. But throughout my life I have been consistent that I am willing to fight from the inside and the outside. I have always played inside, outside, long game, short game. To me, right now, I got to play. This is probably the hardest decision I have ever made in my life, because I had to think about the consequences of my actions in ways I never thought about political things. When you decide to work for a Presidential candidate, you say, “Shit, I’m about to give up two years of my life.” And for what reason? Is this the person that is going to carry the agenda and carry the vision for the next ten years of my life? To me, it has never been a financial game. It’s been political survival.
It’s not a financial game?
Hell, no. Why would it be? Do you know my net worth? It’s been available online. I was a congressional staffer when I worked for Al Gore. You should see part of it. The implication is that I did it for money. Honey, I don’t do nothing for money. I grew up poor. So if I leave this earth poor, you can write this, if I leave this earth poor, then I would be poor. That’s another fallacy you get from your liberals and progressives: “Oh, she did it for money.” Meanwhile, you spend seven, eight billion in a Presidential season, six billion in a non-Presidential season, and how many women and minorities do they give contracts to? Barely any. I don’t depend on them.
Ms. Brazile, without quibbling with what you are saying—
Call me Donna, sir. And I appreciate you calling me Ms. Brazile.
But you see, I have already come to pick up your spices, so that’s why I am getting spicy. Come on, sir. I wasn’t born yesterday. I was born in New Orleans, by the bayou, but I didn’t eat everything from the river.
Donna, I understand what you are saying. But you are talking with a moral outrage while we are discussing your life and what your life means, while ignoring the fact that you are going to work for Fox News, and what that means, and what that network is. And we both know what that network is because neither one of us was born yesterday, as you keep pointing out.
Yes, sir, I have made the decision to go work for Fox News and, as you saw in the column I wrote, I explain exactly why I am doing it.
Date Posted: Thursday, March 21st, 2019 , Total Page Views: 399