Warren told Fox News to fuck off on Monday.
Warren told Fox News to fuck off on Monday. CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY

Elizabeth Warren took a hard stance—or, as she put it, a “hard pass”—on appearing at an upcoming Fox News town hall. She made the announcement on the Twitter:

Nothing Warren says here is false. Fox News is a hate-for-profit racket that gives a megaphone to racists and conspiracists. It is designed to turn us against each other, risking life and death consequences, to provide cover for the corruption that’s rotting our government and hollowing out our middle class. She was probably too smart to mention this, but Fox News also makes people stupid. It's acted as a parasite on the brains of millions of Americans, convincing seemingly non-crazy people that there's an army of Mexican immigrants coming to steal their jobs at the Ford dealership or whatever.

We’ve all heard about what happens when someone gets hooked on Fox News. I talked to a guy last year whose once-progressive mom became a Fox News viewer during the 2008 primary. She’d supported Hillary Clinton and felt like much of the cable news she was used to watching was blindly uncritical of Barack Obama. Her transformation was quick.

“It was mind-boggling,” he told me. “She began to live on a steady diet of Fox News. There were TVs in every room in her house, including the bathroom, and everyone would be tuned to Fox News. It was like she was immersing herself into this environment of right-wing discourse. It completely altered everything.” Within six months, she started referring to herself as a neo-con, and he places the blame squarely on Fox.

Aside from hiding our parents' remotes and continuing to not watch Fox News ourselves (or partaking in the numerous of advertiser boycotts that have failed to change the channel's ideological programming in the slightest), there's not much consumers can do to fix the Fox News problem, and so I appreciate that Warren is taking a stand against this kind of right-wing propaganda. I also think it may be a savvy campaign move for the primary if Warren wants to capture the sort of leftists who think engaging with Tucker Carlson is akin to treason.

Still, Fox News remains the most popular cable news network in America, with more nightly viewers than CNN and MSNBC combined. It’s also the most influential cable news network, and not just because the current president happens to spend more time watching it than working. Fox News may traffick in lies, but it remains highly persuasive to viewers: A 2017 study found that Fox News is more effective at influencing voters than other cable news networks. In the 2008 presidential election, for instance, 28 percent of Democratic Fox News viewers were persuaded to vote Republican by the time of the election. That same year, only 8 percent of Republican MSNBC viewers were persuaded to vote Democratic.

Despite the stereotype of the old white man screaming at his TV from his EZ Boy in the White House, politically speaking, Fox News viewers are actually more diverse than I imagined. According to a 2019 poll from NBC and the Wall Street Journal, 55 percent of Fox News viewers surveyed call themselves conservative, 30 percent call themselves moderate, and 12 percent call themselves liberal. Those numbers make me think this isn’t entirely a lost audience, and Bernie Sanders provided some evidence of this by doing his own town hall recently on Fox News. It was very well-received, and Sanders made important points about health care and income inequality that seemed to resonant with the audience. He also pushed back on Fox News hosts and on their number one fan: the President.

“To me, it is important to distinguish Fox News from the many millions of people who watch Fox News,” Sanders explained to Trevor Noah afterward. “I think it is important to talk to those people and say, ‘You know what? I know many of you voted for Donald Trump, but he lied to you.'” He wouldn’t have been able to make this point, direct to Fox News viewers, if he refused to engage.

To plenty of Fox News viewers, Elizabeth Warren is the stereotype of a coastal elitist. I asked a Lyft driver who was listening to Q13 radio last weekend what he thought of Sen. Warren, and he said, "Pocahontas? Total globalist." He then went on to tell me that he was driving for Lyft because his wife is pregnant with their second kid and they can't afford childcare. When I told him Elizabeth Warren has a plan for free and low-cost childcare, he was skeptical but said he'd look into it. I don't know if Warren could ever convince a man like that to vote for her, but if she wants to—if she doesn't want to make the same mistake Hillary Clinton did and write the "deplorables" off—she has to go where the people are. And that, unfortunately, happens to be on Fox News.