Bret Baier Tackles Democratic Town Hall

Bret Baier, host of Special Report With Bret Baier on Fox News Channel and chief political anchor for FNC, will be hosting a special edition Town Hall Special Report with the Democratic presidential nominees Monday night at 6 p.m. in Detroit in advance of the Michigan primary. The race has tightened with Bernie Sanders winning two of three contests on Super Saturday.

Prepping for FNC’s first interview with Hillary Clinton in a couple of years, Baier was diverted to the anchor chair for a couple of hours Sunday as the network covered the death, and looked back at the life, of former First Lady Nancy Reagan.

But Baier carved out some time to talk to Broadcasting & Cable about the Town Hall, the tightening presidential race, and why he is glad the Democrats finally came on the top-rated cable news outlet.

You are doing the town hall solo?


Why not tag team it with Chris Wallace and Megyn Kelly given your debate success. Or do you take a different approach to a town hall?

I think a town hall is a different animal. Megyn did a town hall on her show a couple of weeks ago with the GOP candidates and this was originally pitched as a Special Report.

Clinton initially declined to participate.

We started out confirming Senator [Bernie] Sanders. We were trying to get Secretary Clinton. She said she had campaign scheduling issues. Then we had out debate on Thursday. There was an outreach made [by Fox]. They changed their mind. Reconsidered and decided to become part of it.

We hope this will be the first of several with a single-moderator format.

How do you keep it from being one long campaign ad for each candidate?

There is interaction. There are questions from me and from the audience. They’ve been screened. They are undecided voters from Michigan. So, hopefully we will get some substantive questions and each candidate will have roughly a half hour to make their case and answer the questions.

As Fox’s chief political anchor, what do you make of what happened over the weekend, with the wins by Sanders and Cruz? Has there been a shift in this race.

I don’t think it’s over. For anyone who says it is, I think they need to look at the math and look at what’s happening.

The Cruz wins are significant. Donald Trump is still in the best position to become the nominee but it all comes down to those big states, Ohio, Florida…and Michigan will play a big role as well. Right now [Trump] he is pretty well positioned in Michigan.

On the Democratic side, it is clearly an uphill battle for Bernie Sanders. But there is a case to be made that he could run the table in some of these states and become a big factor, if not the nominee, really a factor in the party’s trajectory.

Why do you think the primary debates are drawing record audiences. Is it all Trump?

I have to give Mr. Trump some part of that. But, I find it funny when he says “the debates will only have a million viewers if I’m not in it.” And, obviously, he didn’t show up to the one in Iowa and we surpassed that number by quite a bit [the debate drew 12.5 million viewers and is one of the most-watched telecasts in the network’s history].

I think that people are just paying attention more and there is a real interest in the political dynamic and the policy issues. Not just the fighting. I just think that people are focused in on it a little more than in past cycles.

Do you think you will bring up the email issue with Hillary Clinton?

We’ll see how it flows. I would imagine it would come up. It is one of the major things hanging over the back of the Democratic race. What happens with the FBI will obviously affect the likely nominee.

What is your goal in this town hall. To make news to cover the waterfront of issues?

I approach it as news first. There is a debate tonight that we will be watching and adjusting and perhaps cover some topics that they don’t.

I look at it also as a chance for Michigan voters to ask some questions. We hope that this opens a door and we’re happy that the Democratic candidates finally came on the number one cable news station.

Newton Minow, who is on the presidential debate commission, said he thought the primary debates were too much about network self-promotion.

It should never be about us. That should be where all of our heads are when we do any of these things, town halls or debates. Hopefully that will come through tomorrow.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.