Bret Baier is gearing up for something that may surprise Fox News aficionados and its cable rivals: a debate event that features two U.S. Senators with distinctly opposing views who say they just want to talk things out.
Baier will at noon on Fox Nation moderate the first event from The Senate Project, in which two U.S. Senators take part in Oxford-style debates. In the first, Senator Lindsey Graham will wrangle with Senator Bernie Sanders, in a one-hour policy debate that will subsequently appear in edited form on Fox News Channel Saturday at 7 p.m. The series has been organized by the Bipartisan Policy Center, the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation, and the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate.
More from Variety
“The hope is that it starts to be sort of a rock that goes downhill to gather steam and has some really interesting discussions on both sides, people who argue passionately but then also figure out where they can get something done,” says Baier, in an interview, “It’s something that doesn’t happen too often in Washington.”
Or on many cable-news outlets, which increasingly cater to a base rather than present a broader take on the issues of the day. A long-running critique of cable-news programs of all stripes is that they feature lots of argument but not much problem solving.
The bipartisan effort comes after Fox News has been talking to Madison Avenue agencies and advertisers about its Democratic viewership. In recent months, executives at the Fox Corp.-owned unit have been telling advertisers that the network’s sizable audience includes not only conservatives, but independents and even those who tilt left. One notable effort along these lines is “The Five,” which has maintained its nod to a liberal point of view even as an influential part of Fox News’ audience has seemed to move further to the right, has been generating audiences bigger than some of the network’s primetime shows.
The first debate in the Senate Project series will originate from the Kennedy Institute’s full-size replica of the U.S. Senate Chamber. The second debate, hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center, will be held in July at George Washington University, carried live and on demand across C-SPAN platforms, including streamed on C-SPAN Now. A third debate will be held by the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation in Utah this fall.
“We initiated this idea in response to what is the most serious division in this country in decades,” said Bruce A. Percelay, chairman of the board of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute, in a statement. “It is our hope that this effort will help demonstrate that compromise in the U.S. Senate is actually possible.”
“This is basically an effort to go old school, to look at the way the Senate used to work, giving people time to discuss and defend ideas, as opposed to an angry tweet or a soundbite on TV,” says Baier.
Baier will host the debate just a day after filling in on “Fox News Sunday” and covering the 1/6 Committee Hearing last Thursday with co-anchor Martha MacCallum. Fox News Media raised eyebrows by putting that coverage on Fox Business Network and leaving its more popular Fox News Channel to show its usual conservative opinion programming, spurring accusations that company wasn’t putting the event in from of the bulk of its audience.
“I get the fascination” with the scheduling says Baier, who notes that the decision to put the coverage on Fox Business was “above my pay grade.” He still wanted to cover the hearing, he says, and believed it was an important event. “There are all kinds of decisions that businesses have to make, and I understand those decisions,” he says noting that Fox News still made the coverage available on other platforms, including affiliates of the Fox broadcast network and via its digital platforms. Fox News Channel will broadcast the Committee’s second hearing today at 10 a.m.
Best of Variety