Brian Stelter, former host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” appeared for the first time on MSNBC Tuesday to discuss Trump’s decision to skip and counterprogram Wednesday’s Republican primary debate, saying the acrimony between Fox News and the former president will “cut the debate ratings in half.”
The former president has made it clear that he will not be participating in Fox News’ debate fanfare and instead has reportedly recorded an interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, which is scheduled for release to coincide with the debate.
“For both men,” Brian Stelter told MSNBC’s Alex Wagner. “It’s about attention.”
Carlson wants to “stick it to his former employer,” Stelter said, amid legal challenges related to his Fox News contract. The network has taken action against Carlson’s move to X, formerly known as Twitter, sending a cease-and-desist letter to the former primetime anchor.
Stelter noted that the interview was taped last week and Trump and Carlson could release it now, however, “they’re choosing not to because they want to counterprogram the debate.”
And in true Trump style, the former president will be making this a two-day affair, turning himself in voluntarily in Georgia for his fourth criminal indictment on Thursday. “Trump wants to make it a primetime event,” said Stelter. “So it’ll be two nights of counterprogramming by the former president.”
Trump is “clearly the dominant player,” in the Republican primary field, but he “wants to take away attention from these other candidates as much as he can.”
According to Stelter, author of a forthcoming book about Fox News called “Network of Lies,” Fox staffers think Trump’s decision to skip the debate is “small.” Fox News wants Trump’s snub to be perceived as “weak.”
The counterargument is that “Trump is so dominant,” Stelter continued, “he doesn’t even need Fox anymore.” Regardless of which side is correct, “It is a big change from 2013.”
“The Fox hosts feel where the gravitation pull is,” Stelter noted. And the primary momentum is still toward Trump at the moment.
“Trump’s going cut the debate ratings in half,” said the former CNN anchor. “That’s a virtual guarantee.”
Stelter claimed, “Fox will be lucky to have four or 5 million viewers watch this debate.”
While Trump’s absence will certainly be felt, the former president and his relationship with Fox News is like a “rubber band,” says Stelter. They “pull apart,” but “almost always snap back together.”
“Someday this relationship will break,” continued Stelter. “But I don’t see any evidence of that right now.”
“There is so much tension,” coming from both sides, however, “Fox’s profits cause a snap back,” to Trump in the current political atmosphere.