Donald Trump boycotts debate in row with Fox News
Republican frontrunner skips final debate before Iowa voting over ‘wise-guy’ statement
Following the same unconventional political tactics that have characterised his outsider campaign, Mr Trump is skipping the debate at a critical juncture in the election because of his anger at his treatment by the network while it profits from his high-rating debate appearances.
The brash property mogul had been threatening a boycott throughout this week, rekindling his animosity towards Fox anchor Megyn Kelly whom he has criticised for being biased against him.
A statement released by his campaign late last night said that Mr Trump “will not be participating in the Fox News debate” and that he would instead host an event in Iowa to raise money for war veterans.
His dispute with Ms Kelly stems from the first Republican debate, hosted by Fox in August, when he claimed he was subjected to unfair questioning by her and to negative commentary since then.
He was condemned for a remark made about Ms Kelly following that debate, that she had “blooding coming out of wherever”.
Mr Trump’s latest row was sparked by what he called a “wise-guy press release” that Fox issued on Tuesday ridiculing him for asking his Twitter followers whether he should participate in the debate.
Fox News said in a statement that it had “learned from a secret back channel that the Ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president”.
The network mockingly said that it had a “nefarious source” that had told it that “Trump has his own secret plan to replace the cabinet with his Twitter followers to see if he should even go to those meetings”.
Mr Trump complained to reporters at a campaign event in Marshalltown, Iowa about Fox’s behaviour and said that he would “most likely” skip the debate.
“Why should the networks continue to get rich on the debates?” Mr Trump said. “Why do I have to make Fox rich?”
His campaign team later confirmed his decision not to participate in the debate.
The first six Republican debates have been big money-spinners for television networks given the pantomime-like nature of the personal attacks and insults between the candidates.
Driven largely by a curiosity in the unpredictable Mr Trump, a reality TV star, the debates have drawn millions of viewers. The first brought 24 million viewers to Fox. The least watched debate, on the Fox Business Network, this month had 11 million viewers.
The television network defended Ms Kelly against Mr Trump’s claims, saying that she had “no conflict of interest”.
“Donald Trump is just trying to build up the audience for Thursday’s debate, for which we thank him, said the network,” it said.
Fox News chief executive Roger Ailes backed the anchor, one of the three moderators in the debate, saying that he would support her even if it meant that Mr Trump would not participate in the debate.
“Megyn Kelly is an excellent journalist, and the entire network stands behind her,” he said. “She will absolutely be on the debate stage on Thursday night.”
The New York billionaire’s latest move comes amid a fierce battle in Iowa with Texas senator Ted Cruz, raising scepticism about whether his boycott is aimed at helping his prospects in the midwestern state.
Mr Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski has said that the businessman would not be reversing his decision.
The businessman jeered Fox during his Iowa news conference about the probability of lower ratings for the debate without his attendance.
“Let’s see how they do with the debate,” Mr Trump said. “Let’s see how many people watch.”
In a statement responding to Mr Trump’s decision to withdraw from the debate, Fox News said that the businessman had been demanding for four days that Ms Kelly be removed as a debate moderator.
“Capitulating to politicians’ ultimatums about a debate moderator violates all journalistic standards,” the network said in the statement.
Fox accused Mr Lewandowski of making a threat to one of its executives about Ms Kelly.
“In a call on Saturday with a Fox News executive, Lewandowski stated that Megyn had a ‘rough couple of days after that last debate’ and he ‘would hate to have her go through that again,’” said the network.
“Lewandowski was warned not to level any more threats, but he continued to do so. We can’t give in to terrorisations toward any of our employees.”
Fox left the door open for Mr Trump to participate in the debate, promising that he would “be treated fairly, just as he has been during his 132 appearances on Fox News and Fox Business but he can’t dictate the moderators or the questions.”