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In 2018 and 2019, booking Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was a top priority for both producers and anchors at Fox News Channel, so much so that one Fox News producer sought to reassure DeVos’ press secretary that host Maria Bartiromo would go easy on the secretary if she sat for an interview, which she did six days later.
On Nov. 21, 2018, the producer wrote: “Ps remember any question she doesn’t feel comfortable answering — she can choose to not answer and pivot the topic — and Maria is seasoned enough to understand and move on. … So no worries on that front. This will be an easy interview and enjoyable.” (The producer is no longer with the company.)
“This should be totally fine,” the press secretary responded. (Media Matters for America, an anti-Fox News advocacy group, would describe the Bartiromo-DeVos chat, which aired on Fox Business Network, as a “softball interview.“)
That exchange was among dozens of email conversations that reflect the symbiotic relationship between the news network and staffers working in the Trump administration. For this story, The Hollywood Reporter reviewed more than 1,000 pages containing emails between Fox employees and aides at the Departments of Homeland Security, Education and Agriculture, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by advocacy group Democracy Forward.
Fox News anchor Bret Baier, who hosts the well-respected 6 p.m. straight-news hour on the channel, was particularly interested in booking DeVos for his show.
Baier, who in October 2017 had a producer ask the Treasury Department for a government tour for his family and friends, sought a personal touch with DeVos.
In a Feb. 5, 2019, email, a Baier staffer invited DeVos to accompany him to the annual Gridiron Dinner in Washington, D.C. “Bret Baier would be honored if you would be his guest at the 2019 Gridiron Dinner,” the invitation read.
A month later, in March 2019, Baier appeared frustrated when DeVos booked an interview with fellow Fox News anchor Dana Perino, who hosts an afternoon news show, instead of his show. “Again?” Baier wrote to his producer, cc’ing two Education aides.
“Is there a reason why we were passed over for this?” Baier’s producer asked them as well.
In September 2019, the same producer began an email to Education Department staffers by writing, “Hello friends.”
DeVos’ camp also sought to set up a coffee date in New York with the cast of morning show Fox & Friends in April 2019, but hosts Brian Kilmeade and Steve Doocy appeared to be unavailable to meet.
The emails show that the Education Department viewed Fox News as their preferred venue for rolling out DeVos’ initiatives. “I’d love for her to come on [Fox & Friends] on the last day of the tour, when she’ll be in her home state, in Detroit, to talk to your viewers about her education freedom agenda,” her spokesperson wrote to a Fox News booker in September 2019.
But, when booking DeVos on Fox News, her spokesperson sought to limit news-of-the-day questions that didn’t relate to education. In an October 2019 email about a scheduled interview with Baier, her spokesperson wrote: “Do you expect any off topic questions — impeachment, mulvaney, perry, etc. … please let me know if so.”
Fox News producers also looked to the agencies for booking show-specific guests, the emails show. “We are looking for a Dairy farmer who supports President Trump’s advocacy for them and calling out Canada’s protectionist trade policy when it comes to milk,” a Fox & Friends producer wrote to a communications aide at the Department of Agriculture in June 2018.
But, not every friendly gesture was reciprocated. Fox News chief White House correspondent John Roberts seemed taken aback during a July 2017 email discussion about the White House’s lack of a communications director with then-Homeland Security spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman.
“They need a comms director,” Roberts wrote. “One way or another.”
Hoffman had an idea. “Maybe a well-respected White House reporter with a national profile,” he wrote.
But Roberts demurred. “Uh……no thanks,” he wrote. “Like you …. I like it right where I am … :).”
Representatives for Fox News did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
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