Politico Wonders: Is Fox’s Peter Doocy ‘Trolling the White House?’

May 7th, 2021 4:52 PM

Politico Magazine’s Friday “cover story” profiled Fox News White House correspondent Peter Doocy and, topping out at nearly 5,000 words, featured plenty of interesting biographical information about his upbringing (with his father being Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy), his approach to covering the White House, and his views on journalism. 

But arguably the most intriguing parts for this audience came from the comparisons to CNN’s Jim Acosta, quotes from liberal media apologists, and the question of whether Doocy’s role “as the chief foil” to the Biden administration could be seen “as veering dangerously into bad-faith trolling” in order to please the Fox News mothership.

Christopher Cadelago’s feature “Is Fox’s Peter Doocy Just Asking Questions — Or Trolling the White House” led with the build-up to President Biden’s March 25 press conference and what ended up not being “a titanic collision between” Biden and Doocy as Biden chose not to call on him.

Cadelago described Doocy as someone who had “positioned himself as the chief foil to the administration in the press room” and developed a journalistic decorum that was “courteous, crisp, [and] oppositional” yet had offered “laconic yet spring-loaded questions” to Psaki in early briefings.

Cadelago made a lot of hay with the presser and seemed to take issue with how Fox News made it a key storyline in its postgame analysis and that Doocy would ask about it the following day (even though he told him that it was of “interest” despite there being “bigger problems in the world”) (click “expand”):

Now, as Biden’s first press conference approached, a whole lineup of talent at Fox began rooting openly for the young correspondent. Sean Hannity, on his prime-time program, expressed little faith in the rest of the White House press corps. “I’m not expecting tough questions,” Hannity said, “except maybe Peter Doocy.” The Federalist’s Chris Bedford, appearing on Fox, said, “I’m hoping that [Biden] gets a few hard ones — at least from Peter Doocy.” Brian Kilmeade, another co-host of “Fox & Friends,” told me he was keeping his fingers crossed for Doocy. “I know they have their list” — the names of the reporters White House staffers instruct the president to call on — “but I hope that they’re gonna call on him,” Kilmeade said.

But it didn’t happen. Instead, the date of the press conference arrived, March 25, and over 62 minutes in the East Room of the White House, Doocy looked on eagerly, signaling for Biden’s attention, as the president summoned others.

Almost instantly, Fox — which had more than 3.2 million viewers tuned in to the event — seemed to decide Doocy himself would become the story. “BIDEN SNUBS FOX DURING FIRST NEWS CONF,” one Fox chyron read. On air, Doocy leafed through a thick, black binder he said was full of questions he had prepared for Biden, about everything from his “green jobs” agenda to the origins of Covid-19 in China. “Sorry you didn’t get a question,” Fox anchor Sandra Smith told him. The network’s Dana Perino, a former White House press secretary for George W. Bush, said she would have instructed the president to call on Doocy had she been there. “Why make Peter Doocy a story?” she asked. “Just take his question and move on.” Joe Concha, a media and politics columnist at the Hill and a Fox News contributor, dismissed the whole episode as a disgrace for the press corps and for Biden, whose handlers needed to answer for why they were “so afraid of a rookie White House press correspondent.”

The Fox-getting-ignored subplot finally reached its climax the following afternoon, when Doocy himself pressed Psaki in the James S. Brady briefing room. Arching over a front-row seat, he asked about immigration and the Senate filibuster before arriving at his final question: Is ignoring Fox News official administration policy?

Psaki’s answer was no: She shot back that she was conversing with Fox’s reporter at that very moment. She reminded Doocy that she regularly took questions from him, and that Biden had done so in other settings, too. Fellow reporters in the room knew Biden had skipped over plenty of other big news organizations at the press conference, even the New York Times. Psaki soon moved on to another reporter, though not without complimenting Doocy on his “awesome” argyle socks. The exchange predictably ricocheted around the internet and was featured on Fox.

Adding that the news cycle “can be seen as a distillation, in a single reporter, of the challenge facing Fox in the Biden era,” Cadelago said that Doocy has become “a smooth yet aggressive, social media-savvy correspondent who might feel like a fresh face on TV, yet is indisputably of, by and for Fox.”

And in the world of the liberal media where Fox is the enemy, that’s almost always going to be seen as a bad thing.

Cadelago even compared Doocy to carnival barker Jim Acosta of CNN, but said Doocy “rarely raises his voice” and, unlike Acosta, hasn’t “jump[ed] into loud, heated sparing matches.”

Later in the piece, he’d return to this implicit comparison, saying Doocy’s “relentless jousting with the Biden administration has drawn more criticism from the left and even from some journalists at other networks” with complaints that “his approach” has been “intentionally provocative, in service of his own image and the network’s, as Fox tries to make its oppositional stance clear.”

Doocy made clear he’s the anti-Acosta (without saying it) though “other media-watchers and TV rivals see his sharp-edged, juxtaposition-heavy questions as veering dangerously into bad-faith trolling” from a hack at “an agenda-driven network” (click “expand”):

Doocy himself maintains he’s just a straight news reporter doing his job, which he mostly views as getting officials to say newsworthy things on camera. He even revealed, and a White House official confirmed, that when he’s planning to ask about a story that isn’t leading national news, he runs the topic (though not the question) by Biden’s press aides in advance. Doocy says he genuinely wants to understand the president’s thinking — plus, “I’ll have to get back to you on that,” a common Psaki refrain, doesn’t make for a useful soundbite. Reflecting on the press conference snub, he noted that Biden aides had left Fox off their list of reporters for the president to call on for months, going back to the campaign and the transition. He said it finally felt like the right time to have Psaki answer for that on camera. “There are bigger problems in the world than Fox not getting called on,” Doocy acknowledges. “However, there was an interest just by me in trying to get to the bottom of it.”

But many other media-watchers and TV rivals see his sharp-edged, juxtaposition-heavy questions as veering dangerously into bad-faith trolling. Doocy, these critics charge, is a functionary for an agenda-driven network, and more concerned about personal slights than actual news. Ultimately, they view Doocy’s elevation as a sign of just how partisan Fox, even its more traditional news division, has become. During the Trump years, veteran Fox anchors like Bret Baier and Chris Wallace sought to draw a line between their reporting and the fawning coverage of the network’s opinionators. To Fox’s detractors, Doocy’s style feels more in line with the latter, and it doesn’t help that he’s the son of a network host beloved by Trump.

Within the Biden White House, all this raises the question of how to handle Doocy. Some liberals, including alums of the Obama administration, have publicly pressed Biden’s team to ignore Doocy, arguing that Fox is an arm of the Republican Party, not a serious news outlet, more so than ever before. But there are perhaps more compelling arguments for staying engaged with Doocy that have traction inside the president’s orbit, according to White House aides. 


There are two main views of Peter Doocy among people who’ve encountered him in Washington and on the campaign trail. One is that he’s hardworking, serious, with enough reporting heft that he can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with correspondents who’ve covered the White House for decades. The other is that he’s a just a Fox scion — the journalistic equivalent of a legacy admission.

In other words, Doocy’s haters described how they behaved like pompous camera-seeking missiles during the Trump years. Funny how that works.

He also summarized how “supporters within Fox” feel, correctly pointing out Doocy has “[been] willing to challenge an administration they believe most rival outlets show too much deference to, and his colleagues describe him as having an innate sense of what makes a good story on their airwaves.”

Fast-forward in the piece through Doocy’s childhood, college years, and early career at Fox to the 2020 campaign and Cadelago emphasized the Doocy would dared to ask Biden about his son Hunter, leading to a number of tense moments.

Former CNN D.C. bureau chief Frank Sesno asserted that Doocy and Fox have each other’s back, down to whether he “wants to be a gadfly and a provocateur” with “‘I-told-you-so’ questions.” 

Conservative media Benedict Arnold and CNN media reporter Oliver Darcy was also predictably, insisting Doocy bears more resemblance to a divisive pundit than an actual journalist: “Doocy’s line of questioning fits neatly into the messaging pushed by Fox’s conservative newscasts and propagandistic primetime shows.”

Again, Doocy’s not someone who’d equate media criticism to death threats, meltdown over a period when briefs were audio-only or when he wasn't called on, stage a book signing, tweet a picture of himself looking at himself in the mirror, but that’s just us.

In response, a Fox News spokesperson told NewsBusters: “If you want to predict what CNN will cover, watch FOX News — it’s a good indicator of what their partisan activists will spend hours attempting to misconstrue for relevance and ratings.”

Making the naysayers look even more bitter and clownish, Cadelago cited anonymous Biden officials as believing that they, in his words, “engage with Fox.” and don’t “necessarily think Doocy is trying to embarrass them with off-the-wall questions.”

Cadelago closed with an important tidbit that Doocy has largely stopped tweeting to better focus on his job and, not surprisingly “disputes the characterization of his job as one big troll.”

And perhaps most importantly, he makes clear that he’s not looking for his next break or job (even though Psaki’s tried and failed to help Resistance-types make Doocy look bad) (click “expand”):

The Biden team has continued to engage, even if Psaki, perhaps calculating that the back-and-forth can be mutually beneficial, has begun to try out different tactics when fielding pointed questions from Doocy. She has tasked him with reading entire quotes to provide fuller context, if not rejecting the premises of his questions outright. In response to Doocy’s MLB question, she noted that Colorado has universal mail-in voting and same-day registration and said Georgia’s new law was “built on a lie” about fraud in the 2020 election. “Jen Psaki Stuffs Fox News’ Peter Doocy in Metaphorical Locker During White House Press Briefing,” read Vanity Fair’s headline, one of several to capture the exchange.


He doesn’t know exactly what’s next for him, offering that it’s anyone’s guess what the TV news business will look like in a few years, let alone decades. Steve and others at the network, including producer Pat Ward, who spent hundreds of hours on the road with Peter, say the younger Doocy doesn’t talk about his career plans. He does, however, have role models at Fox, singling out Baier, a former White House correspondent himself who now anchors his own nightly newscast.

For now, Doocy wants to be reporting from the White House for as long as he can, and he doesn’t aspire to do it at any other network.

“I can’t see myself going anywhere else,” he says.