WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s decision to break the recent tradition of sitting for an interview with the news network broadcasting the Super Bowl came after a series of discussions between Fox and White House officials.
Fox proposed having one of its news anchors, such as Bret Baier or Shannon Bream, conduct the interview, said a person familiar with the matter, but the president’s team rejected those choices, and decided about 72 hours before kickoff that Biden would do the interview with the network’s little-known streaming channel Fox Soul.
The back and forth spilled into the public view Friday morning when White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre tweeted that Fox Corp. had canceled the Fox Soul interview. Several hours later, Fox Corp. released a statement saying there had been “confusion” with the White House, and that the interview with Fox Soul was back on track with actor Vivica A. Fox, the host of Fox Soul’s “Cocktails with Queens” and “Fox Soul’s Screening Room” as well as Mike Hill, a Fox Soul personality and contributor and Fox Sports sportscaster.
The White House saw things differently.
“As we said earlier, we had arranged an interview with FOX Sports Host Mike Hill & Vivica A. Fox with the President ahead of the Super Bowl and Fox Corp had the interview cancelled,” a White House official said in a statement to NBC News later Friday. “FOX has since put out a statement indicating the interview was rescheduled, which is inaccurate.”
The disagreement over an interview that typically lasts about 10 minutes and airs as millions of Americans tune in for what’s often the most-watched television event of the year suggests simmering tensions between the Biden White House and Fox may be reaching new heights.
Biden has done interviews with multiple television networks that cover the White House — ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC and, just this week, PBS — but not Fox News. He previously sat for Super Bowl interviews with news anchors for CBS and NBC when the networks hosted the game in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
This year, he would have been interviewed on Fox Soul before the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs face off by Hill and Vivica Fox, who was a surrogate during Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign and continues to express support for him, including in a tweet this week after his State of the Union address.
A Fox Corp. spokesperson said Hill and Vivica Fox, as well as the general manager of Fox Soul, James DuBose, flew to Washington on Friday from Los Angeles to conduct the interview. DuBose was to produce the interview, the spokesperson said.
After the president’s team complained that the interview had been canceled Friday, the White House official said that the network would have shared the interview across its platforms.
Fox News anchors in recent days had discussed on-air that the White House had not confirmed a Super Bowl interview with Biden, with Baier noting during the network’s State of the Union coverage on Tuesday, “We are running out of days.”
Chris Kofinis, a Democratic strategist, said Biden’s decision to shun an interview with a Fox News anchor could be a missed opportunity and advised against shrinking from a chance to reach millions of viewers because of a network’s political leanings.
“Any time you get to speak to that many millions of Americans, it’s an enormous positive,” he added. “You gotta do it, no matter who is asking the questions.”
The Super Bowl pregame show where Biden’s interview would air often draws much lower viewers than the game itself. In 2020, Fox’s pregame averaged 21.6 million viewers, while 148 million watched all or parts of the game. By comparison, an estimated 27.3 million people tuned in to the president’s televised State of the Union address this year.
The White House’s decision to buck Fox News and agree to an interview with Fox Soul — however fleeting — did earn Biden some praise, however, with NPR media analyst Eric Deggans tweeting, “Masterful move by Biden, arranging a Super Bowl interview w/Black-focused Fox Soul, sidestepping Fox News Channel…”
Fox Soul, which began streaming in 2020, describes itself as focused on “Black News, Inspiration, Celebrity, Social Justice & more.”
The potential interview was also the subject of a spirited debate Friday morning on the ABC talk show “The View.”
One of the hosts, Sunny Hostin, said Biden shouldn’t “normalize the misinformation network,” while another co-host, Alyssa Farah, disagreed.
“I think the biggest thing wrong with our politics right now is people exist in their echo chambers,” said Farah, who worked in the Trump White House.
Biden wouldn’t be the first president in recent years to forgo a Super Bowl interview.
Former President Donald Trump did not do an interview when NBC broadcast the game in 2018. That was the only time a president skipped a Super Bowl interview since former President Barack Obama did his first one in 2009. During his eight years in office, Obama gave gameday interviews with three networks and six news anchors.
Obama’s predecessor, former President George W. Bush, participated as well but he didn’t make it an annual event. Bush was interviewed live from the Rose Garden in 2004 by CBS sports commentator Jim Nantz, with football being the main topic of discussion. In his remarks, Bush called on professional sports to “get very tough on players who use steroids” because of the message it sends to children.
As for Biden’s plans for Super Bowl Sunday, the president told Telemundo this week he will be “watching from home” with guacamole and “a little chocolate chip ice cream afterwards.” His wife, first lady Jill Biden, a diehard Philadelphia Eagles fan, is traveling to Glendale, Ariz., for the game.