After Republican frontrunner Donald Trump said late Tuesday he would not attend tomorrow’s Fox News presidential debate over concerns moderator Megyn Kelly would treat him “unfairly,” the network fired back that it would not bend to “terrorizations” toward its employees.
Trump said the network was “playing games” after Fox News released a sarcastic statement Tuesday ribbing the billionaire real estate mogul for polling his nearly 6 million Twitter followers about whether he should appear at the debate, which comes just three days before the Iowa caucuses.
During an evening press conference in Iowa, Trump said he would “most likely” not attend the debate, noting that Fox News dealing with “somebody that is a little bit different. They can’t toy with me like they toy with everybody else. So let them have their debate and let’s see how they do with the ratings.”
The Trump campaign later put out a statement definitively saying he wouldn’t attend, but was instead planning an event in Iowa to raise money for veterans.
“Unlike the very stupid, highly incompetent people running our country into the ground, Mr. Trump knows when to walk away,” the statement said. “Like running for office as an extremely successful person, this takes guts and it is the kind mentality our country needs in order to Make America Great Again.”
Kelly addressed the news during her nightly Fox News show, and said Trump “doesn’t get to control the media.”
“I’ll be there,” she said. “The debate will go on with or without Mr. Trump.”
A Fox News spokesperson said the candidate’s last-minute decision is “near unprecedented,” and sharply rebuked Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski for his thinly-veiled threat that Kelly had a “rough couple of days after that last debate” and he “would hate to have her go through that again.”
Here’s the full Fox statement, provided to TPM:
As many of our viewers know, FOX News is hosting a sanctioned debate in Des Moines, Iowa on Thursday night, three days before the first votes of the 2016 election are cast in the Iowa Caucus. Donald Trump is refusing to debate seven of his fellow presidential candidates on stage that night, which is near unprecedented. We’re not sure how Iowans are going to feel about him walking away from them at the last minute, but it should be clear to the American public by now that this is rooted in one thing – Megyn Kelly, whom he has viciously attacked since August and has now spent four days demanding be removed from the debate stage. Capitulating to politicians’ ultimatums about a debate moderator violates all journalistic standards, as do threats, including the one leveled by Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski toward Megyn 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.’ Lewandowski was warned not to level any more threats, but he continued to do so. We can’t give in to terrorizations toward any of our employees. Trump is still welcome at Thursday night’s debate and will be treated fairly, just as he has been during his 132 appearances on FOX News & FOX Business, but he can’t dictate the moderators or the questions.
The ex-reality TV star had earlier threatened to boycott the event after resurrecting his months-old feud with Kelly, which stemmed from the first GOP debate also hosted by the network, when Kelly pressed Trump on his derogatory remarks about women.
The network responded to Trump’s threat with a tongue-in-cheek reminder that “the Ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly” if he becomes President. The statement clearly provoked Trump, who took to Twitter to call the remarks “a disgrace to good broadcasting and journalism.”
The statement put out yesterday by @FoxNews was a disgrace to good broadcasting and journalism. Who would ever say something so nasty & dumb
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 27, 2016