Politico

The Fox News Reporter the White House Hates to Love


It was late March, days before Joe Biden would hold his first formal news conference, and the on-air personalities at Fox News were setting the stage for a titanic collision between the president and the network’s new, 33-year-old White House correspondent.

On the campaign trail, Peter Doocy had emerged as the 24/7 news-and-opinion network’s latest reporting star. At one stop after another, his blond husk of hair and 6-foot-5 frame towering over other reporters, he became known for needling Biden, particularly about his adult son Hunter, whose foibles were being pumped up elsewhere in the Murdoch news empire. Doocy’s father, Steve, is the genial longtime co-host of the morning show “Fox & Friends,” but the son’s style is different — courteous, crisp, oppositional. Often, it’s worked: Doocy got Biden to engage even on sensitive topics that other reporters might be less inclined to bring up.

All the attention landed Doocy a prestigious assignment covering the White House, where he soon positioned himself as the chief foil to the administration in the press room. Early briefings were often marked by crossfire between him and press secretary Jen Psaki — a laconic yet spring-loaded question, followed by Psaki’s smiling and curt replies, the resulting clips soon disseminated by like-smashing Twitter partisans.


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.

In one sense, the Doocy saga can be seen as a distillation, in a single reporter, of the challenge facing Fox in the Biden era. Everyone expects the network to be a source of irritation for the new White House, as it was in the Obama years. CEO Lachlan Murdoch recently said ratings would improve as the network became Biden’s “loyal opposition,” borrowing a phrase from European parliamentary politics, which didn’t go unnoticed among Biden’s aides. But Fox also faces some competition for its conservative viewership from the likes of Newsmax and One America News Network, stridently right-wing networks that made a point of questioning the validity of the 2020 election. Fox needs to keep the Trump-friendly, anti-Biden end of its demographic watching, at a time when “opposition” and “loyal” are more often seen as contradictions on the American right — while also protecting its position as a news network with a big reporting outfit. Fox wants a seat in the room, but many of its viewers also want to see a fight.

That conflict is embodied in Doocy: 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.


Jim Acosta, the former CNN White House reporter, embraced a version of this role during the Trump era by jumping into loud, heated sparring matches with Donald Trump and his spokespeople. That isn’t Doocy’s style. He rarely raises his voice. “He’s not yelling at them. He’s not jabbing his finger in the air,” says Bryan Boughton, a senior vice president and Fox’s Washington bureau chief. “He’s presenting a question to answer, and how they choose to respond is totally up to them.” Supporters within Fox also praise him for being 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.

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. For one thing, Biden’s team wants to avoid the combative, disruptive attitude his predecessor took toward the media. They also acknowledge that Peter Doocy is a proxy for a huge audience, or a sizeable slice of it anyway, that still might be reachable with Biden’s message. By engaging with Fox, a president who campaigned on unifying the country stands a better chance of getting through to voters he wants, and ultimately might need.

On a chilly March morning at the Willard hotel café near the White House, Doocy arrived wearing an overcoat and took a seat on the mostly empty patio. He scrolled through his phone and sipped coffee with half and half, pausing between measured answers about his work at Fox. Depending on his shift, he gets up at 4 or 7 a.m., reads emails he missed overnight and scans his note from the Fox “brain room” that includes international headlines and big opinion pieces. He clicks around through show rundowns to see when his TV hits might be. If he’s in the briefing room that day, he starts figuring out what to ask. He arrives at the White House about an hour before he goes on air and does a round of hellos with folks on the grounds.

Anticipating Biden’s big infrastructure push, he had recently picked up Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s latest book, mostly out of curiosity, after getting to know the former mayor a bit during the presidential campaign. He scanned it for inconsistencies or flip flops — a Doocy reporting trait — but he didn’t spot many.


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.

Steve Doocy says he never intended for his son to be a journalist, having urged him to go to law or business school instead. “TV is a very complicated, competitive, tough business,” Steve said recently over Zoom, his home office covered with family photos, Emmy awards and the jackets of his books on fatherhood, marriage and cooking.

But he certainly made his son’s path easier.

Peter is the first child of Steve and Kathy Gerrity, also a TV journalist who had grown up in Southern California and starred in a TV commercial for the Chatty Cathy doll before becoming a model and a sports reporter. Steve, a features reporter from Kansas who had come up in the business as a wacky weatherman in the mold of Willard Scott, followed Roger Ailes from an early 24-hour news channel to Fox News, at first reprising his role as a weatherman before the 1998 debut of “Fox & Friends” — comfort food to wake up to, as Steve describes its early days.

Long before Peter Doocy was on-camera talent for Fox, he was something of a regular on set. Along with sisters Mary and Sally, he often visited the Fox studio in New York to see Steve, meet musicians or get baseballs signed by legends like Roger Clemens and Cal Ripken Jr. He got on-air exposure, too. When he was 7, he and Mary did a story with their dad for “take your child to work day.” “If Al Roker’s kids are watching, my dad can beat up your dad any day,” Peter deadpanned, reading from a script Steve had written.

It was a job at an upscale grocery store near their New Jersey home that forced Peter, a somewhat shy kid, to start opening up more. He “developed that loud voice yelling to the customer service booth: ‘I need a cleanup over in deli!’” Steve says. In 2004, as a rising high school senior, Peter got an internship at Fox, where he appeared on air to read sports highlights with Kilmeade. During one segment, when Kilmeade asked if he was ready, Peter responded, “I was born ready,” his hair forming a straight line across his forehead. “You actually were,” Kilmeade replied. “That’s in the genes.”

Steve was known to celebrate his kids’ birthdays and other milestones on the show, and in 2005 came a family announcement: “Peter Doocy will go to Penn State University!” Peter was accepted at Villanova and ended up going there instead. Steve and Kilmeade still managed to weave him into their broadcasts when the university or the city of Philadelphia was in the news.


Peter’s debut in political TV coverage wasn’t particularly journalistic, but it showed a knack for saying the right thing on camera. During the 2008 presidential race, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews interviewed John McCain at the Villanova campus. When it came time for questions from the audience, Peter, who had just seen a viral photo of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton tipping back a shot of Crown Royal with a bar owner in Indiana, asked McCain whether he thought Clinton had “finally resorted to hitting the sauce just because of some unfavorable polling.” Then Doocy continued: “I was also wondering if you would care to join me for a shot after this?” McCain cackled and later allowed that he enjoyed the college junior’s smart aleck question. (No shots were taken.)

Within hours of the MSNBC town hall, Steve was interviewing his son on “Fox & Friends,” where Peter speculated that Matthews might have recognized his famous last name and described it as a “good moment” for McCain. It turned out even better for the young Doocy. Fox producers asked him to contribute to the network’s 2008 coverage. That summer, he joined his dad at the national conventions, where Steve helped his son produce packages that seemed to embrace the Fox ethos. In Denver, where Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination, Peter did a man-on-the-street piece that quoted young voters talking far more about Obama’s celebrity than his policy ideas. “Could this be the first ‘American Idol’ president?” Peter asked.

He was getting better-known in his own right, to the point that the campaign reports became a target for liberal commentators like Keith Olbermann, who tagged Doocy with his “Worst Person in the World” award, and dubbed the young Fox contributor a “replaceable cog in the vast Rupert Murdoch media manipulation machine.” Peter says he and his friends laughed about it, but the insult upset Steve, who spoke of Peter less like a colleague than a kid with no platform to defend himself. “Next time you see Keith Olbermann on TV, just remember that is a guy who picks on people’s children!” he said on Fox.


Peter was hired by Fox News after graduation and, following stints in New York and Chicago, relocated in 2010 to Washington, where he soon covered Capitol Hill. He recalls feeling pressure to make the whole thing work, especially when he was received warmly by Fox’s news crew and brass, who would look out for him and introduced him to people at happy hours. Chief Washington correspondent Mike Emanuel had Doocy over for Thanksgiving when he was new in town and had the morning shift the next day.

If there were any lingering doubts about his place at Fox, Doocy seemed to allay them when he landed his first major scoop at age 27. He met Robert O’Neill, the Navy SEAL who shot and killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, at an Irish pub in Pentagon City. While O’Neill’s name leaked online, he ended up giving Doocy and Fox his first on-camera interview, which aired in 2014. At the time, it was the most-watched special in Fox’s history, earning Doocy praise inside the network as a serious journalist on the rise.

But as Peter was trying to carve his own lane as a reporter, his dad’s show was becoming more political — and overtly partisan — than ever before. Trump was a superfan of “Fox & Friends,” which relentlessly promoted his presidency, and an even bigger fan of Steve’s. During the 2018 midterms, Peter was on the campaign trail in Elko, Nevada, doing live shots when Air Force One approached. Trump had bantered with father and son at the White House during an impromptu, and lengthy, interview a few months earlier. At the rally, the president scanned the risers, reminiscing about his winning 2016 campaign, and spotted Peter.

“Was that the greatest single political movement in the history of our country?” Trump asked, looking straight at Doocy: “Peter Doocy. The great Peter Doocy,” Trump riffed. “There is no doubt who his father is. Look at him. Peter Doocy. Fox.”

Steve, who happened to be watching live with Gerrity, says he found the whole thing hilarious. Peter also was amused, though he prefers not to have it happen again — “just the once,” he says. For all the Trump attention, Steve, whose personal politics are surprisingly hard to pin down, says that, based on what he’s heard from his son, the association with “Fox & Friends” hasn’t been a problem for him as a reporter. Asked about his own politics, Peter said he hasn’t been registered with a political party since he began at Fox, and that he was a registered Democrat in college.

The younger Doocy doesn’t quibble with the obvious fact that he was a legacy hire at Fox. “I definitely benefited from my dad working at the channel,” he says. (The Doocys are so close that, during our Zoom interview, Steve’s phone pinged incessantly with messages on the “family thread thing.”) But Peter stresses he’s confident he would have ended up working in news regardless. And he insists it’s not favoritism that has kept him working at Fox for more than a dozen years, but his performance — plus his network colleagues.

“It’s kind of like a big family,” Peter says.

It wasn’t really until the 2020 campaign that Peter began to emerge from his dad’s shadow at Fox, developing a new set of supporters, as well as detractors.

When the Democratic primary underway, Peter became the network’s main reporter covering the sprawling field of candidates, and eventually just Biden. Chasing him though Iowa snowstorms and staking out parking lots for hours to put a microphone in front of him, Doocy began to stand out partly for his relentless focus on Hunter, whose business and personal life kept making news, but mostly because of Biden’s reactions — exchanges that often took off on Twitter.

In the runup to the Iowa caucuses, Doocy asked the candidate how many times he had spoken with his son about Hunter’s work on the board of a Ukrainian energy firm. Biden said he hadn’t, then shifted attention to a whistleblower complaint about Trump’s talks with the Ukrainian president. Jabbing an index finger toward Doocy, Biden argued it was Trump who was behind the “smears.”

“Ask the right questions!” Biden bellowed.

After a primary debate in Atlanta in the fall of 2019, Doocy brought up a report that Hunter had fathered a child in Arkansas. Biden called it “a private matter.”

“Only you would ask that,” he snapped at Doocy. “You’re a good man. Classy.”

When Doocy again asked about Hunter at a transition event in December, Biden responded, “God love you, man! You are a one-horse pony.”

Doocy downplays the desire to go viral during the campaign, contending that his busy travel schedule made it hard to keep up with the online reaction to his questions. He attributes the knack for generating buzzy content not only to his parents’ careers, but also to his own news diet growing up: Fox in the mornings, Oprah and other talk shows in the afternoon, Tom Brokaw’s newscasts at night. “I know as a consumer of news since I was a little kid that when things get repetitive, it’s just not interesting to watch,” he says. “We want people who are flipping through to know that, when they see [Biden] answering a question from us, it will be different from what they see everywhere else.”

As he has moved from the more rough-and-tumble campaign world into the bright lights of the White House briefing room, Doocy has focused less on Hunter. But his relentless jousting with the Biden administration has drawn more criticism from the left and even from some journalists at other networks. They view his approach as intentionally provocative, in service of his own image and the network’s, as Fox tries to make its oppositional stance clear.


“Doocy has Fox’s back, and Fox has Doocy’s back,” says Frank Sesno, the former Washington bureau chief at CNN who later directed the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University. “And if he wants to be a gadfly and a provocateur, and if Fox is going to give him traction and proudly point to ‘I-told-you-so’ questions, well, it will probably be something that works for him, at least at the outset.”

In the scaled down briefing room, where most seats remain empty because of coronavirus safety protocols, Doocy switches off with colleague Kristin Fisher in the Fox seat. So far, he has tangled with Psaki over a long list of culture war topics, along with jobs and immigration. He wanted to know why Biden wasn’t wearing a mask “at all times” at inauguration festivities. When fossil fuel industry workers losing their jobs would be able to get their promised “green jobs.” Whether the White House considers it a compliment that Mexico’s president said people coming into the United States right now see Biden as the “migrant president.” Whether the Biden administration has a “message problem” at the border. And whether the White House was concerned that Major League Baseball was moving its all-star game to Colorado from Georgia, when, he said, the voting laws in the two states are similar. Recently, Doocy asked about a New York Post article claiming that migrant children crossing the border were receiving Vice President Kamala Harris’ kids’ book in “welcome kits.” The story was soon debunked.

The Obama alums from “Pod Save America” have called for a blanket ban on Doocy questions, and suggested Psaki was probably showing Fox too much regard. Olbermann, too, has gotten his licks in on Twitter. Oliver Darcy, senior media reporter at CNN, says he thinks Doocy has less in common with a conventional network White House correspondent — like, say, John Roberts who proceeded Doocy in the role and now co-hosts a midday show on Fox — and is more closely aligned with the kind of reporter that a conservative news website would be expected to send to the White House, or Fox’s opinion personalities.

“Doocy’s line of questioning fits neatly into the messaging pushed by Fox’s conservative newscasts and propagandistic primetime shows,” Darcy told me. “If you want to predict what he will ask, take a listen to what the hot-button issues are on Tucker Carlson or Sean Hannity’s shows. That would likely be a good indicator.”


Roberts, a co-anchor of Fox’s “America Reports,” says Doocy’s role is to “speak truth to power.” “When you do that, which he does regularly, it doesn’t always go over well in some circles,” Roberts says, adding he thinks Doocy is “doing a solid job in his new position.” Kilmeade, the “Fox & Friends” co-host, also defends Doocy’s approach in the briefing room. “He’s not showboating. He actually just wants the answers to tell a better story.”

Ari Fleischer, a press secretary under George W. Bush and now a contributor to Fox, adds, “My advice to the White House would be: Treat Fox as the canary in the coal mine, because eventually, the others are going to catch up with Fox,” pointing to issues Doocy has quizzed Psaki on before they gained wider attention.

Within the Biden team, there are mixed opinions about how to handle Doocy and Fox. The White House declined to comment for this article, in part because officials said they preferred not to focus on the work of a single reporter, but a handful of administration aides spoke on the condition of anonymity. Some who worked on the presidential campaign say they still feel frosty about the network’s treatment of Biden. They don’t like Fox’s intense focus on Hunter, or its general attitude toward Democrats.

Still, administration officials engage with Fox and its news reporters, including Doocy. Cabinet members and senior officials have been guests on Fox shows, with Chris Wallace’s Sunday program emerging as a favorite among the administration.


“It’s an audience we need to reach,” a Biden official conceded, a position others echoed.

Nor do White House officials necessarily think Doocy is trying to embarrass them with off-the-wall questions. They see him as playing a role for his network. He’s a Fox “personality,” as another Biden aide put it to me, albeit from the more buttoned-up news side.

Biden, meanwhile, seems to enjoy and even encourage the give-and-take. His animated answers to Doocy play against the stereotype of him as a staid, grandfatherly figure, while reinforcing his reputation as a fiercely loyal father. Twice, in response to a question from Doocy — about whom Biden had picked as his running-mate and what he had talked about on a call with Russia’s Vladimir Putin — Biden retorted: “You.” On one of his first days in office, when Doocy shouted a question as aides were herding reporters out of a room, Biden told them all to wait. “I know he always asks me tough questions, and [they] always have an edge to them. But I like him anyway,” the president said. He urged Doocy to ask.


It seems impossible to imagine Biden doing an interview with a Fox prime-time opinion host, as Obama did when he sat down with Bill O’Reilly during the 2014 Super Bowl. But, overall, despite Doocy’s persistent provocation, the Biden White House has taken a more conciliatory approach to Fox in the early months, compared with the Obama administration. After the network’s false reports about Obama’s birthplace and education, Obama White House aides moved to block its reporters from asking questions of officials and at news briefings. Journalists at other outlets objected, and over time administration officials decided to place surrogates on the Fox shows that reached more independents.

“But by that point of the administration, there was no big battle to be won or lost with the network. It was just a pervasive naysayer nipping at our heels,” says Ben LaBolt, Obama’s 2012 campaign press secretary.

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.

Doocy disputes the characterization of his job as one big troll, citing instances where he has asked Republicans uncomfortable questions. “If a partisan likes one side or the other, and their person or their side might be exposed, I think that does make some people nervous,” he says. “I’m not going to change the way that I do it, though.”


He dodged a question about whether the Biden administration is more honest than Trump’s. “I never really dealt with …” Doocy trailed off. “Too early,” he continued. “I think that’s something where you can weigh it at the end.”

Lately, he has been upbeat about his relationship with Psaki and the press shop. Since Biden’s late March press conference, Doocy managed to shout a few questions directly to the president while on duty at the White House. He mostly has stopped tweeting. He says it was taking too long to compose even brief messages. It also makes it easier to ignore the online peanut gallery.

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.

In fact, he’s now even more a part of the Fox family: In April, he married Hillary Vaughn, a correspondent for Fox Business. His dad was the best man, delivering a speech and writing a poem for the big day, a Doocy tradition. The family announcement was made — how else? — by a beaming Steve upon his return to the “Fox & Friends” set.

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