On Fox News, Steve Doocy has become the unexpected voice of dissent

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It was just after 6 a.m., and Steve Doocy was already going against the grain.

“We don’t have any privacy!” his “Fox & Friends” co-host Ainsley Earhardt was fretting.

“It’s unbelievable!” concurred another co-host, Lawrence Jones.

Their outrage was sparked during that mid-January broadcast by a new allegation that federal officials had asked banks to monitor purchases from outdoors-gear retailers like Dick’s Sporting Goods — in an effort to flag potential extremists who might have participated in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. On a network like Fox News that employs pundits who have downplayed the violence at the U.S. Capitol, this was troubling stuff. Earhardt deemed such scrutiny “an invasion”; a fourth co-host, Brian Kilmeade, mused about government intimidation.

But Doocy, a host of Fox’s enduring morning show since 1998, simply did not share their alarm.

“It seems like, you attack a federal officer, there’s going to be a federal investigation,” he replied.

Doocy’s swerve was the latest illustration of his surprise emergence as the resident dissenter on “Fox & Friends” — a rare member of the Fox News opinion wing who is challenging conventional Republican wisdom on a regular basis.

In particular, Doocy has stood out as a skeptic of congressional investigations into Joe and Hunter Biden, bucking the party line while Fox hosts such as Sean Hannity regularly decry what they call “the Biden crime family.” He has also emphasized the significance — and veracity — of the legal challenges facing former president Donald Trump, talked up Trump challengers like Nikki Haley, and dinged the MAGA wing of the Republican Party.

Doocy lately seems to enjoy sparking hot-button on-screen debate at a time of day when television viewers are accustomed to light banter and soft segments. And he’s doing so in an era when Fox’s sway over the direction of the Republican Party has never been greater. With most other Fox hosts now rallying behind Trump’s 2024 campaign, Doocy’s presence suggests hidden pockets of pushback at the network.

“What’s happened to you, Steve?” Hannity asked on another January broadcast, after Doocy cited an outlier poll showing Haley gaining on Trump in New Hampshire. “Are you moving to the left on me?”

Doocy laughed but dodged the question. “I’m screen-left right now,” he joked.

“He gets to express some skepticism about the narratives that are being pushed on his show that you don’t get from anyone else,” said Daniel Cassino, a Fairleigh Dickinson University professor who wrote a 2016 book about Fox News. “He’s not there as part of the ideological project. He’s there as an affable morning TV host.”

Doocy first made waves in 2021, when he emerged as a prominent promoter of the coronavirus vaccine, even as some of his prime-time counterparts raised concerns and fed doubts. In one typical exchange that year, Jones argued that some people don’t see the point of getting vaccinated because of “disinformation” and conflicting guidance from the CDC.

“What’s the use of doing it?” Jones said. “Why?”

“Well, you won’t die,” Doocy retorted. “That’s a good reason.”

In downplaying the findings of the Biden impeachment investigation, Doocy has frequently clashed with Kilmeade over the latter’s enthusiasm for the GOP impeachment inquiries.

“The Republicans have yet to produce any direct evidence of misconduct by Joe Biden,” Doocy declared recently.

Kilmeade persisted. “But man, man, does this look absolutely terrible,” citing a bevy of Biden family activities that some Republican lawmakers insist seem suspicious. “I think there is evidence,” Earhardt interjected. When Doocy noted that many lawmakers have said they see no evidence of misconduct by the president, she countered, “there are many who say that they have.”

Things got even more heated when Doocy made the same argument in August. Kilmeade, “vehemently” disagreeing, told Doocy to “let me finish.”

“Let me finish!” Doocy responded. “I started!” He challenged Kilmeade to cite which laws the president broke. “Just answer the question,” he persisted when Kilmeade hedged. “What law did he break?” And when Earhardt, siding with Kilmeade, maintained that “Americans are “watching [the Bidens] get away with so much,” Doocy ran out of patience.

“We don’t know what they have gotten away with yet!” he exclaimed, before shutting down Kilmeade’s rebuttal: “You know what? We disagree about this!” he said, stating the obvious. “Just saying.”

Doocy’s co-stars have also dinged him for using political language (“reproductive rights”) more common in Democratic circles. And it often falls to Earhardt to break the tension and restore the merry morning banter.

“Guys, guys, we have so many great stories we’ve got to get to,” she said last month, interrupting a dispute over Ukraine to preview a celebrity guest. “We need to talk about Brad Paisley.”

Doocy’s increasingly frequent brushbacks to Republican orthodoxy and clashes with his co-hosts have become a touchstone for the social-media account Decoding Fox News, which has taken to zooming in on Kilmeade’s frustrated face at these moments.

“I have a folder labeled ‘Doocy goes rogue’ because he does it so often,” said Juliet Jeske, who runs the account on Substack.

Through a spokesperson, Doocy declined an interview request. But current and former Fox News employees said that Doocy and Kilmeade generally get along off-camera, even as their interactions often seem heated on television.

“They were cordial, but I wouldn’t say they were buddy-buddy either,” said a former “Fox & Friends” employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect relationships. Considering that dynamic, the person said they were “surprised” about the recent clashes, chalking it up to the more fraught political atmosphere in the era of Trump.

“Doocy’s previous philosophy was ‘Give the viewers what they want,’” another former Fox News staffer said. “Something has changed, and I think there is tension as a result on set.”

Or, possibly, the broadcast veteran has simply rediscovered the value of a good on-air political brawl. Outside of its talk show “The Five,” those kinds of throw-downs are less common these days on Fox News, as it increasingly fills its airwaves with pundits and guests who share their audience’s worldview. (Fox disputes this characterization, noting that it frequently features top Democratic leaders like Pete Buttigieg, Gavin Newsom, Jim Clyburn and Joe Manchin as guests.)

“I hope there are different points of view,” Doocy told an interviewer in 2021, “because it would be really boring if there weren’t.”

While his opinion-side colleagues at Fox have sold millions of copies of conservative polemics, Doocy’s books have been about cooking, fatherhood and marriage — reflective of his roots in a gentler style of broadcasting.

He got his start as a features reporter for the NBC affiliate in Washington, D.C. In her 2021 memoir, former colleague Katie Couric described him as “a benignly funny features guy”; Doocy even emceed the future “Today” host’s wedding.

In the early 1990s, he hosted a show for children called “Not Just News.” Doocy began each episode by greeting the audience with “Howdy, kids,” to which they replied, “Howdy, Doocy!”

In addition to debating his co-hosts, Doocy over the past year has also shown a willingness to challenge congressional Republicans — a relative rarity during the opinion hours on Fox.

In early February, he clashed with Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) over the majority whip’s opposition to an immigration reform bill. “Are Republicans going to say that the Border Patrol union and acting [Customs and Border Protection] chief are wrong?” Doocy asked, citing two constituencies that had backed the bill.

When Emmer countered that “they can have their perspective,” Doocy shot back, “it’s their jobs, Tom!”

Doocy has been such a thorn in the side of GOP leaders attempting to investigate the Bidens that House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) said in December that he’s boycotting “Fox & Friends” because of him.

“He’s the one guy on Fox that’s been very critical of the investigation,” Comer told Newsmax host Eric Bolling, adding ominously, “I have my theory why. We’ll talk about that at a later point.”

Doocy’s contrary stances have endeared him to many of Fox’s most prominent watchdogs and critics — with caveats.

“Doocy’s trying to drag Fox one percent closer back to the center of reality,” former CNN anchor and Fox-watcher Brian Stelter told The Washington Post.

Still, he described Doocy’s brush backs as “love taps, not punches,” and said that “microdoses of truth only stand out because they’re so rare everywhere else on Fox.”

Stelter added that Doocy is “not going above and beyond” in the way he challenges Republican talking points. “But on ‘Fox & Friends,’ the bare minimum is a big deal.” (In response, a Fox News spokesperson issued a statement dismissing Stelter’s credibility.)

But he’s doing more than enough to irk Trump, who once saw Doocy as a reliable backer. (The New Yorker reported in 2019 that Trump had rated him 12 out of 10 for loyalty.)

Doocy has “always been so nice to me for years,” the former president told an interviewer in September. “I would say over the last year, I don’t know, he just seems to be not nice like he should be.”

In a TruthSocial post in January, Trump agonized about Doocy: “Whatever happened to that guy???” Later, he blamed Doocy (an “unwatchable RINO [Republican in name only]”) for a mild decline in the “Fox & Friends” ratings. (The show remains the most-viewed cable-news morning show, as it has been for 22 years)

Trump’s ire might stem from Doocy’s persistent position that the former president did not win the 2020 election — and should acknowledge as much. Doocy reiterated that belief during a deposition with lawyers for Dominion Voting Systems, which sued over Fox’s coverage of the 2020 election. “There simply was no evidence … of these claims,” Doocy told them.

He has also pushed back on Republican efforts to explain away the four criminal indictments that Trump is facing. During an August segment, Doocy pressed Trump lawyer Alina Habba on what “inside information” she has to back up her argument that the racketeering case against her client in Fulton County, Ga., does not pose a significant threat to him.

Habba began answering his question, and then broke the fourth wall.

“You used to love Trump,” she complained.

Doocy smiled and said nothing.

clarification

This story has been updated to reflect Fox’s perspective on the political diversity of its guests.

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