If you read the news, Donald Trump’s boycott of the Fox News/Google debate is the result of his ongoing war with anchor Megyn Kelly.
Trump, however, says that’s not true. He says a biting Fox News release is why he pulled the plug.
"Well, I’m not a person that respects Megyn Kelly very much. I think she’s highly overrated. Other than that, I don’t care," he told CNN an hour before the debate. "I never once asked that she be removed. I don’t care about her being removed. What I didn’t like was that public relations statement where they were sort of taunting. I didn’t think it was appropriate. I didn’t think it was nice."
His assertion that he "never once" asked for Kelly’s removal piqued our interest.
We took a look at Trump’s public comments over the past couple of days.
Contrary to what Trump said on CNN, he had been calling for Kelly’s exclusion for days before the debate and the "taunting" Fox statement.
Here’s the timeline:
Jan. 23: This latest chapter of the Trump-Kelly spat started when Trump voiced his disapproval a few days before the debate on Twitter.
"Based on @MegynKelly's conflict of interest and bias she should not be allowed to be a moderator of the next debate," Trump tweeted Jan. 23 and made similar comments in a campaign rally in Iowa the same day,
Fox responded, "Megyn Kelly has no conflict of interest. Donald Trump is just trying to build up the audience for Thursday's debate, for which we thank him."
Trump repeated his position that Kelly "should recuse herself from the upcoming Fox News debate," according to Boston Globe reporter James Pindell.
Jan. 24: According to New York, Trump began to threaten a boycott a day later and toy with the idea of holding his own event.
"Let’s see what happens," Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told the magazine. "It’s fair to say Mr. Trump is a significant ratings driver for these debates. If we aren’t on stage for some reason, they wouldn’t have the record 24 million viewers and would be back with 1-2 million people."
Jan. 25: CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Trump if he’ll show up given his beef with Kelly. Trump gave conflicting responses but doubled down in his Kelly criticism.
"I’ll see. If I think I’ll be treated unfairly, I’ll do something else," he said. "I think she’s very biased and I don’t think she can treat me fairly, but that doesn’t mean I don’t do the debate. I like doing the debates."
Fox responded, "Sooner or later Donald Trump, even if he's president, is going to have to learn that he doesn't get to pick the journalists — we're very surprised he's willing to show that much fear about being questioned by Megyn Kelly."
Trump’s indecision was echoed by Lewandowski, who told New York, "We haven't said he'll be there, and we haven't said he won't be there. The bottom line is Megyn Kelly shouldn't be rewarded for her media bias."
Jan. 26: Two days before the debate, Trump polled his Twitter followers, asking,"Should I do the #GOPDebate?" (Of over 150,000 responses, 56 percent were "Yes.")
In the tweet, Trump posted a link to an Instagram video, in which he said, "Megyn Kelly is really biased against me. She knows that, I know that., everybody knows. Do you really think she can be unbiased in a debate?"
Fox News released two statements in response.
"We learned from a secret back channel that the Ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president — a nefarious source tells us that Trump has his own secret plan to replace the Cabinet with his Twitter followers to see if he should even go to those meetings," the network wrote.
"Megyn Kelly is an excellent journalist, and the entire network stands behind her — she will absolutely be on the debate stage on Thursday night," Fox News CEO Roger Ailes told Mediaite.
Later that night, Trump hosted a press conference announcing that his boycott and veterans rally as a response to to the network "playing games."
"See, the point is with me they’re dealing with somebody that is a little 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 their ratings," he said. "I came here to do the debate. When they sent out the wise guy press releases done a little while ago, done by some PR person along with Roger Ailes, I said ‘bye bye,’ okay?"
Trump denied that he was afraid to debate, pointing out his participation and past performance, and reiterated his distaste for Kelly.
"This to me isn’t a reporter. This to me is just a lightweight. Megyn Kelly shouldn’t be in the debate. I don’t care about Megyn -- when Megyn Kelly didn’t ask me a question, she made a statement last time, I thought it was inappropriate," he said.
Fox, in turn, responded with another statement emphasizing Trump’s agenda against Kelly and alleging that Lewandowski had personally threatened the anchor:
"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."
Jan. 27: Trump took to Twitter to rebut claims that Kelly was why he pulled out: "It was the childishly written & taunting PR statement by Fox that made me not do the debate, more so than lightweight reporter, @megynkelly."
He emphasized to Fox’s Bill O’Reilly that it was ultimately the network’s disrespectful statements that led to his decision:
"I was not treated well by Fox. They came out with this ridiculous P.R. statement, it was like drawn up by a child. And there was a taunt. And I said, you know, "How much of this do you take?" I have zero respect for Megyn Kelly. I don't think she's very good at what she does. I think she's highly overrated. And, frankly, she's the moderator, I thought her question last time was ridiculous."
Trump said, "I never once asked that (Megyn Kelly) be removed" as a debate moderator.
This statement greatly downplays Trump’s comments ahead of the debate, even if his absence really had more to do with a mocking Fox News release in the end.
Trump mused about skipping the debate because of Kelly for a couple days before that news release. He went so far as to say Kelly "should not be allowed" to moderate, that she "should recuse herself," and she "shouldn’t be in the debate."
We rate Trump’s claim False.