Ailes Warns Against Debate Boycotts

Mar 9, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Fox News chairman-CEO Roger Ailes is warning presidential candidates about following in the path of former Sen. John Edwards in boycotting candidate debates based on the media company sponsoring them.

A day after the Democratic candidate dropped out of an August debate planned by the Nevada Democratic Party, in part because it was being hosted by Fox News Channel, Mr. Ailes used his speech accepting an award from the Radio & Television News Directors Association Foundation in Washington to deliver an unusual caution to the candidates.

“The public knows if a journalist’s question is unfair. They also know if a candidate is impeding freedom of speech and free press. If you are afraid of journalists, how will you face the real dangers in the world?” Mr. Ailes said.

“Any candidate for high office of either party who believes he can blacklist any news organization is making a terrible mistake about journalism. And any candidate of either party who cannot answer direct, simple, even tough questions from any journalist runs a real risk of losing the voters.”

Mr. Ailes never mentioned Sen. Edwards by name, but his target was clear.

Democratic bloggers and MoveOn.org, saying Fox’s news is biased, have been pushing the Nevada Democratic Party to drop Fox as host of the August debate and asking Democratic presidential candidates to skip the debate unless Fox is dropped. Sen. Edwards was the first candidate to drop out.

On Wednesday night Fox issued a statement saying it regretted his decision and that Sen. Edwards would miss a big audience.

Mr. Ailes on Thursday went much farther.

“There is a long tradition of news organizations, national and local, sometimes together sponsoring presidential and other candidate debates. The organizations and the panelists have been the objects of a lot of advice and even pressure on how these debates should be conducted and what questions should be asked,” he said.

“This pressure has been successfully resisted, but it is being tried again this year, with the added wrinkle that candidates are being asked to boycott debates because certain pressure groups want to approve the sponsoring organization.

“Recently pressure groups are forcing candidates to conclude that the best strategy for journalists is to divide and conquer, to only appear on those networks and venues that give them favorable coverage.”

Mr. Ailes suggested debate boycotts are a First Amendment issue that both the media and candidates need to fight.

The Edwards campaign did not immediately return a request for comment.

(Editor: Horowitz)