Dems Cancel Presidential Debate on Fox

Mar 12, 2007  •  Post A Comment

The Nevada Democratic Party abandoned plans for an August debate of the Democratic presidential candidates to be hosted by Fox News Channel, citing Fox News chairman-CEO Roger Ailes’ speech to a broadcasting group as the capping blow.

In a potential indication of problems ahead in the campaign between Fox and Democrats, the Nevada party announced the decision late Friday. Party officials had come under strong pressure from liberal bloggers and MoveOn.org over its choice of Fox to host the debate.

Nevada Democratic Party chairman Tom Collins and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a letter to Fox that their original selection of the channel as host reflected the party’s desire “to reach out to new voters.”

“To say the least, this was not a popular decision. But it is one that the Democratic Party stood by. However, comments made [Thursday] night by Fox News President Roger Ailes in reference to one of our presidential candidates went too far. We cannot, as good Democrats, put our party in a position to defend such comments.”

Mr. Ailes — receiving an award at the Washington First Amendment dinner of the Radio & Television News Directors Association Foundation — reacted to former Sen. John Edwards’ day-old decision to skip the debate because of Fox’s involvement by warning Democrats about blacklisting any media.

“If you are afraid of journalists, how will you face the real dangers in the world?” Mr. Ailes said Thursday. “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.”

Before getting to that theme, Mr. Ailes offered a few joking headlines including one that mentioned Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, a Democratic presidential hopeful.

“It is true that Barack Obama is on the move,” Mr. Ailes said. “I don’t know if it’s true that President Bush called Musharraf and said, ‘Why can’t we catch this guy?'”

Democrats pointed to the joke as the immediate reason for dropping the debate, but there had been extensive and continuing pressure on Nevada Democrats to drop Fox long before the joke was delivered.

Fox issued a statement late Friday decrying the move.

“News organizations will want to think twice before getting involved in the Nevada Democratic Caucus, which appears to be controlled by radical fringe out-of-state interest groups, not the Nevada Democratic Party,” said David Rhode, VP-Fox News. “In the past, Moveon.org has said they ‘own’ the Democratic Party. While most Democrats don’t agree with that, it’s clearly the case in Nevada.”

Fox also contended the joke was on President Bush, not Sen. Obama.

Whoever the joke was directed at, the incident showed the extent of some Democrats’ ire over Fox News Channel’s news coverage and raised the possibility that Fox could be covering a campaign in which it is an issue.

Response from Sen. Edwards’ Campaign

Evidence of that was immediately offered by Sen. Edwards’ campaign, which launched a new fundraising appeal based on Mr. Ailes’ comments.

“Enough is enough. It’s time to send a clear message to Fox News and their allies that their right-wing talking points and temper tantrums won’t go unchallenged anymore. When it comes to what Democrats should do in the Democratic primary, we’ll decide – no matter what they report,” wrote deputy campaign manager Jonathan Price.

“Fox News has already proven they have no intention of providing ‘fair and balanced’ coverage of any Democrat in this election,” he wrote. “In recent weeks they have run blatant lies about Sen. Obama’s background. And Fox was only too happy to give Ann Coulter a platform to spew more hate a few days after her bigoted attack on Sen. Edwards and the gay community.

“Now it’s time for Democrats to stand together and send a clear message to Roger Ailes, Fox News and all the rest of them: Bias isn’t balance, but turning tables is fair.

“The truth is, Fox News can ‘report’ whatever they want. And when it works for us, we’ll deal with them on our terms. But this campaign is about responsibility and accountability, and we need to send the message to Fox that if they want to be the corporate mouthpiece of the Republican Party more than they want to be an impartial news outlet, they shouldn’t expect Democrats to play along.”

Mr. Price also suggested Mr. Ailes shouldn’t be chastising anyone about not participating in debates, citing a statement Mr. Ailes made in 1988 — while still a GOP political consultant — that only one debate is really needed.

“So please send Roger Ailes a message: Hypocrisy isn’t fair and it isn’t balanced; it’s just hypocrisy – and we’ve had enough of it from you,” wrote Mr. Price.

A Fox representative suggested Sen. Edwards’ stance on the debate has always been part of fundraising.

“It’s obvious the senator was using the Nevada debate as a fundraising ploy all along, given he’s polling at 9%,” she said.

(Editor: Horowitz)