Nevada Democrats Cancel Debate With Fox

March 10, 2007 at 6:13 pm Leave a comment

By Kate Phillips NY TIMES

Well, it’s truly official now. The top Nevada Democrats shipped a letter off tonight to Marty Ryan, executive producer of political programs for Fox News.

After much pressure from the liberal blogosphere as well as comments made by Roger Ailes, chairman of Fox News, about Senator Barack Obama, the two ranking Democrats from Nevada — Tom Collins, head of the state party, and Senate majority leader Harry Reid — decided tonight to cancel an Aug. 14 debate with Fox. Here’s their letter:

Dear Marty,

A month ago, the Nevada Democratic Party entered into a good faith agreement with Fox News to co-sponsor a presidential debate in August.

This was done because the Nevada Democratic Party is reaching out to new voters and we strongly believe that a Democrat will not win Nevada unless we find new ways to talk to new people.

To say the least, this was not a popular decision. But it is one that the Democratic Party stood by. However, comments made last 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.

In light of his comments, we have concluded that it is not possible to hold a presidential debate that will focus on our candidates and are therefore canceling our August debate. We take no pleasure in this, but it is the only course of action.

At a dinner sponsored by the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation, Mr. Ailes, in speaking after receiving a First Amendment Leadership Award, told a series of jokes. The one that made its way around the Internet today, and ratcheted up the pressure on Democrats to dump Fox from the debate was this:

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

Bill Burton, Mr. Obama’s campaign spokesman, said there would be no comment about the remarks.

Fox News released a statement from its vice president, David Rhodes:

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. 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.

Well, MoveOn as well as Markos Moulitsas, founder of Daily Kos, Matt Stoller at MyDD, and others pushed hard on this front ever since it was announced, collecting signatures, and urging online activists to keep up the pressure against the state’s Democratic leaders until Fox was dropped. John Edwards was the first Democratic candidate to say officially that he would not attend, once Mr. Moulitsas began a canvas of candidates earlier this week.

In a release before tonight’s official announcement,Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn.org Civic Action, said: “We hope this sets a precedent for all Democrats – that Fox should be treated as a right-wing misinformation network, not legitimized as a neutral source of news. John Edwards, Harry Reid, the Nevada Democratic Party, and grassroots progressives across the nation deserve credit for standing up to Fox’s right-wing agenda.”

It seems the cancellation may be attributed to Mr. Ailes, at least partially, though. Mr. Collins had been holding steadfast against severing ties with Fox for this debate throughout this week, as had several members of the state party’s executive board and county chairs.

Postscript/Update: And it didn’t take long for the Edwards campaign to respond, sending out a fundraising appeal using the whole situation with Nevada Democrats and Fox as a springboard. Remember that the 2008 candidates’ quarterly reports are due soon, and those will show a beginning signal of who’s viable. (The caveat of course being it’s very early still, in this accelerated race.)

Jonathan Prince, Mr. Edwards’s deputy campaign manager, wrote this:

Tonight Fox News Vice President David Rhodes is telling news organizations not to get involved in the Nevada Democratic Caucus because of “radical fringe” groups – meaning grassroots Democrats (that would be you) – who objected to Fox’s long history of spreading Republican propaganda at the expense of Democratic leaders.

The whole right-wing is getting in on the attack; the Drudge Report is blaring the headline: “War! Dems Pull Out of Fox News Debate.” 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.

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