Well, that Nevada Democratic presidential debate in August set for cablecast on Fox News certainly got all foxed up. The lefty “netroots,” led by the likes of MoveOn.org and Daily Kos, put on a full-court press to pressure the Nevada Democratic Party into dropping Fox. Nevertheless, the campaign was falling short, with Nevada Democrats, the state’s top labor leaders, and Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean determined to move forward, until several things happened with Fox News.
First, a frequent commenter on their air, conservative columnist Ann Coulter, called John Edwards a “faggot” at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington on March 2nd. Two days later, Fox News aired the second showing of a comedy show that skewers liberals and Democrats called “The Half-Hour News Hour,” featuring Coulter playing the vice president of the United States to Rush Limbaugh’s president. The show had been filmed and scheduled weeks earlier, but the appearance was galling to many Democrats.
The next night, Coulter appeared on the Fox News program Hannity & Colmes. She was completely unrepentant about her remarks about Edwards, describing them as “a schoolyard taunt.” No one took her seriously to task. This giving Coulter another forum for her antics galled Democrats who backed the debate on Fox News. It also fuel to the somewhat ebbing flames in the lefty blogosphere. Then Fox News ordered 13 more episodes of Half-Hour News Hour.
Criticism of the Fox debate ratcheted up, but according to well-informed sources, Reid, who wasn’t available for comment, pushed to have the Nevada Democratic Party reiterate its strong support for the debate. State party Chairman Tom Collins lined up the various county Democratic chairs and all but one member of the state executive board to put out a statement of support.
Edwards was running a distant third in Nevada behind Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. He had earlier attempted to curry favor with the lefty “netroots,” but the move backfired when he hired and then fired a a pair of bloggers who wrote very scathingly and crudely about the Catholic Church. Irritated by Coulter’s forum on Fox and seeing another opportunity, he announced that he would not participate in the debate.
In reaction, the party altered the parameters of the debate, including, as requested earlier by the MoveOn.org, an Air America panelist, and moved to air the debate on Air America, the bankrupt liberal radio network. Collins then also announced that the Fox broadcast affiliate in Las Vegas would air the debate live, reaching most of the state’s voters in real time.
But MoveOn.org rejected that. Now Fox must be totally out. A group of bloggers told Reid that in a March 8th conference call. However, the debate was still on.
Then, later that night, Fox News chief Roger Ailes delivered a speech to the Radio and TV News Directors Association, after receiving their First Amendment Leadership Award. In it, he joked only about Democratic presidential candidates, didn’t mention the Republican candidates, seemed to many to implicitly threaten Edwards, who had pulled out of the debate earlier in the day, and seemed to some at least to say that Barack Obama is a terrorist.
“And it is true that Barack Obama is on the move,” quipped Ailes. “I don’t know if it’s true that President Bush called Musharraf and said, ‘Why can’t we catch this guy?’”
Reid got word of this and was reportedly angered by the speech and the reference to Obama. Reid has not commented, but a high-ranking Western Democrat says he called New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, the presidential candidate and former Clinton Cabinet member who was committed to the debate, and asked him to pull out. Richardson, the first Latino presidential candidate and the leading longshot candidate, did so.
The debate seemed to be off. Then party leaders in Las Vegas, notably chairman Tom Collins, dug in their heels. Ailes’ joke, after all, seemed to be more about Bush than Obama. Collins refused to pull the plug. “I’m not dropping the debate,” he said. “I’m not dropping Fox. The majority of the elected state party supports keeping this debate. That’s the executive board and elected officials.”
But the activists had screaming headlines on their blogs about the Obama joke. And there was what seemed to be Ailes’ arguably menacing reference to Edwards: “Any candidate for high office of either party who believes he can blacklist any news organization is making a terrible mistake about journalists. 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.”
The comments were easily defensible by themselves. But taken as a package of events since Coulter’s attack on Edwards a week earlier, Fox News had become radioactive. Collins agreed to sign a letter with Reid pulling the plug, saying: “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 the aftermath, Obama said he didn’t take real offense at Ailes’ joke. “I’ve been called far worse.”
The most anti-war candidate, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, took great exception to the decision to drop the debate. “If you want to be the President of the United States, you can’t be afraid to deal with people with whom you disagree politically,” Kucinich said. “No one is further removed from Fox’s political philosophy than I am, but fear should not dictate decisions that affect hundreds of millions of Americans and billions of others around the world who are starving for real leadership.”
It seems a screw-up on all ends. The lefty blogosphere seems to think it can redefine reality by declaring Fox News to be a less than legitimate news outlet. They run the risk of looking like censors. Worse, they won’t change reality. Fox News exists and every serious Democrat knows it. Even John Edwards says he’ll continue his relationship with Fox, which he’s appeared on dozens of times in the past few years.
The Democrats look like they are kow-towing to an unruly constituency group in the activist bloggers and, worse, look like they have a limited sense of humor. The Ailes joke is actually funny. It’s mainly about Bush.
Fox News looks like it has limited political sense, giving up its air to the likes of Coulter — first on the alleged comedy show, then giving her a mostly unchallenged forum after her slur of Edwards — and then going on to order up more episodes of the Democrat-bashing show and have its news chief give an unfortunately-timed, impolitic speech.
Somewhere there are sensible people. But not in this mess.