The first presidential primary is 11 months away, but liberals are arguing
among themselves over how to best reach new voters -- and whether to
cooperate with one of their biggest media nemeses. Their dilemma:
Should we Fox?
"Fox," as in partner with the Fox News Channel. Liberal bloggers and the
online political powerhouse MoveOn.org launched a campaign Thursday to persuade
the Nevada Democratic Party to boot Fox News as the broadcaster of the state's
August Democratic presidential debate.
The reason, according to an online letter MoveOn sent to 2 million of its
members Thursday, is that "Fox is a mouthpiece for the Republican Party, not a
legitimate news channel. The Democratic Party of Nevada should drop Fox as its
partner for the presidential primary debate." Joining the chorus Thursday was
liberal filmmaker Robert Greenwald, the director of the anti-Fox film,
"Outfoxed," who released a video online of Fox's coverage of Democratic
But the Nevada party organizers -- and Democratic National Committee
Chairman Howard Dean -- said Thursday that while they may not think much of
Fox's reporting, they want to reach out to viewers of the largest cable news
network, one with double the number of prime-time viewers of CNN. And one whose
believability is much higher with Republicans than Democrats, according to a
2005 study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism.
So why not reach out, party officials say? At a time when President Bush's
approval rating hovers around 30 percent, there may be disgruntled conservative
voters to be found there. The network has broadcast Democratic debates before,
and is close to announcing a second debate it will air in the next week.
And Fox's reaction to this controversy? They're content to watch liberals
fight from a distance, and network officials hope that the buzz will send more
viewers to their debate broadcast. Presidential debates ordinarily double their
audience, and this quarrel could pad that number with those curious about Fox.
Already, MoveOn has accused Fox of trying to skew the election through its
misleading reporting on Democratic candidates, particularly Sens. Barack Obama,
D-Ill., and Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.
Last month, Fox reported -- and later backed off its report -- that
Obama attended a radical Muslim school in Indonesia as a child. It was widely
debunked by other media outlets, including CNN.
In a Feb. 5 appearance on the Fox News program, "Hannity and Colmes," Fox
News commentator Dick Morris said Clinton and former President Bill Clinton
were behind the smear. But when pressed by co-host Alan Colmes for what
evidence he had, Morris said, "No, I just -- obviously they were." And some
of the network's hosts have mocked Obama's middle name, "Hussein."
Bloggers like Matt Stoller of mydd.com are more worried about what the
network's post-debate spin could be. When Fox broadcast a Democratic candidate
debate in September 2003, Stoller noted that the network's post-debate story
was headlined, "Democratic Candidates Offer Grim View of America." It cut away
early from the show, Stoller said, giving conservative pundit William Bennett
first crack at post-debate analysis.
"This is part of an ongoing struggle to convince Democrats and journalists
to stop taking Fox News seriously as a credible news outlet," Stoller wrote in
an e-mail this week to supporters and others. "It's also part of a tug of war
with the media and within the Democratic Party itself, one that will continue
to play out over the course of the 2008 campaign."
For now, the Democratic Party's leaders are ready to work with Fox even if
they get burned by the network that uses the tagline "fair and balanced" for
its coverage. The lead player is Dean, who was elected as party chair on a
strategy to appeal to voters in all states, a strategy that was supported by
many liberal bloggers.
"This is about talking to voters, not a network," Dean said Thursday.
"While the Fox News Channel rarely has coverage that is fair and balanced, we
believe that Fox viewers, who are potential voters, should have the opportunity
to see a debate between our candidates. These forums provide an important
unfiltered opportunity for potential voters to see Democrats without the bias
of the network."
MoveOn organizer Adam Green told The Chronicle in an e-mail: "Everybody
supports reaching out to new people. Fox is giving Democrats one day of news
coverages specifically to have legitimacy while smearing Democrats the other
364 days this year." Green noted that 75 percent of the 10,000 MoveOn members
in Nevada said the party shouldn't be partnering with Fox.
Nevada Democratic Party spokeswoman Kirsten Searer sought to tamp down
concerns about Fox's influence on the broadcast. Each major decision about the
debate, Searer said, "from the background on the stage to the debate moderator,
will be reached by mutual agreement of the state party, Western Majority
Project (a coalition of western Democratic politicians) and Fox News.
"A 50-state strategy means talking to every American. The debate in August
is not an endorsement of Fox. Instead, it is an effort to reach out to Fox
viewers. We will not win elections if we don't win over new people."
Fox News is treating this as an issue for Democrats to work out among
themselves. Marty Ryan, Fox's executive producer of political programming,
shrugged off complaints about the network's coverage cited in Thursday's
"That's the great thing about America. You're free to have those
opinions," Ryan said. "Besides, they're probably drawing more attention to our
coverage of the debate."
Jane Fleming, executive director of Young Democrats of America, appears as
a guest on Fox News two or three times a week, often as the lone liberal
tangling with some of Fox's conservative personalities. She doesn't support, as
some have advocated, freezing out the network -- refusing to appear on-air as
a liberal counterpoint.
"The thing is, if we don't appear, there are plenty of Democrats Fox will
find who aren't really Democrats -- they're just people who will agree with
the host all the time," Fleming said. "We need to be on there pushing back."
© 2007 Hearst Communications Inc.