WASHINGTON - The Fox News Channel - a network that claims to be "fair and balanced" - has been snubbed by the leading Democratic presidential hopefuls who have refused to participate in a series of political debates it is organising.Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have made clear they will not take part in a debate, co-sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus Institute. Last week, John Edwards, another senior Democratic hopeful, said he would not take part.
The decision leaves the event's organisers with a hole in their line-up, though so far the debate is still scheduled to go ahead in Detroit on 23 September. More importantly, the decision underlines the visceral hatred felt by many Democrats and liberals towards Fox News and its slogan: "We report, You decide".
A spokesman for Mr Obama, who is a member of the CBC, said the Illinois senator was not intending to snub the CBC Institute and that he would participate in another debate it was co-sponsoring with the CNN channel. "CNN seemed like a more appropriate host," Mr Obama's spokesman, Bill Burton, said.
Mr Obama has hada testy relationship with Fox News. He was said to be deeply angry earlier year when the channel repeated a false claim that he had attended a radical Islamic school when he was a child in Indonesia.
Last month, the head of Fox News, Roger Ailes, further angered Mr Obama's supporters when he told a joke at the News Directors Foundation Dinner in Washington in which he compared the senator's name to that of Osama bin Laden.
After Mr Obama made it known he would not be participating in the debate, Mrs Clinton followed suit. Her spokesman, Phil Singer, said Mrs Clinton already had commitments to participate in a debate in South Carolina. "We're going to participate in the DNC [Democratic National Committee]-sanctioned debates only," he said. Mrs Clinton and Mr Obama have agreed to participate in six such debates.
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Liberal activists have been pressuring and lobbying candidates not to participate in Fox-sponsored events. Last month, the Nevada Democratic Party cancelled a debate that Fox was due to co-sponsor in August, as a result of Mr Ailes' comments.
In a letter to Fox News, Nevada's Democratic chairman, Tom Collins, and the US Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, said Mr Ailes "went too far". They added: "We cannot, as good Democrats, put our party in a position to defend such comments. We take no pleasure in this, but it the only course of action."
At the time, the vice-president of Fox News, David Rhodes, responded, claiming that Democrats had given into pressure from activist groups such as MoveOn.org, which had been among those campaigning for Democrats not to participate. "News organisations 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 Democratic Party," he said in a statement. "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."
In his Washington speech, Mr Ailes had made a joke likening Mr Obama's name to that of the al-Qa'ida leader whom US and Pakistani authorities have failed to find. He said: "It's true 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'?"
Fox: Never far from controversy
- In January, Fox repeatedly followed up an article in Insight magazine accusing presidential hopeful Barack Obama, who attended a mixed religious school in Jakarta, of going to an extremist madrassa. An aide to Obama called the story "appallingly irresponsible"
- In November, public outrage forced Fox to cancel an interview with O J Simpson in which the former gridiron star revealed how he would have committed the murders he was once accused of, had he actually done so. Calling the interview an "ill-considered project", Fox's owner Rupert Murdoch pulled the interview
- Fox has been criticised for axing staple shows with small, but dedicated, audiences. The network pulled the low-rating Arrested Development in 2005 despite it winning an Emmy for best comedy series
- In 1997 two reporters were fired by Fox after defying bosses who wanted them to change the angle of a story on bovine growth hormone. A jury initially ruled that Fox had ordered the reporters to distort the facts, but the ruling was overturned after an appeal
© 2007 Independent News and Media Limited