Fox News Sunday panel ignored Edwards' reasons for skipping Fox debate

››› ››› RYAN CHIACHIERE

On Fox News Sunday, while discussing John Edwards' decision not to participate in a Fox-sponsored Democratic debate in Nevada, panelists Bill Kristol, Juan Williams, Brit Hume, and Nina Easton all ignored Edwards' specific criticism of Fox News.

On the March 11 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, during a discussion regarding Democratic presidential candidate and former Sen. John Edwards' (NC) decision not to participate in a Fox News-sponsored Democratic debate in Nevada, the show's roundtable ignored entirely Edwards' explicitly stated reasons for withdrawing from the event. Indeed, the panel discussion included no mention of a March 9 email, in which the Edwards campaign cited two reasons why they had pulled out of the debate: Fox News' "blatant lies about Senator [Barack] Obama's [D-IL] background" and the network's decision "to give [right-wing pundit] Ann Coulter a platform to spew more hate a few days after her bigoted attack on Senator Edwards and the gay community."

Host Chris Wallace led off the segment by airing a controversial joke Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes made while accepting the Radio-Television News Directors Association & Foundation's First Amendment Leadership Award: "[I]t is true that Barack Obama is on the move. I don't know if it's true that President Bush called [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf and said: 'Why can't we catch this guy?' " Wallace went on to report that the Nevada State Democratic Party later cancelled the debate entirely, citing Ailes' joke as one of the reasons for its decision.

After Wallace read from the Nevada state party's March 9 statement -- in which it stated that Ailes' comments about Obama "went too far" -- the panel launched into a discussion that repeatedly returned to Edwards' decision not to participate. Weekly Standard editor and Fox News contributor Bill Kristol accused Edwards of "pandering to the left wing of the party." National Public Radio senior national correspondent and Fox News contributor Juan Williams said that not participating in the debate was "contrary to the principles that should be advocated by anybody who says they're liberal or progressive," adding that "it should be liberals who are flying the flag for open and full-throated debate." Fox News Washington managing editor Brit Hume said that Edwards "is really the key player in this" and that his decision "pleases the wing of the party which is active and important in the nominating process."

But despite focusing the discussion largely on Edwards' opting out of the Nevada debate, neither Wallace nor any of the panelists noted that Edwards had cited two specific incidents involving Fox News as his reasons for withdrawing.

On March 6, Edwards' deputy campaign manager Jonathan Prince emailed the Daily Kos' Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, writing that Edwards would "not be participating in the Fox debate," and added: "By the end of March, we will have attended three presidential forums in Nevada -- and there are already at least three proposed Nevada debates." The email concluded: "We're definitely going to debate in Nevada, but we don't see why this needs to be one of them."

Later on March 9, the Edwards campaign sent an email to supporters, stating that "Fox News has already proven they have no intention of providing 'fair and balanced' coverage of any Democrat in this election." In support of this assertion, the statement noted that Fox News has "run blatant lies about Senator Obama's background" and that "Fox was only too happy to give Ann Coulter a platform to spew more hate a few days after her bigoted attack on Senator Edwards and the gay community." Media Matters documented both of the instances to which the Edwards campaign referred.

As Media Matters noted, on January 19, several Fox News hosts touted a since-discredited InsightMag.com article reporting that "researchers connected to" Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) disclosed that Obama "spent at least four years in a so-called Madrassa, or Muslim seminary, in Indonesia" and that "the specific Madrassa Mr. Obama attended" might have taught "a Wahhabi doctrine that denies the rights of non-Muslims."

Media Matters also noted that Fox News' Hannity & Colmes hosted Coulter on March 5 to explain her comments to the Conservative Political Action Conference, where she referred to Edwards as a "faggot." On that program, Coulter claimed that the word "isn't offensive to gays. It has nothing to do with gays. It's a schoolyard taunt, meaning wuss. And unless you're telling me that John Edwards is gay, it was not applied to a gay person."

During the panel discussion, Hume also claimed that "what Edwards knows is that while he may be at war against Fox News, Fox News is not and cannot be at war with him," adding that Fox News correspondents "Carl Cameron and Jim Angle and Major Garrett and you, Chris, in interviews, and I, as a news anchor on a nightly program, are going to continue to treat him in the same fair way that we've always treated him." However, Media Matters has previously noted numerous examples of inaccurate reporting and misinformation about Democrats by Cameron, Angle, Garrett, Wallace, and Hume.

From the March 11 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:

AILES [video clip]: Any candidate for high office of either party who believes he can blacklist any news organization is making a terrible mistake about journalists.

WALLACE: That was the chairman of Fox News Channel, Roger Ailes, responding after former Senator John Edwards announced he would not participate in a debate this summer being sponsored by Fox News and the Nevada Democratic Party.

And we're back now with Brit, Nina, Bill, and Juan. And let me just say right at the outset what a great speech Roger Ailes gave. I want to go firmly on record about that.

But this episode raises an interesting question, because Edwards dropped out after getting pressure from left-wing blogs and groups about the fact that he should have nothing to do with Fox.

Then after Roger's speech, the Nevada State Democratic Party wrote a letter canceling the entire debate. Let's put up what they had to say: "[C]omments 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."

So, what did Roger Ailes say that was so objectionable? Here it is.

AILES [video clip]: 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?"

WALLACE: Brit, what's going on here?

HUME: Well, that was obviously a joke on the president, the idea being he didn't know the difference between Barack Obama and Osama bin Laden. I think everybody in the room got it.

I don't think the Nevada Democratic Party was the least bit offended by that comment. I think the Nevada Democratic Party wanted to pull the plug on this debate because it -- like the Edwards campaign -- was under intense pressure from the bloggers and other leftist elements within the party, to which the party is at times remarkably responsive. But looking at -- Edwards is really the key player in this, and when you think about it for a minute, in the short term, this is probably a shrewd political move by him on a couple of counts.

One is that it separates him from the other candidates, at least briefly. It pleases the wing of the party which is active and important in the nominating process. And what Edwards knows is that while he may be at war against Fox News, Fox News is not and cannot be at war with him.

He knows, and his people know, that Carl Cameron and Jim Angle and Major Garrett and you, Chris, in interviews, and I, as a news anchor on a nightly program, are going to continue to treat him in the same fair way that we've always treated him. And we must do that.

Now, he may get roughed up by some conservative commentators on Fox, but he'll be defended by liberal commentators on Fox as well. So, in the short term, this is probably good politics. In the long term, I have my doubts, but that remains to be seen.

EASTON: This is a bigger political story than just this debate or the Nevada Democratic Party. This is really about the power of the liberal left blogging community, which I think we're going to see play out.

We've already seen bits and pieces of it. Keep in mind, it was the blogging community that very much put pressure on presidential candidates to renounce their vote about Iraq. And Hillary Clinton's paid the price in that community for this. John Edwards did renounce his vote and it was part and parcel of that pressure coming.

And this is going to be something that the Democratic candidates are going to have to respond to all through the campaign there. And Edwards, I think, is more aligned with that community than the other candidates. It's going to be a difficult road at points for them.

WALLACE: Bill, here's the question I have. What would the mainstream media say if a Republican candidate were to cave in to right-wing blogs and right-wing interest groups and say, "I'm not going to have anything to do with CBS News or The New York Times"?

KRISTOL: You know, I thought about that. Certainly, the right dislikes The New York Times as much as the left dislikes Fox News. And if, yeah, a candidate refused to appear at a forum -- I don't think it ever happens, does it?

You know, one feels one should treat the media -- one has to be open to the media. Look, if the Democrats don't want Fox to sponsor a debate, I suppose that's their business. But what it tells me is, you know, that the Democratic Party has moved to the left.

John Edwards appeared on Fox News Sunday -- what? -- four times between late 2003 and late 2004. I remember chatting with him.

WALLACE: He came on regularly and, quite frankly, I hope he comes back. He's welcome anytime. He's an interesting political figure.

KRISTOL: Yeah, and I noticed that his spokesman left open the possibility of appearing on Fox. They don't want to really close the door.

So, it's just a pandering to the left wing of the party, which they're doing on trivial things, like who hosts a debate in Nevada, and serious things, like putting -- undercutting our attempt to win the war in Iraq.

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, there's just no question, we live in an era of niche journalism. And in niche journalism, Fox is more conservative, and so what you have is a situation here where Fox is the new guy on the block. We're 10 years old.

And you have people then coming along saying, "Well, Fox is practicing a kind of journalism that is preferential towards Republicans or the White House." I think it's more conservative and contrarian than anything. But that's all true.

But then it comes to the point where -- so what are you going to do? You don't like the kind of broadcasting that Fox does -- although it's quite successful, has a legitimate audience, people are listening and being informed on the basis of Fox journalism -- and then you're going to say, "We're not going to play ball with them."

To my mind, that is contrary to the principles that should be advocated by anybody who says they're liberal or progressive -- whatever kind of language they want -- in this country. You want open and full- fledged, full-throated debate. That's what you want.

And nobody said that this wasn't going to be a legitimate debate with real questions that would put candidates in a position to offer real answers. They would be given time.

WALLACE: You're fired up.

WILLIAMS: Well, I think it's crazy that you tell the people shut up. I mean, I sometimes have this argument with Brit Hume. I think he's trying to shut me up. But I think it should be liberals who are flying the flag for open and full-throated debate, you know?

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