Democrats Roil Over Fox News Debate Telecast

Presidential Hopeful Edwards Pulls Out, Prompting Format Changes

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards is bailing on a Nevada Democratic Party presidential debate scheduled to air on Fox News. And while Democratic bloggers and liberal groups are claiming it as a victory over the network, Fox says Mr. Edwards is passing up a golden opportunity to reach out to a wider audience.
John Edwards decision to drop out of a Democratic debate to be aired in Fox and the continued complaints from liberals are prompting some changes in the Aug. 14 debate.
John Edwards decision to drop out of a Democratic debate to be aired in Fox and the continued complaints from liberals are prompting some changes in the Aug. 14 debate. Credit: Nancy Kaszerman

Shortly after the Democratic Party announced a primary debate hosted by Fox News Channel, bloggers and left-wing activists raised a cry, basically accusing party leaders of working with the enemy. They've called for the party to jettison what they consider the media arm of the Vast Right-wing Conspiracy and urged candidates to skip the debate.

Prompts changes
Mr. Edwards is the first to do so. His decision and the continued complaints are prompting some changes in the Aug. 14 debate. A state party spokesman said last night that a "progressive" would be among the debate questioners and that a Las Vegas Fox broadcast affiliate and an Air America radio station would air the debate live. C-SPAN will air repeats.

"We offered an agreement that addressed those that wanted to hear that debate without having to do so on Fox News Channel," said Jamal Simmons, the Nevada party spokesman. He said labor leaders and national party officials now support the debate.

Mr. Edwards' campaign announced its decision in an e-mail March 6 to the website Daily Kos.

Fox News said it regretted the senator's decision.

"It's unfortunate that Sen. Edwards has decided to abandon an opportunity to reach the largest mainstream cable-news audience in America," said David Rhodes, the network's VP-news.

Campaign statement
In a statement yesterday, the Edwards campaign said Fox's involvement was one of many reasons for its decision.

"We're already planning to participate in a jam-packed schedule of debates across this country. We can't attend every single forum. By the end of this month, we will have already have attended three forums in Nevada, and we will be participating in others. Given the wealth of options, the August debate just doesn't seem to be the best use of Sen. Edwards' time," it said.

Bloggers and interest groups cheered Mr. Edwards' decision.

"We applaud John Edwards for sending a clear message to voters, the media, and other candidates: Fox is part of the right-wing smear machine and should not be treated like a legitimate news outlet," said Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn.org Civic Action.

MoveOn launched a petition it said was signed by more than 260,000 people.

"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," said the petition.

Reaction from Democrats
Since announcing the debate in mid February, the Nevada Democratic Party has been barraged with reaction from Democrats angry at Fox's involvement.

A week after the announcement state Democratic chairman Tom Collins took the unusual step of issuing a statement to defend the decision.

"Believe me, I am all too aware of the challenges associated with Fox. And this is not an endorsement of Fox," he said at the time. "But [national committee chairman] Howard Dean has taught us that it's best to stand up and fight everywhere, even in places and among audiences whose opinions may differ from our own. We have an opportunity to showcase our strong field of presidential contenders directly and unfiltered to Fox viewers who include Democrats that we need to re-engage to both grow our party and to win the election."
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