And the Fox News chairman-CEO is naming names.
"If [Edwards] doesn't have enough sense to show up and turns off the largest cable audience, he's going have to accept the consequences," Mr. Ailes told Advertising Age. "People are going to realize he sold out."
"He has the right to not show up at any thing he doesn't want to show up at. That's his decision. But we know what he is saying privately. He's been on Fox News 33 times [since August 2000]. And he's been on in January. All of a sudden, the far left is funding him, and he has a different view. That's interesting."
Mr. Ailes said he hasn't contacted Mr. Edwards directly.
"Why? So we can get into a fight and he can say to the left-wingers, 'See, I'm in a fight with Fox News?' He's trying to suck us into that," he said.
Mr. Ailes made these comments following a speech in Washington to the Radio and Television News Directors Association that harshly criticized Mr. Edwards, though not by name. In the speech, he warned presidential candidates against boycotting a debate based on a media sponsor.
"The public knows if a journalist's question is unfair. They also know if a candidate is impeding freedom of speech and free press. If you are afraid of journalists, how will you face the real dangers in the world?" Mr. Ailes said.
'a terrible mistake'
"Any candidate for high office of either party who believes he can blacklist any news organization is making a terrible mistake about journalism. 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."
Mr. Edwards' decision not to participate followed pressure from MoveOn.org and Democratic bloggers who believe Fox's news isn't balanced. They have been pushing the Nevada Democratic Party to drop Fox as host of the August debate and asking Democratic presidential candidates to skip the debate unless Fox is dropped. Mr. Edwards is the first candidate to drop out, citing Fox's reputation and a crowded schedule. He reported his decision to the Daily Kos website March 6 and publicly March 7.
Fox immediately issued a statement saying it regretted his decision and that Mr. Edwards would miss a big audience.
But Mr. Edwards' withdrawal and continued complaints from Democrats who see Fox as a political enemy did prompt some changes in the Aug. 14 debate. A state party spokesman said a "progressive" would be among the questioners and a Las Vegas Fox broadcast affiliate and an Air America radio affiliate 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.
But even that attempt to control debate parameters came under fire from Mr. Ailes in his RTNDA speech.
"The organizations and the panelists have been the objects of a lot of advice and even pressure on how these debates should be conducted and what questions should be asked," he said. "This pressure has been successfully resisted, but it is being tried again this year with the added wrinkle that candidates are being asked to boycott debates because certain pressure groups want to approve the sponsoring organization."
Yet the Fox chief may have more reason to be angry: As press time approached March 9, rumors swirled onto the web via ThePolitico.com and the Drudge Report that the Democratic Party had nixed the Nevada debate. Neither the party nor Fox would confirm the reports.