Democratic Presidential Candidates Should Ignore Fox News

by Paul Hogarth on February 23, 2007

Liberal bloggers were outraged this week that the Democratic Presidential candidates have agreed to hold a debate in August in Reno – that will be co-sponsored by and aired on Fox News. joined in the fray with a petition campaign urging the Nevada Democratic Party to drop Fox News as a partner. The right-wing TV station has been widely discredited as an arm of the Bush propaganda machine, leading many activists to question why Democrats would legitimize it as an “objective” news source.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama is so fed up with the smear campaign that Fox News has used against him in recent weeks that his aides have started shutting out its reporters. In San Francisco, Supervisor Chris Daly chose not to attend the Chronicle’s Editorial interview for last year’s election – knowing full well that they were not going to endorse him and his statements would only give them fodder to mislead voters. While it’s all well and good to engage those with opposite points of view, why do progressives continue to give hostile media sources power by acknowledging their influence?

To understand why bloggers are so upset about Fox News’ co-sponsorship, look at how the station hosted a Democratic presidential debate last time around in 2003. During its live coverage, the Fox News graphic – as well as a banner over the stage – titled the event “Democrat Candidate Presidential Debate,” a right-wing epithet made famous most recently in George Bush’s State of the Union Address.

The Fox News debate moderator asked Howard Dean a loaded question that made his views on gun control look racist, and the TV station later summarized the debate with a story titled “Democratic Candidates Offer Grim View of America.” Why the Democrats would choose to have a debate air on Fox News when there are so many news stations available – CNN, MSNBC, PBS – is beyond me.

This year, Fox News has directed a smear campaign against presidential candidate Barack Obama. Repeating a lie that originated from a right-wing magazine, the network claimed that Obama attended a Muslim elementary school as a boy in Indonesia — a “madrassa,” they said, where future Al Qaeda terrorists get trained to hate America. But after CNN did its own independent investigation of the story, we learned that the school in question is actually a secular public school.

Then there’s the issue of Fox News endlessly referring to Obama’s full name (his middle name is Hussein), in a racist allusion that the Illinois Senator is somehow “related” to the Iraqi dictator. And who can forget the big stink that they raised about the fact that — gasp! – Obama smokes cigarettes, with the banner “Would you vote for a smoker as President?” Click here to watch an excellent YouTube video of how Fox News has made attacking Obama their latest cause celebre.

Fortunately, Obama responded in a way that most Democrats are afraid to do – ignore Fox News in order to marginalize it. As the Washington Post reported on January 30th, the Obama camp has “frozen out” Fox News reporters and producers. Since the “madrassa” debacle broke out, Obama has given interviews on ABC, CNN, CBS and NBC – just about any network except Fox News. Why give Fox a platform to attack you and treat them as a legitimate news source, if all they will do is lie about you in a smear campaign to discredit you? If every Democratic candidate followed Obama’s lead, Fox News won’t be able to cover the 2008 Presidential race.

It’s a lesson that San Francisco Supervisor Chris Daly learned a long time ago with the Chronicle. Ever since he first came into office in 2001, the San Francisco Chronicle has used Chris Daly as their favorite whipping boy – a poster child for everything that is “wrong” about the progressive Board of Supervisors. They called him a “walking embarrassment” in 2001, a “juvenile with a clear penchant for fits of adolescent petulance” in 2002, a “second banana” in 2003, an “immature hothead” in 2004, a “combustible, self-centered brat” in 2005, and a “civic embarrassment” in 2006.

When it came time to meet with the Chronicle’s Editorial Board last year for his re-election campaign, Daly told me before hand that he wasn’t going to attend. Why give them an opportunity to distort his message, he argued, when the worst that could happen if he fails to show up is that they’ll chastise him for not attending? Predictably, the Chronicle endorsed Rob Black (guess it didn’t make much of a difference in that race), and they lamented the fact that he skipped their forum. In the end, though, Daly probably made a stronger statement by choosing not to walk into the lion’s den.

Of course, the Chronicle is also the “paper of record” in San Francisco that drives what is considered local news on a daily basis. It’s that reality that forced us to create Beyond Chron three years ago, as a means of getting alternative viewpoints in local politics out in the public consciousness. Chris Daly can’t afford to completely ignore the Chronicle – like the way that national politicians can afford to boycott Fox News. But he wisely chose not to attend their Editorial interviews, because there was no reason to further give the Chronicle more ammunition to attack him with.

Meanwhile, Democratic candidates have no business wasting their time on Fox News – when there are so many news outlets available to host presidential debates. Eventually, we hope that local politicians can do the same with the Chronicle.

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