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Stung by Remarks, Nevada Democrats Cancel Debate on Fox
NY Times
March 10, 2007

WASHINGTON, March 9 — Citing comments made by the chairman of Fox News about Senator Barack Obama, and under pressure from liberal groups and blogs, Nevada Democrats announced on Friday night that they had decided to cancel a debate in August on Fox News.

Criticism had been mounting ever since the Aug. 14 debate for Democratic presidential candidates was announced last month. Liberal blogs and groups as well as some Nevada Democrats had demanded that Fox be removed as a sponsor, arguing that its coverage was slanted toward Republicans.

Nevada's Democratic leaders had stood firm against pressure over what had become an unpopular decision, until the Fox chairman, Roger Ailes, made a remark about Mr. Obama on Thursday night at an awards banquet here. In a series of jokes about various public officials as part of a speech, Mr. Ailes said, "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?' "

As the comparison, however made in jest, traveled around the Internet on Friday, the calls for Nevada Democrats to sever ties with Fox News intensified. Activists and bloggers also cited Fox's broadcasting last month of inaccurate statements that Mr. Obama had attended a radical Muslim school while a child in Indonesia.

In a letter to Marty Ryan, an executive producer of Fox, the state's two top Democrats, Tom Collins, head of the party, and Senator Harry Reid, said Mr. Ailes's comments "went too far."

"We cannot, as good Democrats, put our party in a position to defend such comments," the letter said. "In light of his comments, we have concluded that it is not possible to hold a presidential debate that will focus on our candidates and are therefore canceling our August debate. We take no pleasure in this, but it is the only course of action."

In response to the Democrats' decision, David Rhodes, vice president for Fox News, said in a statement: "News organizations 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 Nevada Democratic Party. 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."

Mr. Obama's campaign had no comment on Mr. Ailes's remark.

In the letter, the Nevada Democrats said they had originally hoped the partnership with Fox would reach new voters.

But the liberal blogs reacted strongly. Markos Moulitsas, the founder of Daily Kos, one of the most popular liberal blogs, began polling the Democratic 2008 presidential field to see who would attend the debate. And MoveOn.org had collected more than 250,000 signatures, demanding that Fox be dropped as a sponsor. In response to the query from Mr. Moulitsas, John Edwards said he would not participate. His campaign cited Fox as a factor, as well as a heavy schedule. Mr. Moulitsas reported on Friday that Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, who first had said he would attend, had decided against it.

Nevada Democratic leaders, meanwhile, resisted the pressure for much of the week. Mr. Collins, the head of the state party, had offered a compromise in which an affiliate of Air America would also broadcast the debate, and said a "progressive" voice would be added to the panel of moderators.

Original Text