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Movin' On, Chasin' Tails, Ignoring Voters

Excuse me for having gotten this wrong for the last 10 years or so. But I thought the liberals’ big bitch about Fox News was that its claim to be fair and balanced was a sham, that the network was phobic about giving airtime to any view more enlightened than Bill O’Reilly’s loofah-ness.

Now it turns out that just when Fox was set to force-feed its audience a prime-time portion of Democratic presidential campaigning, just when the network had made a deal to partner with the Nevada Democratic Party and broadcast a candidates’ debate set for this August in Reno, the deal got torpedoed. And by whom? Well, by Democrats, silly!

Capitulating to pressure from the ill-named Net Roots, the furiously typing corps of liberal bloggers led by the Daily Kos and MoveOn, the Nevada party has now formally scrapped the debate that would have exposed the Fox audience to the campaigning of all the major, and minor, Democratic presidential candidates.

The Kossacks had run a two-week Web campaign, collecting a quarter of a million signatures, protesting the event. The outraged bloggers argued that by holding the debate on Fox, Democrats would be granting undue “legitimacy” to the conservative network, which, they argue, should not be considered a bona fide news agency. Nor should the network be trusted, said the campaigners, because one of the debate hosts or commentators might say something nasty about the Democrats up onstage.

All in all, this is a ridiculous ending to an even more ridiculous and counterproductive cause. Who would the Kossacks prefer to have aired this debate? Which news organizations are more or less legitimate than the admittedly ideological Fox? Better to have “journalist” Katie Couric, perhaps? Or maybe a crew from ABC, once they get back, that is, from the Bahamas and their team coverage of Anna Nicole? Maybe AC360 is available for the job and willing to import his gravitas into the whole event.

Fox News, meanwhile, has the largest of all cable-news-network audiences, twice the size of CNN’s and three times that of MSNBC — legitimate or not. Prime-time viewership peaks at nearly 2 million. And while the Fox audience definitely skews toward the right, a recent independent survey shows that only 38 percent self-identify as conservative. Bottom line: The liberal sphere has stymied an opportunity to influence millions of voters by keeping its own candidates off this impure network (of course, there was no problem when Bill Clinton went onto that august news-gathering machine known as MTV to talk about his underwear).

Bagging the Nevada debate brings other unintended consequences. In this increasingly compressed presidential-primary season — with perhaps 20 states voting next February 5 — the very same progressives and liberals who led the anti-Fox crusade ought to be the ones fighting to expand and deepen the campaigning. Canceling the August debate in Reno only favors the candidates with the most money, the highest name recognition and the best early poll numbers, i.e., Hillary Clinton.

Cutting down TV-debate time likewise most damages smaller, more insurgent candidacies. I’m not a big supporter of Representative Dennis Kucinich’s sometimes-fringie operation, but his furious response to this debacle, which will deny him one of his few appearances before a national audience, sums up the situation perfectly.

“If you want to be the president of the United States, you can’t be afraid to deal with people with whom you disagree politically,” Kucinich said. “No one is further removed from Fox’s political philosophy than I am, but fear should not dictate decisions that affect hundreds of millions of Americans and billions of others around the world who are starving for real leadership.” He added, “I’m prepared to discuss the war, health care, trade or any other issue anytime, anywhere, with any audience, answering any question from any media. And any candidate who won’t shouldn’t be president of the United States.”

Absolutely correct. You’d have to imagine that any sitting American president will have to be prepared to deal with customers somewhat tougher than a simp like Sean Hannity. Why not start right away?

The problem evidenced in this absurd episode reveals some deeply rooted problems among a new generation of Democrats. Having grown up (if at all) on the Internet, they’re more comfortable sloshing around in the sensory-deprived bubble of their own creation, posting an agitational partisan blurb and then eagerly reading through 343 comments that heartily agree. But winning elections is not about enforcing purity, it is rather about winning over new voters. And they, in turn, can usually be found gathered in great numbers in front of media that don’t agree with you.

A deeper irony here is that both the Fox debate strategy and the campaign to kill it are the political children of Howard Dean. When he took over as chair of the DNC a couple of years ago, he vowed a “50-state strategy” that would aggressively push Democratic campaigning into so-called red states where the party had not before dared to tread. The November midterm win can in part be credited to Dean’s push; so can the notion of using Fox as a platform for a party debate. The managers of Kos and MoveOn also come right out of the Deaniac ranks but apparently with all the wrong lessons. They foremost seek reassuring purity and self-righteous gratification. That’s something different from getting votes.


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