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Fox News Channel, Giving 'Em More Zell

By Lisa de Moraes
Wednesday, December 15, 2004; Page C07

Sen. Zell Miller, the fire-and-brimstone-preaching Dixiecrat who tried to challenge MSNBC's Chris Matthews to a duel after delivering the keynote speech at the Republican National Convention, has been welcomed with open arms by Fox News Channel.

The cable network announced yesterday it has signed the departing Georgia Democrat as a contributor, beginning in January.

Details were scant. Kevin Magee, FNC's vice president of programming, told The TV Column, "We will plug him in wherever we can use him."

We were hoping for something really zippy from Miller, who electrified the GOP confab in September when he said that "while young Americans are dying in the sands of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrats' manic obsession to bring down our commander-in-chief," but, because his office had closed for the day, all we got was the lamest canned quote in the history of news releases:

"I am excited to be joining Fox News Channel," Miller said in FNC's announcement.

Miller is a lifetime Democrat who's had a 45-year political career. Before starting his term as senator from Georgia in 2000, he was governor of the state for two terms, lieutenant governor for four terms and served two terms as state senator.

But Miller is perhaps best known to the masses for the ruckus he stirred up in both political parties with his wild-eyed keynote speech at the GOP convention at Madison Square Garden, when he declared that Democratic hopeful Sen. John Kerry wanted to arm troops sent to Iraq with only spitballs while "George Bush wants to grab terrorists by the throat." Great stuff.

Afterward, he caused an even bigger sensation when he attacked Matthews on the air during a prearranged post-speech interview, telling Matthews to shut up, calling him "hopeless" and saying he wished he "lived in the day where you could challenge a person to a duel."

Appearing the next day on "Imus in the Morning," Miller seemed to regret his outburst, saying a man his age -- he's 72 -- should not be "coming to New York and getting involved in all this stuff. He ought to stay down in Young Harris [the Georgia town in which he lives] with his two yellow Labs, Gus and Woodrow, and let the world go by."

Apparently Miller, and his agent, have thought better of that decision.

Zell Miller's Really Big Night at the Republican convention was a watershed moment for Fox News Channel as well.

FNC surprised many by beating ABC, CBS and NBC in head-to-head ratings competition on both nights of the televised GOP get-together. And the margin was widest on the night of Miller's keynote, followed by Vice President Cheney's speech.

FNC was watched by an average of 5.9 million viewers between 10 and 11 that Wednesday, easily outstripping NBC's 4.5 million, ABC's 3.3 million and CBS's 2.6 million.

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