By Anne E. Kornblut and Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 7, 2007 8:18 PM
Former Sen. John Edwards campaign announced that he will skip the Nevada Democratic Party's planned August presidential debate, the latest fallout from the party's decision to have the Fox Network host the event.
The move sparked an outcry, particularly among liberals and activist bloggers, who accused Fox of being too sympathetic to Republicans and demanded that the Democratic candidates boycott the forum.
MoveOn.org, one of the nation's leading progressive organizations, gathered more than 250,000 signatures asking the Nevada Democratic Party to drop Fox as a debate sponsor. The group also created a web site -- www.foxattacks.com -- to highlight the issue. Featured prominently on the site is a short film, produced by documentary maker Robert Greenwald, raising questions about the "fair and balanced" coverage provided by the cable network.
"We wanted to send a clear message to voters, the media and the presidential candidates that Fox is part of the right-wing smear machine, not a legitimate source of news," said MoveOn civic communications director Adam Green.
Edwards, who has stepped up his efforts to court liberals in the current race after being his party's vice presential nominee in 2004, became the first to bow out of the debate this week. His deputy campaign manager, Jonathan Prince, sent an email Tuesday to the blog DailyKos that said Edwards will appear at numerous Nevada events, but not the Fox debate. "We're definitely going to debate in Nevada, but we don't see why this needs to be one of them," the posted email read. Prince did not return a phone call and an email seeking further explanation on Wednesday.
Advisers to Sen. Hillary Clinton said she has not yet committed to attending any debates. Clinton has some unlikely ties to Fox: its director, Rupert Murdoch, threw Clinton a fundraiser during her Senate re-election campaign. And in 2005, Murdoch's NewsCorp. retained the services of Howard Wolfson, a top Clinton spokesman, through his consulting firm, The Glover Park Group.
Sen. Barack Obama has also not said whether he will participate in the Fox debate. In becoming the first to bow out, Edwards drew praise from the event's liberal critics, who said they expected other candidates to follow suit.
"This shows he is not only smart but he is willing to be the first to do the right thing," Greenwald, the filmmaker, said of Edwards in an interview.
Nevada organizers said they were seeking compromises to make the event more palatable to the party's base. In a letter to party members on Wednesday, Nevada Democratic Party chairman Tom Collins said organizers had made a "good faith effort" to adjust the parameters of the debate, including getting assurances that the format and panelists will be agreed upon by both Fox and the state party and that there will be opportunities for it to be broadcast through other outlets. Last month, Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean defended the decision to work with Fox, saying the debate was "about talking to voters, not a network." A Fox executive echoed that view on Wednesday.
"It's unfortunate that Sen. Edwards has decided to abandon an opportunity to reach the largest mainstream cable news audience in America," Fox News vice president for news John Rhodes said in a statement.