Over the past week and a half, many of us have been engaged in a very public conversation with the Nevada Democratic Party leadership on their choice to have Fox News host a Presidential forum in August in Nevada. 3500 of you sent emails to Nevada State Party Chair Tom Collins through Blogpac. Moveon has a petition, and Robert Greenwald has created a video at FoxAttacks where the petition is hosted to demonstrate the partisan nature of Fox News as an information source.
The argument that we've made is not that the Fox News audience is bad in and of itself. It's important to talk to the whole public; the election of Howard Dean to DNC Chair was about the 50 state strategy, and no one has pushed that strategy harder than the progressive wing of the party. And it worked, in 2006, as we elected a whole host of members of Congress that seemed unlikely to win when insiders in DC were drawing up their prognostications for yet another swing state strategy. No, the problem that we have is that allowing Fox News to singlehandedly host the debate gives that channel the legitimacy of claiming to be a real news source. If the Democratic Party places its highest and most valuable political debate - that over our nominee to the Presidency - on Fox News, we are giving a Republican partisan news outlet the ability to argue that they are not biased. We force thousands of diehard Democrats to watch a Republican propaganda outlet, and allow Fox News to spin and impute meaning to the debate. This is a serious problem.
The reaction to our reasonable request has unfortunately not been what we had hoped. Harry Reid has basically stayed silent, and as one of the most powerful Democrats in the country, and certainly the most powerful in Nevada, he has a part in this decision. It's hard to believe that he would not take some interest in a Presidential forum in his state. After a few days, several Nevada union leaders, including Danny Thompson of the Nevada AFL-CIO, D. Taylor of the Culinary Union, and Rusty McAllister of the Firefighters, backed the choice of Fox News by Tom Collins of the Nevada State Democratic Party, arguing that Democrats need to reach out to a diverse audience segment. Of course, Fox News makes regular and dishonest arguments against the minimum wage, for corporate abuses, and for privatizing Social Security. Prominent Fox News figures use misleading statistics to bolster the case for right-wing economics, and we can be sure that Fox News is very willing to spread lies about stronger labor law protections.
The reaction was not uniformly negative. Michael Zahara, a Clark County member of the Nevada State Democratic Party's Executive Board, bravely and publicly argued that this decision was a poor one, and more to the point, was made in a veil of secrecy.
In the case of the decision to include FOX News in our partisan pre-caucus debate this August, apparently those who made this decision forgot who and what FOX News is and who and what our opponents are. This was not a NV Dems decision, this was a unilateral move without the consultation of the Executive Board of the Democratic Party of the State of Nevada, nor the executive boards of the other sponsor states.
He went on to point out that grassroots Nevada Democrats are unhappy with this decision:
The overwhelming majority of our State Central Committee and our voters have a big problem with this decision. My email box is filled with the opinions of those who elected me to my position on the Board and others. 75% are in favor of my views on this matter.
Despite various leaders backing the decision with lukewarm calls for diversity, it looks like the majority of Nevada Democrats paying attention to this discussion do not like Fox News's role in the Presidential forum.
Now to be clear, many of us who disagreed with the Nevada Democratic Party's choice of Fox News are not averse to having Fox News broadcast the debate. We simply object to having Fox News legitimized as a neutral news source by being the sole host of the debate. As such, some of our allies asked the Nevada Democratic Party if they would allow Air America to co-host the debate and have equal panelists to balance Fox News and their partisan approach to politics. This would have accommodated their desire to reach conservatives while also making it clear that Fox is not a neutral news outlet. It would further increase the diversity of the viewership of the debate. I believe that we're open to other arrangements as well, anything that does not legitimize Fox News as a neutral news outlet.
The Nevada State Democratic Party rejected these requests. Tom Collins, who is the Chair of the Party, apparently does not think that Fox News's partisan agenda is enough to warrant a reexamination of the debate arrangement, or even a real conversation about how the party handles the Presidential contest. In fact, it's impossible to find out who made the decision to let Fox News host the debate. As Michael Zahara said:
Regrettably, no one is owning up to this mistake and by all appearances,it was FOX that came with their Trojan Horse to those who made this decision. We simply don't know what the truth is at this point, and likely never will.
I'm less concerned with who is responsible and more interested in immediately relieving FOXNEWS of their participation in our partisan event and protecting our candidates and Caucus...
As I said before, none of us on the Executive Board of the NSDP, or the other states were in the loop on this. The outgoing Chair may have felt that he had the authority to act unilaterally, but many of us believe he should have consulted us. Trust that this decision very likely wouldn't have passed a vote of our E-Board, and would not have garnered the support of our State Central Committee here in Nevada.
Clearly something is not right in how this decision was made. Nevada Democrats do not support it, the Executive Board never voted on it, and I doubt that many who mouthed support for this decision were fully briefed on what this decision meant.
What is needed right now in Nevada is the kind of leadership shown by Democrats like Michael Zahara. Senator Reid, the most powerful official in Nevada and a key leader in the national Democratic Party, is either part of these decisions or could substantively accommodate our legitimate concerns. At this point, he's simply being silent and evasive, just like the Nevada Democratic Party (this despite Fox News's constant and baseless attacks on his patriotism and character).
Please call Reid's offices and ask him to not legitimize Fox News as a neutral news outlet. If you are not in Nevada, use this number: 202-224-3542 / Fax: 202-224-7327
If you live in Nevada, use this number, which is restricted to 775 and 702 area codes: 1-866-SEN-REID (736-7343)
It's time to let Senator Reid know that we want him to act like a good Democrat and ensure that the candidate forum in August treats the Democratic Party and our Democratic leaders vying for the Presidency with the respect that they deserve. Treating Fox News as a neutral news outlet by letting them solely host this debate does not do that.
And feel free to leave an account of your conversation in the comment thread.
Follow Matt Stoller on Twitter: www.twitter.com/matthewstoller