As the Democrat primary race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton continues to the bitter end, both candidates and their supporters are doing whatever they have to do to squeeze every last vote out of the electorate. Heading into two more close contests in Indiana and North Carolina this week, Democrats have broken their unofficial boycott of the right-leaning Fox News Channel and “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.”
It began last week, when Obama appeared on “Fox News Sunday.” For several weeks, Wallace chided the Obama campaign, going so far as to mock him with an “Obama Watch” clock that counted the number of days Obama had been avoiding the program. The “Obama Watch” finally ended last week, and his interview with Wallace was widely praised – Obama deftly answered questions about Rev. Wright and American flag lapel pins that he had previously tried to brush off as “distractions.”
Not to be outdone, Hillary Clinton ended her longtime boycott of Fox News’ popular “The O’Reilly Factor” last week, giving an interview that was broadcast in four parts over three days. The interview itself didn’t break news, as Clinton repeated her intention to raise taxes on the rich, provide free health care, and prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon without waterboarding anyone. O’Reilly challenged Clinton when he disagreed with her, but he didn’t go for any cheap “gotcha” moments. In the end, the interview worked out for everyone involved – the New York Post reports that the first night of the Clinton interview drew 3.7 million viewers, a 42% increase over “The Factor’s” year-to-date ratings.
Both the Clinton/O’Reilly and Obama/Wallace interviews worked brilliantly, and ultimately they provided each candidate with a friendly forum in which to air their views. Because Fox News’ right-wing bias is widely accepted, both Clinton and Obama were exceptionally well prepared for their time in the spotlight. For his part, Obama got a much-needed opportunity to demonstrate his gravitas amid questions about his experience and judgment. For her part, since the MSM turned on Clinton following her Super Tuesday defeats, she needed the attention of a high-profile chat with O’Reilly. Everybody won.
Almost everybody – the ideological purists that make up the Democrat grassroots have been apoplectic over party officials’ failure to hide from the highly-rated cable news network. Daily Kos honcho Markos Moulitsas has said Democrats are “idiotic” to legitimize Fox News with their appearances.
On this week’s “Fox News Sunday,” there were no Republicans to be found – the guests were DNC Chairman Howard Dean, and former chairmen Terry McAuliffe and Joe Andrew. Dean must have had Daily Kos on his mind, because he made a point to be demonstratively indignant. When Chris Wallace asked why the DNC was running an ad that shamelessly distorts John McCain’s “100 years” comment about Iraq, Dean implied that the question was illegitimate and biased, saying “if the Republican National Committee would like to pay for [this interview] then I’d be happy to do it.” But Dean dissembled badly when Wallace played video of McCain’s full remark, which showed that the editing of the DNC ad was manifestly deceptive. Not that there was much Dean could have said – the ad is indefensible.
Dean also accused the GOP of “race-baiting” by using ads that feature Obama’s former pastor Jeremiah Wright. When Wallace pointed out that Obama himself said on last week’s “Fox News Sunday” that Rev. Wright was a legitimate political issue, Dean rambled on with some unconvincing anti-McCain talking points. In the grand finale, Wallace pointed out that Dean himself had avoided Fox News entirely for 19 months prior to that morning. This gave Dean an opening to proclaim that Fox News was “shockingly” biased, but that he didn’t hold anything against its audience.
Overall, it was a typically pitiful performance from Dean, but that shouldn’t concern the Daily Kos/Moveon.org constituency. Unlike Clinton and Obama (who actually have to win votes), Dean used his Fox News appearance to pander to his party’s left wing (who actually write the checks that fund the campaigns). So Dean gave the people what they wanted – his usual pugnacious, dishonest repertoire.
To really drive the point home, “Fox News Sunday” later had a panel segment about Democrats’ sudden fondness for their network. Obviously, no one on the panel criticized their employer on the air. When they discussed Democrats’ decision to boycott Fox News debates in 2007, Brit Hume charitably observed that it may have been a shrewd fundraising move to appeal to the grassroots early in the primary season. Now that the race is down to two, the candidates and the DNC need to get their messages out to as many voters as possible. Even Chairman Dean had said earlier that hundreds of thousands of registered Republicans have voted in the Democrat primary, which was the only sensible point he made.
Democrats would be foolish to avoid Fox News just to appease a powerful but narrow slice of the electorate. They’re not going to spread their message by taking softballs from ratings-follower MSNBC. If anything, Daily Kos should applaud Democrats for eschewing the comfortable MSM cocoon and taking the debate into unfriendly territory. Rigid adherence to ideology isn’t part of a winning election strategy. As Brit Hume also observed, it was John Edwards who led the Fox News boycott in 2007. Edwards finished second in the Iowa, distant third in New Hampshire, and was never heard from again.