Democratic Congressman Bennie Thompson, who is chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus Political Education and Leadership Institute, today made something of a pitch in The Hill newspaper for using the Fox News Channel for presidential debates, citing "the unbiased forum" of a pair of debates shown on Fox four years ago.
This time around, the CBC Institute had planned a Democratic presidential debate to be aired on Fox that leading candidates John Edwards, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have vowed to boycott. A second CBC Institute debate to be aired on CNN will not be boycotted.
In a letter to The Hill printed this morning, Rep. Thompson explained that the debates are the work of his institute, and that “the institute has not been approached by any member of the CBC requesting it to withdraw from the debates on Fox.”
Wrote Thompson (emphasis added):
The institute will produce four first-rate presidential primary debates (two Democratic and two Republican). Our debates will give all candidates who participate the rare opportunity to speak directly to American voters, unfiltered by any political organization or by any news organization.
The institute sponsored two widely attended, highly rated Democratic candidate debates in the 2004 presidential primary election cycle that were televised on the Fox News network. All Democratic candidates in the 2004 election cycle participated in both CBC institute-sponsored debates on Fox News and were showcased in an unbiased forum. The 2008 debates on Fox News will be no different. Fox News has a subscriber base of 70 million — a tremendous number of people for the presidential candidates to share their positions on important issues that may not be covered in other forums.
The [previous] article [in The Hill] noted there were liberal activist groups objecting to a Fox News telecast of the debates, citing Fox’s conservative bias as their primary concern. We understand their position and are sympathetic to their concerns. Our response to that concern is that, as the debate sponsor, the CBC institute will control, and be responsible for all critical decisions pertaining to the debate format, including the journalists invited to serve as moderators, the panel of questioners and other pertinent matters (for example, the airing of commercials during the broadcast).