- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2006

Nearly a week after Bill Clinton’s angry appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” Democrats have turned their vitriol on the Fox News Channel, in what some consider a calculated move to boost the left’s enthusiasm before midterm elections.

“It fires up our base, because they’re glad someone is fighting back and setting the record straight,” said Democratic strategist Donna Brazile.

Since the former president’s interview with Fox’s Chris Wallace was taped last Friday, high-profile Democrats, including California Sen. Barbara Boxer and strategist James Carville, have joined Mr. Clinton’s criticism of the cable news network. Fox’s critics say the persistent questioning of Mr. Clinton’s record on terrorism is indicative of what they consider a conservative bias.

“I do think this is helpful to Democrats for Clinton to go after Fox directly. It’s a smart play,” said Brendan Nyhan, former co-editor of the nonpartisan online watchdog Spinsanity. “Liberals are excited to see someone high-profile go after Fox News explicitly.”

Politicians attacking the media is nothing new. A perceived liberal bias in the mainstream press has been a staple of Republican strategy for decades.

“A reporter has a right to ask tough questions about the issues of the day,” said Michael X. Delli Carpini, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. “The real question is the larger context it’s being done in. It’s not an unreasonable feeling on the part of Democrats.”

Mr. Nyhan says Mr. Clinton’s continued popularity with Democrats helps give his criticism of Fox legitimacy.

On Tuesday, Mrs. Boxer told Fox News anchor Jane Skinner, “I hear that you agree with the [President Bush]. I am not surprised.”

Meanwhile, during an appearance on MSNBC, former Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Terry McAuliffe told host Tucker Carlson, “I know Chris Wallace, I have appeared on the Fox Sunday show many times with Chris Wallace. Let me be crystal clear: Roger Ailes [conservative president of Fox News] pays his paycheck. He is a tool of the Republican Party. … He is what he is, and let’s not deceive ourselves.”

Many of Mr. Wallace’s colleagues have defended his journalistic credentials, noting his previous stints with ABC and NBC. Nonetheless, DNC Chairman Howard Dean echoed Mr. McAuliffe’s sentiment in an e-mail to supporters on Monday, in which he accused Fox of engaging in “right-wing revisionist history from the propaganda machine.”

Despite all the criticism, some think Fox stands to gain as much from the controversy as the Democrats. The interview with Mr. Clinton gave “Fox News Sunday” its highest ratings since the capture of deposed Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein in 2003.

“It’s the Howard Stern effect,” Mr. Nyhan said. “You have half the audience listening because they love it and half listening because they hate it.”

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