By KATHLEEN HENNESSEY
Associated Press Writer
LAS VEGAS (AP) -
The Nevada Democratic Party has canceled an August debate that was to be co-hosted by Fox News Channel, citing comments by the network's president rather than an online protest launched by activists and bloggers who believe the channel is biased.
"Comments made last night by Fox News President Roger Ailes in reference to one of our presidential candidates went too far. We cannot, as good Democrats, put our party in a position to defend such comments," state Democratic Party Chairman Tom Collins and Nevada Sen. Harry Reid wrote in a letter sent Friday to Fox News.
Ailes reportedly made a comment playing on the similarity of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's name to Osama Bin Laden.
"And it is true that Barack Obama is on the move. I don't know if it's true that President Bush called Musharraf and said, 'Why can't we catch this guy?" Ailes said at a Radio & Television News Directors Association Foundation event in Washington on Thursday, according to a transcipt provided by Fox.
Ailes' comment fueled an existing firestorm over Nevada Democrats' partnership with the network. Reid and party leaders had announced the deal for the Aug. 14 in Reno as a way to reach new voters.
MoveOn.org Civic Action, a network of liberal activists, called on the state Democratic Party to drop partnership with Fox, which the group calls "a mouthpiece for the Republican party," two weeks ago.
Fox News vice president David Rhodes said the party's decision Friday showed the online group owns the Democratic Party in Nevada.
"News organizations will want to think twice before getting involved in the Nevada Democratic caucus which appears to be controlled by radical, fringe, out-of-state interest groups, not the Nevada Democratic Party," Rhodes said in a statement.
MoveOn.org quickly declared victory.
"We hope this sets a precedent for all Democrats, that Fox should be treated as a right-wing misinformation network, not legitimized as a neutral source of news," Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn.org Civic Action, said in a statement.
Earlier Friday, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, the only candidate confirmed to attend the debate, had backed out. Former vice presidential nominee John Edwards said earlier in the week he would not attend, and cited Fox as one of the reasons.
The MoveOn.org campaign has distracted and divided state Democrats who've tried to demonstrate cohesiveness and political savvy since national Democrats picked the state to host an early caucus.
The Nevada's Democratic caucus is scheduled for Jan. 19, after the Iowa caucus and before the New Hampshire primary.
The debate was scheduled to be hosted by the party, Fox News, the Democratic parties of Arizona, Colorado, Montana and New Mexico Democratic parties and the Western Majority Project, a political action committee.