(1st Add: Includes a response from a spokesman for Fox News Channel.)
Washington (CNSNews.com) - Liberal activists who claim Fox News Channel is not a legitimate news source said that cooperation by several groups was key in preventing the network from hosting debates by Democratic presidential candidates.
Robert Greenwald, a producer/director who hosted a panel discussion Tuesday at the liberal Take Back America conference in Washington, D.C., called collaboration "the C word" -- the element without which their "victory" would have been "totally, completely impossible."
Greenwald's earlier film "Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism" accused Fox News Channel of a right-wing bias. He began Tuesday's discussion by showing a video posted at his FoxAttacks.com website.
The video begins with Christiane Brown, a radio host on KJFK -- a local affiliate in the liberal Air America network -- recalling the morning of Feb. 16, 2007: "I opened up my email, and I saw that the Nevada state Democratic Party was partnering with Fox News [in planning a debate], and ... I could not believe it."
Greenwald is then shown saying: "People immediately got upset about it, but the question was: Can we do anything about this? ... Can we convince them that this is a mistake of serious proportion?"
The video shows Adam Green, civic communications director for the liberal group MoveOn.org, saying that his organization learned of the proposed debate from online bloggers. "We immediately issued a call to action" and started a petition drive for Nevadans to tell the state party not to allow FNC to host the debate.
On his website, Greenwald then posted video clips of what he calls "erroneous and slanted stories Fox ran" about Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), a candidate for his party's 2008 presidential nomination.
"We decided to bring these campaigns together," Green says on the video. MoveOn.org joined local and national bloggers in distributing Greenwald's videos - an example of what Green called "mutually reinforcing activism."
The first candidate to withdraw from the planned debate was former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who cited "a scheduling conflict." Other candidates, including Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), soon pulled out as well.
When the debate was canceled, Greenwald said his reaction was "joy, screaming out loud."
However, as Cybercast News Service reported earlier, Fox News Channel later announced plans to partner with the Congressional Black Caucus Political Education and Leadership Institute to present two 2008 presidential debates.
At that point, a grassroots group of black Americans calling itself ColorOfChange.org launched a letter-writing campaign, again using Greenwald's videos and urging the Congressional Black Caucus to drop Fox News from consideration.
Green announced during Tuesday's panel that although the Fox/CBC debates are still scheduled to go on, Edwards, Obama, Clinton, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson have said they will not take part in them.
He also called the anti-Fox efforts "a blueprint for things that we can continue to do now and in the future, which is finding key leverage points to achieve victories against our opponents."
"If we put in a thousand phone calls to [Fox host] Bill O'Reilly, he would absorb that and really not care," Green acknowledged. "He might even be enthusiastic about the fact that MoveOn is doing that to him."
In these campaigns, by contrast, "we were able to score a huge branding victory against Fox by having the New York Times, ABC News and the Washington Post all write about Fox's right-wing bias by having our friends concede that Fox is a right-wing spin machine."
Greenwald stated that his goal in the project had not initially been about the debate - "because I certainly didn't think we could win in the beginning" - but had instead been "to debrand Fox for the long haul."
The filmmaker's motivation for taking on Fox News Channel appears elsewhere on his website, where he states that "Fox is a Republican mouthpiece masquerading as a neutral 'fair and balanced' news source."
"The more Democrats legitimize Fox as a neutral or credible source of news, the easier it is for Fox to swiftboat Democratic candidates and progressive ideas in the future -- elevating smears and misinformation into the mass media during the 2008 election," it says.
Green from MoveOn.org told the audience Tuesday his next campaign would be to try convince the owners of the Wall Street Journal not to sell the newspaper to FNC founder Rupert Murdoch. He accused Murdoch of wanting to buy the WSJ "to legitimize Fox" and to get "a seat at the gentlemen's table."
Noting that the Bancroft family are majority shareholders, Green said, "Fortunately, they actually care about journalism, and their news pages aren't as bad as their editorial page. The big question in their minds is: Can Rupert Murdoch be trusted?
"So we're trying to begin a people-powered movement to plea with them to watch Robert's videos and listen to their own reporters and to not do this," he told the activists.
A spokesman for Fox News Channel told Cybercast News Service that "MoveOn.org and other groups have a right to free speech."
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