Black Caucus Won't Air Debate On Black TV
By Hazel Trice Edney | SACOBSERVER.COM WIRE SERVICES
WASHINGTON (NNPA) - Many people were surprised that Tuesday night's presidential debate, sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus, was aired on a right-wing network that frequently opposes everything the organization stands for.
(Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) defends the group's decision to air Tuesday night's presidential debate on FOX News.)
"FOX (News) has their record of being Right-wing and even racist where Blacks are concerned. And so, the contradiction is that they (CBC) would choose FOX to do this. But the other thing is that FOX saw a moment of opportunity themselves to cover their behinds. They can always say, 'Well, we hosted the Congressional Black Caucus,'" says Ronald Walters, a political science professor at the University of Maryland-College Park. "So it's on both sides, as far as I'm concerned, a negative."
CBC Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) disagrees.
"'We have no permanent friends. We have no permanent enemies. We have only permanent interests,'" Cummings says, quoting former U. S. Rep. William L. Clay (D-Mo.). "Our interest is that we invigorate the African American vote and that people have an opportunity for the first time during this campaign season to see a live debate and FOX offered to do it."
Two Black-oriented networks also wanted to air the debate but were rejected.
"Because we have such an excellent relationship with the CBC, we put forth a strong proposal, in our eyes, and a competitive proposal," says Michael Lewellen, vice president of corporate communications for Black Entertainment Television. "We went on site visits. We put together a budget and we came in tandem with our news partner, CBS. But for reasons which certainly I would defer to your sources at the CBC, the leadership chose to go with FOX News Channel."
BET is now part of the Viacom empire, which also includes CBS. Its majority owner until recently was Robert L. Johnson. Now, Johnson and another African American, Debra Lee, are BET's top executive officers.
"We go to 75 million homes and would have been prime time. Just by design, we would have had a high penetration of African American viewers in particular. BET reaches approximately 95 percent of all Black cable homes in the country," Lewellen says.
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the CBC's 13-member Political Education and Leadership Institute, which sponsored the debate, confirms that BET was the first network that offered to televise the debate but said the network's proposal would have put the CBC in a hole.
"The one charge we had from the board is whatever entity can help us pull this off with the least amount of expenses to us, we go with. It was a business decision. We didn't look at the philosophy of any entity. But, BET, obviously because of who we are, was the entity that we dealt with first," Thompson says.
"My understanding is that (BET) indicated they could do so much and that was it. That was not enough... My understanding is that the costs of production and other costs associated with it, for the most part, FOX was willing to step forward and do," Thompson explains.
Neither Thompson, Cummings, nor BET spokesman Michael Lewellen would say specifically how much money was involved.
At least BET got to bid on it.
That wasn't the case with MBC, which reaches 25 million homes. Its owners include well-known attorney and company CEO Willie E. Gary, boxer Evander Holyfield and former Jackson Five singer Marlon Jackson.
"When they made a decision to go with FOX, we were never even given a chance to come to the table with a proposal," says Greg Morrison, MBC news director. "We wanted to at least see what they were looking for and we never got that opportunity and it's an opportunity we would like to have had."
The first debate was held Tuesday night on the campus of historically Black Morgan State University in Baltimore. The next one is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 26, in Detroit.
FOX News is headed by Roger Ailes, a prominent conservative and political consultant to the presidential campaigns of Ronald Reagan in 1984 and George Bush in 1988 and '92.
CBC spokesman Doug Thornell says talks between Cummings and Ailes began late last spring when Cummings was an invited guest of FOX News at the annual Radio and Television Correspondents dinner.
"Mr. Cummings brought up the fact that the Caucus intended on hosting a couple of debates and asked Mr. Ailes if he would be interested in airing them. Mr. Ailes thought about it and got back with the caucus and Mr. Cummings and then at that point they began to try to work out that agreement," Thornell says.
The seven-year-old FOX News Channel, owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, is a 24-hour general news service available in more than 82 million homes. "Fox could potentially represent a valuable contribution to the journalistic mix if it admitted it had a conservative point of view," states a 15-page Fair.org report on FOX, written two years ago by Seth Ackerman, a contributing writer for Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, a media-watch group.
Max Hilaire, chairman of the political science department at Morgan State, is holding out hopes that the partnership with the CBC may bring about changes.
"I believe FOX News may have realized the importance of the African American participation in the process and that for so long that aspect or that segment of the American electorate has been kept outside of the loop more or less," he says.
Cummings knows that the conservative network's motto, "We report, you decide," should more accurately proclaim, "We report, we decide."
The Baltimore congressman says, "I'm not going to defend what FOX has done in the past. But, the fact is that FOX is the only network that provided the caucus an opportunity to air our debate from a historically Black College, Morgan State University, live to the entire country, every nook and cranny of it. So, we're taking advantage of an opportunity."
Some observers feel FOX is taking advantage of the CBC.
"FOX doesn't often reflect the kinds of positions that members of the CBC sometimes take... Why should the CBC go to the best bidder that may be politically in conflict with some of their views outside of the business decision?" asks Dianne Pinderhughes, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "You make that decision in a narrow context. But it may be that in a broader context, it may be more problematic."
Hazel Trice Edney is a NNPA Washington correspondent.
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