Fox News Chairman/CEO Roger Ailes had a warning Thursday night for candidates who give in to pressure from activist groups to boycott debates: "Any candidate for high office from either party who believes he can blacklist any news organization is making a terrible mistake," he said, suggesting to do so would be impeding free speech.
Ailes did not make the reference explicit, but he was talking about Democrat John Edwards' decision to skip a debate in Nevada in part because Fox was partnering in the effort. Moveon.org has been pressuring the Democratic party to drop Fox from its sponsorship.
Saying he had to add a couple of minutes to his speech--Ailes was receiving the First Amendment Leadership Award from the Radio-Television News Director's Foundation at a dinner in Washington Thursday night----Ailes told the crowd:
"We're heading into a tough political season and all of us will be called upon to do our best and be fair. Recently, pressure groups are forcing candidates to conclude that the best strategy for journalists is divide an conquer, is to only appear on those networks and venues that give them favorable coverage.
"There is a long tradition of news organizations, sometimes local, sometimes together, scheduling candidate debates. These organizations have been the objects of a lot of advice and even pressure as to how these debates should be conducted and what questions should be asked.
"This pressure has been successfully resisted, but has been tried again this year with the added wrinkle that candidates are being urged to boycott debates because certain pressure groups want to approve the sponsoring organizations."
This pressure must be resisted as it has been in the past," he told the crowd.
Ailes said that any candidate who can't answer tough questions from any journalist "runs the real risk of losing the voters." He said the public will be able to tell if a journalist's question is unfair, but that they will also know if a candidate is "impeding free speech and free press."