In an age where charges of “bias” flow fast and furious at any reporter or news outlet that doesn’t cover things precisely as a legion of critics thinks is fair, the issue of Fox News’ conservative tilt looms large. Portfolio’s Jeff Bercovici opened a can of worms yesterday by examining the argument, put forward by Fox News’ Chris Wallace, that Democratic presidential candidates refuse to appear on Fox in order to appease the far-left segment of the party’s base.


Bercovici agrees with Wallace, to a point. He says that Democrats don’t go on Fox because “they’re afraid of getting tripped up, caught in a flip-flop or a contradiction.”


But so what? Fox may have a point of view, but it doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it represents tens of millions of Americans. As I’ve said before, I don’t buy the argument that CNN and MSNBC are the ideological mirror-image of Fox, but certainly Chris Matthews and Dan Abrams have obvious biases that they don’t do much to disguise.


Fair enough, and he wraps up by saying that while Democrats will undoubtedly field loaded questions from Fox hosts, they should go on the network anyway, because ignoring a large segment of the American public is worse than being caught in a no-win situation.


Zack Roth over at the New York Observer takes issue with this:


Trying to play nice with Fox, Democrats have concluded, is like trying to play nice with Rush Limbaugh—it’s a game they believe they’re never going to win. Instead, they’ve decided to launch a challenge to Fox’s credibility. To me, that seems like smart long-range politics.


This is a tough one. Both Roth and Bercovici make good points, but in the end I have to go with Bercovici on this one, with a caveat or two. Ignoring Fox’s audience certainly doesn’t contain any net positives for Democratic candidates, and it makes them look petty and unsure of their own positions if they’re unwilling to face the heat from Fox’s partisans. That said, for a Democratic candidate to go on Hannity & Colmes or O’Reilly (even though I think O’Reilly would be much fairer than Hannity) would serve little purpose, as shows like this are pure entertainment—red meat for the true believers. It would be like Giuliani going on Air America—except that Hannity actually has an audience.

Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.