No CBC member has urged institute to forgo Fox debate

As chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus Political Education and Leadership Institute, I feel compelled to set the record straight on certain misleading statements and misperceptions noted in The Hill’s April 25 article, “CBC is split over quitting debate on Fox.”

This article stated, “Members of the CBC are pushing their leadership to withdraw from an agreement with Fox News to sponsor a Democratic presidential primary debate on Sept. 23 in Detroit.” This statement is inaccurate in that there is no agreement between the CBC members and Fox News. The CBC institute plans, sponsors and manages these debates. The institute has not been approached by any member of the CBC requesting it to withdraw from the debates on Fox.

The institute is a nonpartisan organization with an objective to educate and inform minority voters. This objective comes with a responsibility to present important national issues from many perspectives. In this respect, the CBC institute’s work complements the work of the CBC. While the CBC and the CBC institute have two distinct governing bodies, the institute’s board values and respects the opinions of the CBC and its individual members. In keeping with that premise, the institute presented its plan for the presidential primary debates at a CBC meeting in February and again at a meeting in April. Both meetings resulted in a clear consensus among CBC members that these debates were valuable to the process of informing America’s minority voters.

The institute will produce four first-rate presidential primary debates (two Democratic and two Republican). Our debates will give all candidates who participate the rare opportunity to speak directly to American voters, unfiltered by any political organization or by any news organization.

The institute sponsored two widely attended, highly rated Democratic candidate debates in the 2004 presidential primary election cycle that were televised on the Fox News network. All Democratic candidates in the 2004 election cycle participated in both CBC institute-sponsored debates on Fox News and were showcased in an unbiased forum.  The 2008 debates on Fox News will be no different. Fox News has a subscriber base of 70 million — a tremendous number of people for the presidential candidates to share their positions on important issues that may not be covered in other forums.

The article noted there were liberal activist groups objecting to a Fox News telecast of the debates, citing Fox’s conservative bias as their primary concern. We understand their position and are sympathetic to their concerns. Our response to that concern is that, as the debate sponsor, the CBC institute will control, and be responsible for all critical decisions pertaining to the debate format, including the journalists invited to serve as moderators, the panel of questioners and other pertinent matters (for example, the airing of commercials during the broadcast).

We look forward to sponsoring four excellent presidential primary debates for the 2008 election cycle and will continue to work with all candidates to secure their participation.

~From Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), Washington, D.C.