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Fox News Channel pins down the donkey at 2004 Democratic convention

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Skybox palooza at the 2004 Democratic convention in Boston.

Note to readers: In this seventh in a series of look-backs at past national political conventions, it’s Fox News Channel arriving unbowed at the 2004 Democratic gathering in Boston. This article originally was published on July 26, 2004.

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
BOSTON -- Fox News Channel again finds itself in the belly of the beast, namely the donkey-themed Democratic Party’s quadrennial national convention.

It’s otherwise a different story. The “Fair and Balanced” network saunters into town as a solid No. 1 in the cable news Nielsen ratings. It must be doing something right, and not necessarily always right of center. Former ABC News stalwart Brit Hume, who joined Fox news at its inception in 1996, said he’s not looking for conservative angles, just new ones.

“It’s not so much addressing an imbalance in coverage, but just doing it in a different way,” he said after his regular stint as a panelist on Fox News Sunday. “Get it right and be different. It’s a huge element of what we do. It’s what I think our viewers appreciate.”

Four summers ago, Fox enjoyed a ratings surge during the Republican convention but remained well behind front-running CNN. At the subsequent Democratic gathering, though, Fox fell with a thud into third place in the cable news wars, even trailing ratings-starved MSNBC. It cemented a prevailing perception that Fox and its viewers greatly prefer the company of elephants.

“It’s possible that CNN will win the ratings here. I wouldn’t consider it all unlikely,” Hume said. “If we don’t win here, people will say, ‘You see, it’s a right-wing network.’ But if we go to New York and win the Republican convention, will people say the same thing about CNN that they’d say about us? I wonder.”

At a production meeting earlier Sunday morning, Hume also wondered aloud whether Fox should devote any on-air attention to CNN’s newest wrinkle, a convention floor anchor platform that might be blocking the view of several state delegations.

“The question is whether CNN’s little floor stage is worth a . . . well, it’s a hoot,” Hume said.

Meanwhile, at least two high-level Democrats played ball with Fox on Sunday morning. New Mexico governor and convention chairman Bill Richardson and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell parried with Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace, who told them “Great job” afterward. There was an easy camaraderie among the three, with Wallace jokingly telling Rendell, “I can ask the meanest question I want, and you just go right to your talking points.”

Wallace left ABC News late last year to take over Fox News Sunday from Tony Snow. He quickly landed Democratic guests who previously had shunned the network, most notably Hillary Rodham Clinton. National Public Radio commentator Juan Williams, who regularly supplies a left-of-center voice on the program, said he feels less pigeonholed at Fox than he did as a co-host of CNN’s Crossfire.

“At CNN they’d say, ‘You really have to hold up the left portion, and you have to be the black guy.’ Here it’s more intellectually free. They have that strong, conservative position anchored, so I’m the variable. Sometimes I even agree with Brit.”

Still, Fox enters the Democratic convention in the crosshairs of Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism. Co-produced by the openly liberal MoveOn.org, the new documentary film features former Fox news personnel saying they regularly received Republican marching orders from their bosses.

“I’ve seen the film,” Wallace said. “It’s about as biased and intellectually dishonest as Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit: 9/11, but without any of the sense of humor or productions qualities. It doesn’t bother me because it’s so foreign and unrepresentative of the place I work. Has it made it more difficult to get Democrats on the show? Not a bit.”

Hume said that Fox is fair game for envious enemies.

“We had a choice,” he said. “We could be liked and accepted and popular with our competitors, or we could be No. 1. We couldn’t be both.”

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net