Fox News Goes Mum As GOP Candidates Boycott Univision Debate

In a peculiar campaign development, most of the Republican candidates for president recently announced they're going to boycott a January debate hosted by Univision, the only candidate forum scheduled for Spanish-language television. The candidates last week instantly heeded the call from Florida Republicans who insisted Miami-based Univision be punished for the way, in one isolated incident, it is alleged to have treated Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).

The development is unusual because Rubio's not even in the race for the White House. That Republican candidates running for national office feel the need to become embroiled in the Sunshine State dispute, and also to cancel their appearances for Univision's January debate, seems rather odd.

The debate dispute centers on a recent Miami Herald report that claimed Univision news executives offered to soften or kill a report about Rubio's brother-in-law who was sent to prison in 1989 on drug trafficking charges, if Rubio would appear on Univision's Sunday news program. Univision denies any quid pro quo was ever offered to the senator. (Rubio did not appear on Univision; the report about his brother-in-law aired over the summer. The facts of the report were not in dispute.)

But you know what's really strange? Fox News' reaction. Or should I say, it's mostly non-reaction. The cable channel has covered the story lightly in recent days, but none of the high-profile talking heads, let along the channel's chairman, have weighed in passionately about the story. And certainly none of them have condemned Republicans as cowards for refusing Univison's invitation to discuss the issues.

Four years ago though, that same Fox News crew could not contain its contempt for Democratic candidates who dared to pull out of primary debates; debates co-hosted, and eventually cancelled, by Fox News.

For Fox talkers and its chief, that crime was inexcusable:

-Fox News chairman Roger Ailes lashed out at Democrats in the wake of the boycott, accusing them of cowardice: “The candidates that can't face Fox, can't face Al Qaeda. And that's what's coming.”

-Bill O'Reilly attacked liberal activists who pushed for the boycott, accusing them of adopting “propaganda techniques perfected by Dr. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister of information.”

-Fox News panelist Morton Kondracke went nuclear on the same liberal activists, calling them “junior-grade Stalinists.”

-Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Bill Kristol belittled Democrat John Edwards for “pandering” to liberals by canceling his appearance in a Fox debate.

On and on the Fox team went --in heated agreement-- condemning Democrats as cowards (or worse!) for snubbing a presidential debate based on which media entity played host.

But today, with the Univision boycott in full effect, Fox News suddenly isn't in the mood to condemn anyone, let alone question people's character. Apparently Republicans' refusal to appear at the Univision debate reveals no flaws in the candidates, according to Fox News.

To be sure, the circumstances surrounding the Democratic and Republican boycott controversies are quite different.

Four years ago, liberal bloggers launched an initiative to pressure Democratic candidates to drop out of a debate co-sponsored by the Nevada Democratic Party and Fox News, as well as one put on by the Congressional Black Caucus Institute and Fox News. The charge, based on years of misinformation and Republican propaganda: Fox News isn't a legitimate news organization and Democrats would be foolish to lend their hand in helping Fox News boost its phony credentials under the auspice of hosting candidate debates.

Facing grassroots pressure from the left during the primary season, Democratic candidates bowed out of the Fox forums, which led to meltdowns on the part of Ailes and O'Reilly and Kondracke, as well as right-wing bloggers.

Still, the Republican position right now is that unless the Spanish language giant apologizes to Rubio (for something it denies ever happened), the top GOP contenders won't participate in the scheduled January debate.

But as Roger Ailes might put it, if you can't face Univision, how are you going to face Al Qaeda?