CNN's Rick Sanchez: 'I'm Not Ideological;' Spars With Abrams on Sherrod

Rick "I play it down the middle" Sanchez didn't disappoint during the first prime-time edition of CNN's Rick's List on Thursday, as he brought his liberal bias against Fox News to the program. When guest Dan Abrams of Mediate accused the anchor of "doing an opinion-based program" on Fox News's coverage of the Shirley Sherrod story, Sanchez denied this and added that he wasn't being ideological [audio clips available here].

The CNN anchor began his criticism of his network's competitor eight minutes into the 8 pm Eastern hour, focusing on Fox News's coverage of the Shirley Sherrod story. Sanchez's focused on Fox News's separation between their news operation and their opinion programming, such as Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity's shows, as he gave his version of the timeline of how the network apparently covered the story:

SANCHEZ: Here's how we understand it. Fox News says that a memo went out to the 'news staff' Monday afternoon from the senior V.P. of news....'Let's get the facts straight on this story. Can we get confirmation and comments from Sherrod before going on air? Let's make sure we do this right'...But the way things work at Fox News- and you need to know this- that guidance doesn't carry any weight at the programs that make the biggest noise and get the biggest ratings: Beck, O'Reilly, Hannity, 'Fox and Friends.' You see, that V.P. of news, he doesn't oversee those shows. So, minutes before Shirley Sherrod was being told that she was losing her job, Bill O'Reilly was actually taping his show for that night, showing that tape, despite the guidance not to from the V.P., and he called for her to resign, despite the guidance from the V.P. It's as if 'The O'Reilly Factor' wasn't even part of Fox News....So, bottom line, when you go to Fox News- when you go to Fox News, know this. It operates by different journalistic standards, depending on- well, depending on what time it is.

Sanchez then brought on Abrams, who began by taking issue with the timeline that the anchor just gave and defended Fox News's departmentalization:

ABRAMS: I think you're wrong about one thing. I mean, I think you're right that O'Reilly made a mistake....On the other hand, I don't know why you're so shocked that there's a different standard in prime time and during the day, and suggesting that somehow people are not able to distinguish between opinion-based programming at night, and straight news during the day. I mean, regardless of whether you agree that's what Fox News does, as a broad principal, it doesn't seem to me that that's so farfetched or a even bad thing.

Sanchez countered by citing a guest during his afternoon program who voiced his opposition to "ideological-driven broadcasts." He continued by hinting that Fox News was race-baiting by choosing to cover the New Black Panther Party and Sherrod stories, among others. This is where the anchor ended up denying that he was ideological:

SANCHEZ: Actually, I think there are many in the country today who would disagree with you, and many are saying. In fact....I just talked to one this afternoon, Dan, who told me that ideologically-driven newscasts are hurting America, and here's why. When you decide who you're talk- let me ask you the question this way, in fact. Let me do this. What is similar about Fox News' extensive coverage of some of the stories that most in the other media didn't give much attention to? And I'll take them to you right now. I'll spell them out for you, Dan: Van Jones, the New Black Panther story, ACORN, Shirley Sherrod. What's similar about those stories, Dan?

ABRAMS: Well, look, Rick, you can make an argument, and you're making a case. You're doing an opinion-based program right here, which I think is great. I think-

SANCHEZ: No, no- actually, I am- no- well, hold on. I'm asking you a legitimate- I have a person that I'm asking you-

ABRAMS: I'm not saying you're ideological.

SANCHEZ: Well, I'm not.

You're not ideological, Rick? Then how do you explain your past attacks on Fox News, conservative media, and individual conservatives, which the MRC outlined on Thursday?

Later in the segment, Abrams stated how the Sherrod story has been an "enormous embarrassment" for several parties, and criticized Sanchez for focusing solely on Fox News's role, and explained why he used his "opinion-based program" label earlier:

ABRAMS: There's no question this story, meaning this edited-together tape, is an enormous embarrassment for anyone who went with it at face value. It's an enormous embarrassment for this government for taking action or encouraging action on her part. It's an enormous embarrassment for the NAACP for taking it at face value. There are a lot of people here who should have extremely huge pieces of egg on their face, and they do. And I think that it's not fair, to be honest with you, to single out Fox News as the only one who's got egg in connection with this story.

SANCHEZ: We didn't say they were. It just so happens that they are a journalistic enterprise and they made all the decisions that journalistic enterprises are not supposed to make and we can't hide from reporting-

ABRAMS: But is this not one of their worst decisions that they've-

SANCHEZ: Dan, we can't hide from reporting the facts, even if it involves people who may be our friends and colleagues who work at a competitor. The fact is, if they made mistakes, it's our job at CNN- your job as well on your blog, perhaps- to point those out, and go through the timeline and explain how those mistakes were made, and that's all we've attempted to do here, and it has nothing at all to do with either opinion or ideology-

ABRAMS: Well, I can just tell you-

SANCHEZ: I'll give you now the last word.

ABRAMS: Here- here- right. Here's the reason it's opinion, is because, again, my reporter, Steve Krakauer, went through the timeline and came to a slightly different conclusion than did you about how guilty Fox News is on this particular story. That's the only reason I'm saying that it's an opinion. There's no opinion that people got it wrong. There's no opinion that this was a huge mistake and a huge embarrassment and that apologies were owed-

SANCHEZ: Okay. Well, look-

ABRAMS: The question is how much blame to allocate.

SANCHEZ: We'll leave it at that. We certainly stick by our sources and we stick by our story on this, but if there's any reason that we got something wrong-

ABRAMS: CNN did a very good job on this story.

SANCHEZ: Well, and- look, and if there's anything that we got wrong, I guarantee you, being as imperfect as we are, we'll be the very first to report it. Dan, good to see you. Thanks for coming on, on the debut night.

-Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.