Fox News Channel is announcing today that it has cut a deal with the Congressional Black Caucus Institute to sponsor two debates, one with Democrats and another with Republicans in the 2008 presidential race.

As many of you might remember, Nevada Democrats and Majority Senate Leader Harry Reid were slammed by liberal blogs for agreeing to a Democratic debate with Fox News a few weeks ago, and backed out of the deal under pressure. Liberal activists complained that Fox News was slanted toward Republicans, would distort the debate, and should be shunned. The breakpoint occurred when Roger Ailes, head of Fox News, in a joke at an an awards dinner, poked fun at President Bush for confusing Senator Barack Obama with Osama bin Laden. (Mr. Obama later said he didn’t take offense, but many in the blogosphere did.)

According to Fox:

The first of the two debates will be among Democratic candidates and will be held on September 23rd at the Fox Theater in Detroit. The second debate will be among Republican candidates and will take place in the fall of 2007 at a location to be determined. Both debates will serve as a forum for the candidates to make their platforms known.

In a statement accompanying the Fox announcement, chairman of the C.B.C., Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi, said this:

“As a leading organization dedicated to educating the public on issues of national policy, the CBC Institute is committed to presenting the presidential candidates to the broadest audience possible.”

“Our goal with each debate is to provide a platform that will allow voters to hear the positions of candidates from both political parties. Collaborating with FOX News provides an opportunity to take this presidential election to millions of households.”

This isn’t the first time the C.B.C. has paired with Fox. It did so in 2003 as a runup to the 2004 election cycle.

The C.B.C. sent out its own release announcing the debate schedule. And it also provided toward the end, a justification perhaps, for this deal:

Fox News Channel (FNC) is a 24-hour general news service covering breaking news as well as political, entertainment and business news. For five years, FNC has been the most watched cable news channel in the nation and currently presents 9 out of the top 10 programs in cable news. Owned by News Corp., FNC is available in more than 85 million homes.

The Institute also said it was talking to CNN about other debates.

Update: James Rucker, director of Color of Change, said the online grassroots group would take up a petition drive calling on candidates to boycott the Fox debates. “The C.B.C. Institute’s decision is shamefully out of step with most black voters, and we will continue to push on the C.B.C. Institute to drop this deal,” he said.

Mr. Rucker also said in a statement: “Every presidential candidate now must decide whether to legitimize Fox – a network that calls black churches a cult, implies that Senator Barack Obama is a terrorist, and uses the solemn occasion of Coretta Scott King’s funeral to call black leaders ‘racist.’ We will be launching a petition at asking presidential candidates to attend the C.B.C. Institute’s CNN debate and reject the Fox debate.”