Sen. Tom Coburn, a staunch conservative from Oklahoma, is doing what seems almost unthinkable in this polarized political climate: Defending his Democratic colleagues from critics at Fox News.
At a town hall meeting, Coburn suggested that a woman who said "they can put us in prison" for not obtaining health insurance under the health care reform bill is misinformed.
"The intention is not to put anybody in jail," he said. "That makes for good TV news on Fox but that isn't the intention."
He also defended House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the architect of the House version of the health care legislation that he fiercely opposed.
"I'm 180 degrees in opposition to the speaker -- she's a nice lady," he said. The crowd could be heard responding unfavorably to his characterization.
"Come on now, she is a nice -- how many of you all have met her?" continued Coburn. "She's a nice person. She's a nice person."
"Just because somebody disagrees with you doesn't mean they're not a good person," he added. He then discussed his own experience of being vilified before asking the crowd not to "catch yourself being biased by Fox News that somebody's no good."
"The people in Washington are good," he said. "They just don't know what they don't know."
Coburn's comments were recorded by radio station KGOU and reported by Capitol News Connection, where audio clips are posted.
The senator urged his audience to "stay informed on the issues" and not "just watch Fox News or CNN -- watch 'em both." He said he reads the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal every day to "get a perspective" and "know what other people's thoughts are -- not just what I hear through a pipe channel."
"I do a lot of reading every day, and I'm disturbed that we get things like what this lady said and what others have said on other issues, that are so disconnected to what I know to be the facts," he said. "And that comes from somebody that has an agenda that's other than the best interests of our country."
It's rare (and perhaps something of a risk) for a Republican lawmaker to criticize Fox News, whose hosts are generally supportive of the GOP agenda and can be a powerful force with grassroots Republicans. Coburn's comments cut against thethat Republican lawmakers have been inflaming sentiment against them -- and could be putting them at risk of violence.
Coburn has been in the news recently for blocking a stopgap bill to provide jobless benefits because it is not paid for; he also participated in the flood of amendments to the health care reconciliation bill designed to slow passage by offering an amendment mandating .
But Coburn, a doctor, was also an active participant at the bipartisan health care summit, where he addressed cost containment and made what President Obama called "some powerful points."