Ron Paul Excluded from Fox Debate
I know several of our readers are tired of posts on Ron Paul but Fox News’ announcement that it would exclude candidates not polling in the double digits from their pre-New Hampshire primary debates has set off a firestorm, getting a sharp negative reaction from not only the blogosphere but the New Hampshire GOP.
ABC and Fox News Channel are narrowing the field of presidential candidates invited to debates this weekend just before the New Hampshire primary, in Fox’s case infuriating supporters of Republican Ron Paul. The roster of participants for ABC’s back-to-back, prime-time Republican and Democratic debates Saturday in New Hampshire will be determined after results of Thursday’s Iowa caucus become clear.
Fox, meanwhile, has invited five GOP candidates to a forum with Chris Wallace scheduled for its mobile studio in New Hampshire on Sunday. Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, John McCain, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson received invites, leaving Paul and Duncan Hunter on the sidelines. The network said it had limited space in its studio — a souped-up bus — and that it invited candidates who had received double-digit support in recent polls.
In a nationwide poll conducted Dec. 14-20 by The Associated Press and Yahoo, Thompson had the support of 11 percent of GOP voters and Paul was at 3 percent. Paul was tied with Thompson for fifth in New Hampshire in the most recent Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll, each with the support of 4 percent of likely voters. Among all New Hampshire voters, Paul led Thompson 6 percent to 4 percent, but that was within the poll’s margin of error.
Both of the state party leaders are fuming.
This weekend’s presidential debates and forum will not include some nationally-known candidates, and the chairmen of the state Republican and Democratic parties are not happy. Fergus Cullen and Raymond Buckley say the decisions by ABC News, WMUR and, in Cullen’s case, FOX News, are inconsistent with the New Hampshire primary’s tradition of providing a level playing field for all candidates.
ABC News and WMUR-TV (Channel 9) confirmed today that they have established performance-based criteria for Saturday night’s pair of presidential debates. Those rules could leave several relatively well-known candidates on the outside looking in, including Democrats Dennis Kucinich, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd.
And Cullen confirmed that FOX News has invited only five presidential candidates to a GOP forum scheduled for Sunday night, leaving out Ron Paul and Duncan Hunter. Cullen said the state GOP is in “ongoing discussions with FOX News about having as many candidates as possible participate” and remains a forum co-sponsor, at least for now.
According to WMUR news director Andrew Vrees and a posting on the ABC News web site, in order to participate in the Saturday night back-to-back GOP and Democratic events at Saint Anselm College, candidates must meet at least one of three criteria:
— Place in the top four in the Iowa caucuses, which will be held on Thursday.
— Poll 5 percent or higher in one of the last four reputable random sample New Hampshire telephone surveys sponsored by an established news organization and conducted and released by 9 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 4.
— Poll 5 percent or higher in one of the last four reputable random sample national telephone surveys sponsored by an established news organization and conducted and released on or before 9 a.m. on Jan. 4.
In a statement, Cullen was critical of all sponsors of the debates and the forum. “Limiting the number of candidates who are invited to participate in debates is not consistent with the tradition of the first-in-the-nation primary,” he said. “The level playing field requires that all serious candidates be given an equal opportunity to participate — not just a selected few determined by the media prior to any votes being cast.” He said that the state GOP “calls upon all media organizations planning pre-primary debates or forums for both parties to include all recognized major candidates in their events.”
It should be noted that Paul is by no means the only well-known figure being excluded. Still, he’s the one drawing the most fuss. Not surprisingly, Fox is getting accused of anti-Paul bias:
Jesse Benton, Paul’s spokesman, said it was a “big mistake” not to include his candidate, especially given Paul’s recent success in fundraising. He said the campaign has been trying to reach Fox News to explain the decision, but its calls had not been returned.
“There very well might be some bias,” Benton said. “Ron brings up some topics that aren’t very popular with Fox News, as in fiscal responsibility and withdrawing from the war in Iraq … that does leave us scratching our heads a little bit about whether it was deliberate. Based on metrics, I don’t see how you can possibly exclude Dr. Paul.”
Josh Marshall agrees: “Paul’s out because he’s not a Fox News Bush-clone. Say whatever you want about the guy, Fox News shouldn’t be able to silence him because they don’t like his views.” Digby adds, “If this doesn’t prove that Fox is just a mouthpiece for the GOP establishment, nothing will. They are excluding Ron Paul from the New Hampshire debate but including Fred Thompson, who is polling lower.”
No one’s whining about the exclusion of Duncan Hunter, whose candidacy is taken seriously by virtually no one. But Paul, who is barely registering in national polls, has a much more dedicated base of support and has been quite successful as a fundraiser. And did I mention that his supporters were unusually dedicated? Here’s an excerpt from a protest site some have put up (via the LAT):
“We need to send a message to Fox’s Rupert Murdoch & his fellow Neocon buddies that he is not Musharraf and the U.S. is not Pakistan, yet! Fox News cannot just stifle public opinion, debate and impact a primary election by excluding Ron Paul just because they don’t like his message of freedom and liberty. Cover them up with e-mails and they will just say it was a mistake or miscommunication. Be respectful as all of the e-mail addresses below are just employees trying to keep their jobs with the world’s largest media monopoly.”
While I don’t think he can win, it’s hard to justify keeping him out of the debates at this early stage of the campaign. At some point, though, the networks are justified in narrowing the field to only the most viable candidates. Whatever value protest candidates might have in bringing light to fringe issues and viewpoints, the point of these “debates” is to help voters chose among the available choices.