The Fox News Primary

More than ever before in the past, Fox News Channel will be the exclusive medium through which many of the candidates for the 2012 Republican nomination communicate with the public. And that's a problem.

As focus begins to shift to the race for the 2012 Republican Primary, attention is also starting to be paid to the fact that many of the top contenders are contractually barred from appearing anywhere except on Fox News Channel:

With Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee all making moves indicating they may run for president, their common employer is facing a question that hasn’t been asked before: How does a news organization cover White House hopefuls when so many are on the payroll?

The answer is a complicated one for Fox News. (See: GOP’s struggles play out on Fox)

As Fox’s popularity grows among conservatives, the presence of four potentially serious Republican candidates as paid contributors is beginning to frustrate competitors of the network, figures within its own news division and rivals of what some GOP insiders have begun calling “the Fox candidates.”

With the exception of Mitt Romney, Fox now has deals with every major potential Republican presidential candidate not currently in elected office. (See: Romney treads lightly in New York)

The matter is of no small consequence, since it’s uncertain how other news organizations can cover the early stages of the presidential race when some of the main GOP contenders are contractually forbidden to appear on any TV network besides Fox.

C-SPAN Political Editor Steve Scully said that when C-SPAN tried to have Palin on for an interview, he was told he had to first get Fox’s permission — which the network, citing her contract, ultimately denied. Producers at NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN and MSNBC all report similar experiences.

At issue are basic matters of political and journalistic fairness and propriety. With Fox effectively becoming the flagship network of the right and, more specifically, the tea party movement, the four Republicans it employs enjoy an unparalleled platform from which to speak directly to primary voters who will determine the party’s next nominee.

Their Fox jobs allow these politicians an opportunity to send conservative activists a mostly unfiltered message in what is almost always a friendly environment. Fox opinion hosts typically invite the Republicans simply to offer their views on issues of the day, rather than press them to defend their rhetoric or records as leaders of the party.

Fox, in an e-mail to POLITICO, indicated that once any of the candidates declares for the presidency he or she will have to sever the deal with the network.

But it’s such a lucrative and powerful pulpit that Palin, Gingrich, Santorum and Huckabee have every reason to delay formal announcements and stay on contract for as long as they can.

And why wouldn’t they ? Fox News Channel exclusivity gives these candidates effectively unfiltered access to the conservative base of the Republican Party while at the same time giving them a convenient excuse for avoiding the scrutiny of questioning reporters on other networks. Palin especially has been adept at doing this, and at controlling the manner in which she communicates so that it effectively precludes her from having to actually answer any questions that aren’t from a friendly host like Glenn Beck, Bill O”Reilly, Sean Hannity, or Greta Van Susterin.

The ethical problems for Fox, however, are apparent, and even some its own reporters are raising concerns:

It isn’t just competitors that are uneasy about the arrangement; there are figures within the network who, as the early jockeying for 2012 begins, are growing increasingly uncomfortable with the specter of paying candidates they’re supposed to cover.

Fox insiders, speaking anonymously about what is a sensitive topic for a network worried about outside perception, said no word has been conveyed from the corporate brass to reporters about how to treat what are, for now at least, their colleagues.

Angst is building among news-side employees who want to know when, if ever, the four Republicans will have to cut ties with the network.

“We’re acutely aware of this” stuff, said one Fox insider of the quandary.

“The cold reality is, nobody at the reporter level has any say on this,” added another source familiar with the inner workings of Fox. “They’re left in the lurch.”

Of particular concern to some at the network is what the situation means when it comes to dealing with candidates who are not employed by Fox.

Even before the midterm elections, top Fox figures are fielding complaints from aides to the non-Fox hopefuls that the arrangements are unfair to their candidates.

“I wish we could get that much airtime, but, oh yeah, we don’t get a paycheck” was what one aide told a Fox employee, according to a source familiar with the conversation.

While they won’t talk about it on the record — no one wants to offend a news outlet with a potentially outsize role in determining the next GOP nominee — officials with some of the other campaigns in waiting are plainly annoyed at the advantage they see the four potential GOP candidates have with Fox.

“The longer they can remain ‘undecided’ about running, the longer they can stay at the network and get paid,” carped a top aide to one potential GOP candidate.

Well, that’s sort of the point, isn’t it ?

The truth of the matter, of course, is that none of the other potential GOP candidates are going to make an issue because to do so, they’d have to criticize Fox News and that, quite simply, is verboten in Republican circles. Like Rush Limbaugh, Fox News Channel is immune from criticism in Republican circles even when, as now, it’s doing something that is, at best, ethically questionable from a journalistic perspective in the manner in which it’s exclusivity contracts are clearly aiding the political interests of it’s so-called “analysts.”

I’m not sure what the solution is here. Fox News has hit upon a business model that works, and their business model just happens to advance the interests of a certain win of the Republican Party. As long as that’s the case, business arrangements like this between the network and prominent Republican politicians are going to become more common. Perhaps, one day, the public will wake up and realize that there’s something wrong with a politician who hides out on a network that doesn’t subject him or her to real scrutiny, but I’m not optimistic that it’s going to happen any time soon.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Media, Politicians, Sarah Palin, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Pete says:

    This is a legitimate problem, but the irony is delicious given that the “worm has turned.” All those years when libs could count on subtle support from network people; now the libs only have the atrophied carcass of the networks to help them.

  2. Tano says:

    “…the “worm has turned.” All those years when libs could count on subtle support from network people;…

    What horsecrap. This is not ‘subtle support’ we are talking about. This is being paid to spout your own propaganda. Essentially, it is Rupert Murdoch paying GOP candidates to campaign on a national network, instead of charging them for it.

  3. Vast Variety says:

    “You know the guy in the booth who’s talking to you in that tiny little earphone? He’s afraid the guys at network are gonna tell him that he’s through/ If he lets a guy keep talking like I’m talking to you/ Cause the corporations got the networks and they get to say who gets to talk about the country and who’s crazy today/ I would cut to a commercial if you still want this job/ Because you may not be back tomorrow with this cooperate mob/Cut to commercial, cut to commercial, cut to commercial. Ok ok I got a simple question that I’d like to ask of this network/ That pays you for performing this task/ How come they got the airwaves? They’re the peoples aren’t they? Wouldn’t they be worth 70 billion to the public today? If some money-grubbin Congress didn’t give them away for big campaign money? It’s hopeless you see/ If you’re runnin for office with out no TV/If you don’t get big money/ You get a defeat/ Corporations and broadcasters make you dead meat/ You been taught in this country there’s speech that is free/ But free don’t get you no spots on TV/If you want to have senators not on the take/ Then give them free air time/ They won’t have to fake/ Telecommunications is the name of the beast/that, that, that, that, that’s eating up the world from the west to the east/ The movies, the tabloids, TV and magazines/ they tell us what to think and do/ And all our hopes and dreams/ All this information makes America phat/ But if the company’s outta the country/ How American is that? But we got Americans with families that can’t even buy a meal/ Ask a brother who’s been downsized if he’s getting any deal/ Or a white boy bustin ass til they put him in his grave/ He ain’t gotta be a black boy to be livin like a slave”

    Bulworth (1998)

  4. John425 says:

    Leftists are exclusive on MSNBC, CNN plays like they’re “balanced” but are not. NPR and PBS are wholly-owned subsidiaries of the DNC and WHite House.

    Mr. Mataconis doth protest too much.

  5. Pete says:

    Tano, sounds like you are pretty upset with this new arrangement. My comment about subtle support referred to the libs; not the conservative arrangement with Fox. There is nothing subtle about it. So, perhaps your “what horsecrap” was more an expression of anger at losing the advantage you libs had for 40 years with the lamestream media. Since liberal ideas have pretty much been proven silly, destructive to minorities and economically bankrupt, the only way libs could gain power was to enlist the aid of their media myrmidons to propagandize to the voting public. While I don’t endorse the Fox arrangement, I can only grin while watching you bedwetting libs go insane at the loss of your media bullhorn.

  6. Steve Plunk says:

    I’m not comfortable with the relationships but at the same time when I think of MSNBC a chill runs up my leg and visions of Maddow and Olberman flash before my eyes. There’s a lack of balance but splitting the media into two camps compromises both. I wonder who will disarm first?

  7. Vast Variety says:

    “I wonder who will disarm first?”

    No one… It’s not called Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) for no reason.

  8. Davebo says:

    “I’m not comfortable with the relationships but at the same time when I think of MSNBC a chill runs up my leg and visions of Maddow and Olberman flash before my eyes. ”

    Yes, you should probably seek assistance with that issue.

    Seriously, chills and visions of lesbians and sportscasters most likely point to serious issues.

  9. PD Shaw says:

    Were people comfortable with J.D. Hayworth building up his warchest and name recognition on Arizona radio until he quit to announce? I wasn’t entirely comfortable with it, but I wasn’t comfortable with McCain’s outrage either.

  10. ponce says:

    “now the libs only have the atrophied carcass of the networks to help them.”

    Fox News only averages a million viewers at any given time throughout the day…a total that puts it well below the big networks.

    http://tvbythenumbers.com/2010/09/24/cable-news-ratings-for-thursday-september-23-2010/65104

    For some reason bloggers feel compelled to inflate these pathetic viewership numbers into some kind of colossus.

  11. mantis says:

    All those years when libs could count on subtle support from network people; now the libs only have the atrophied carcass of the networks to help them.
    I hear something along these lines quite frequently from people on the right (not the absurd “The networks are teh librul!” nonsense, though this is also a widely held belief on the right), and it’s amusing how little they know about TV viewership.  How about a little reality?
    Average Network Evening News Ratings for the week of September 6, 2010

    ABC 7,110,000
    NBC 7,790,000
    CBS 4,970,000

    Now let’s look at one day from that week on the cable news stations.  Here are the total number of viewers for cable news channels for the entire day of Thursday, September 9.
    FNC – 1,182,000 viewers
    CNN – 393,000 viewers
    MSNBC – 404,000 viewers
    CNBC – 154,000 viewers
    HLN – 261,000 viewers
    That’s 2,394,000 viewers for all five cable news stations, all day, combined, and it’s still less than half the viewers for the lowest rated network news show (CBS), and about a third of the next lowest rated network news show.  If you just count FNC, there are almost 17 times as many viewers watching a network news show as watch FNC during the course of an entire day.
    Whenever someone tells me that network news is dead, defeated by the awesomeness of FOX, I try to set them straight.  But since these are the same people who believe all other news outlets are biased towards Democrats, there’s little chance they will be receptive to reality.
    Ratings numbers from: http://tvbythenumbers.com/

  12. PD Shaw says:

    The more I think about this, the more this is solely a Palin problem.

    First of all, I don’t think there is any doubt that Palin or any of the others needed the Fox contract to avoid an interview they didn’t want. Politicians do this all of the time (until they’re losing, when they start returning calls).

    But to run, Republican hopefuls are going to have to begin fundraising and creating an organization. The Thunes will have to announce quicker than the Romneys. But even people with high name recognition need some time to do all of that succesfully.

    Except Palin, whom I think could raise the money and create the organization without much time, and has the incentive to do so to avoid lengthy scrutiny. I personally don’t think she’s running, but has an incentive to appear to do so to help maintain her national stature. So what I see Fox doing is potentially distorting the Republican primary by enabling Palin’s late appearance or no-show.

  13. Ha T. Nguyen says:

    People dissing the so-called “liberal” media seems to be missing the point of this article which is that this affects the REPUBLICAN primary, not the general election nor the Democratic primaries.

    Conservatives should care that not all conservative viewpoints are being heard – only those bought and paid for by Fox News.

  14. DMan says:

    Thou shall not speak ill of Fox News.

  15. Pete says:

    Mantis, you are correct in absolute terms. Look at the trend of viewership. Who just got fired but one head of a network and the head of CNN. What was once a colossus and obviously biased media is in decline largely because it has abused its mandate as a watchdog of government. It is a watchdog FOR the democrat party and I am delighted to have FNC as an alternative. I don’t care if FNC is biased to the right; at least it is unafraid to admit it. The lamestream media is too much of a coward to admit its bias.

    The AP’s David Bauder points out that the broadcast network evening news audience hit a collective all-time low last week, with the newscasts averaging just 18.7 million total viewers. The previous record was set the week prior. As we noted yesterday, “CBS Evening News”
    again tied its own lowest audience average as well. Check out our full breakdown of last week’s ratings here.

  16. mantis says:

    Look at the trend of viewership.

    The networks, which had the benefit of exclusivity for many years, have not been able to maintain their numbers when faced with competition from cable and new media. This is indisputable. To place the blame on “liberal bias” is an assertion without basis in fact.

    Who just got fired but one head of a network and the head of CNN.

    Yeah, executives get fired sometimes. So?

    What was once a colossus and obviously biased media is in decline largely because it has abused its mandate as a watchdog of government.

    Network news is in decline for the same reason newspapers are in decline. They are unable to adapt to a much more competitive landscape than the one they long since grew accustomed to. People have a lot more choices for news these days. Personally, I never watch any TV news, because it’s all pretty much a waste of time. I read. My move away from TV has nothing to do with “liberal bias.”

    Also, I have no idea what “mandate” you refer to.

    It is a watchdog FOR the democrat party and I am delighted to have FNC as an alternative.

    How nice for you.

    I don’t care if FNC is biased to the right; at least it is unafraid to admit it.

    Actually, they do nothing but claim to be “fair and balanced” and deny any bias whatsoever. One would think you would have noticed that.

    The lamestream media is too much of a coward to admit its bias.

    All that media constitutes a single “coward?” Anyone who thinks media is a monolith to be thought of as a single entity and described with one word obviously hasn’t a clue what he/she is talking about. Secondly, “lamestream media?” What are you, a child? Or Sarah Palin (same thing, really)?

    The AP’s David Bauder points out that the broadcast network evening news audience hit a collective all-time low last week, with the newscasts averaging just 18.7 million total viewers.

    And that’s only 16-17 times as many viewers as FOX News has all day. You were saying?

  17. john personna says:

    As a moderate I can tell you hard-rightists that you see old time “liberal bias” in anyone who isn’t just like you. You wouldn’t know the middle if it you tripped over it.

    For years you have had a hard-right network with the laughable self-captioning of “fair and balanced.” Yes, MSNBC has risen in recent years to be a leftist imitation of that, but really only Maddow and Olbermann take it to that extreme. Have you got Joe Scarborough down as a big fat liberal now? Matthews is at worst middle-left, and can call liberals and Democrats on stupid moves without shirking.

    National Public Media traditional sin was that they would report facts the right wanted left out, not because they took positions. Now I actually hear them reporting right-opinion even when it is based on invalid facts. You’ve got them cowed into playing the game.

    The rest of the media is gaming for eyeballs and ratings. They’ll run whatever draws.

  18. Pete says:

    ” Anyone who thinks media is a monolith to be thought of as a single entity and described with one word obviously hasn’t a clue what he/she is talking about.”

    Try telling that to Bernard Goldberg. The fact is you are blind to reality because you are too impressed with yourself.

  19. reid says:

    Amen, jp. Though, Olbermann and Maddow may take a liberal slant on things, they (especially Maddow) rarely engage in the crazy conspiracy theories and over-the-top spin that people like Beck and Hannity get into. I wouldn’t watch them if they weren’t grounded in facts and reality. And MSNBC has its share of conservative pundits and guests, as you point out.

  20. steve says:

    Olberman and Maddow are not running for office. They did not run for office in the past. Hiring actual politicians is much different than hiring entertainers.

    Palin will run. She will get the nomination, unless Fox decides to throw its support behind someone else.

    Steve

  21. Nightrider says:

    “ethically questionable from a journalistic perspective”. Maybe. But they aren’t journalists. It isn’t ethically questionable from a propagandist perspective. Freedom of the presses means that those who own the presses have the freedom. I’m not saying it is good for the country, but they can do whatever the heck they want to with their money and their shows. And that’s clearly what Fox News is all about doing.

    (I’ll save the use of public airwaves for another discussion; I don’t think anyone should get free spectrum anymore).

  22. Anjin-san says:

    Pete

    Using the expression “Lamestream media” is a pretty clear sign that you know all about being lame…

  23. Rock says:

    There is a reason CNN was called the Clinton News Network and on occasion, The Commie News Network. If you look closely at the talking heads who clutter up CNN you’ll see a butt load of former Clinton hacks contaminating the airways. It’s basically the same at ABC. Clinton, Obama, and democratic mouthpieces abound. George Steppiesnopolis is a great example at ABC. If he ever told what he knows about the Clintons, Bill and Hillary would be locked up for decades.

  24. mantis says:

    There is a reason CNN was called the Clinton News Network and on occasion, The Commie News Network.

    Wingnuts are idiots?