Posted by: Jeff | September 27, 2010

The Republican Primary: Sponsored by Fox News

From Politico this morning, the revelation that:

With the exception of Mitt Romney, Fox now has deals with every major potential Republican presidential candidate not currently in elected office.

This seems absurd – a major news network is currently employing many of the likely Republican nominees for President.  It seems a horrible conflict of interest for a news organization to pay the individuals that they are supposed to cover.  And with Palin, Huckabee, Gingrich, etc., producing content for Fox, what incentive is there for the network to scrutinize their record?

There was a lot of discussion in the blogosphere over the summer about epistemic closure on the American Right – an observed phenomenon that many conservatives consume only conservative media and pre-select sources that confirm their own personal world view and opinions on political figures.  In other words, fans of Sarah Palin tend to only consume media that portrays her favorably.  This revelation about FoxNews suggests that this phenomenon is more widespread and entrenched than ever.

FoxNews is the highest rated cable news network in part because they’ve created an identity on the right as fair and balanced, an alternative to other news networks cast as liberal sympathizers.  Yet by employing most of the major political figures on the Right, Fox has gone all in on its affiliation with conservative politics in a way that MSNBC could never do.  It is anything but fair and balanced, as Fox has created an incentivized system wherein it can reward content with favorable coverage and financial compensation for major political candidates.  All of this is, I’m sure, protected by last year’s controversial “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision protecting corporate campaign contributions as free speech.

Furthermore, Fox now has the ability to veto any media appearance one of their consultants is offered on another network.  For example, Fox recently rejected a proposal for Sarah Palin to appear on C-SPAN, citing breach of contract.

As reported by Politico, the issues at stake are pretty serious:

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 environoment. 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.

That fact alone has sparked buzz in political and media circles, particularly as it applies to Palin, a major ratings draw. Can she remain on Fox’s payroll if, while not formally a declared candidate, she’s visiting early primary states and assembling a presidential campaign in 2011? Or will Fox at least relax its exclusivity provision to let the candidate appear on other cable or broadcast networks?

Fox said it doesn’t relax exclusivity provisions.

“All contributors are exclusive to Fox News. On occasion, they will make appearances on other networks — when they have books to promote — and in those cases their contributor agreements are suspended during that period. Fox News has made rare exceptions for various contributors in terms of appearances on other networks, but instances are few and far between,” Fox News said in a statement.

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