Fox: home of GOP’s face time

Los Angeles Times - - Calendar - JAMES RAINEY

Silly, silly Tim Paw­lenty.

The gover­nor of Min­nesota vis­its the flood dis­as­ter in the south­ern end of his state and calls a spe­cial ses­sion of the Leg­is­la­ture to dis­cuss bring­ing re­lief to 35 coun­ties. He takes trade mis­sions to China, checks on Na­tional Guard troops in Iraq and fights Democrats over how to bal­ance his state’s bud­get.

All that fuss and muss get the Naif of the North some pass­ing at­ten­tion. But on Fox News, the sun and moon for any Repub­li­can climb­ing the lad­der, that work got Paw­lenty noth­ing like the mul­ti­ple, per­son­al­ized ap­pear­ances of other GOP politi­cians who, like Paw­lenty, have pon­dered run­ning for pres­i­dent in 2012.

Paw­lenty’s fail­ure? Wast­ing all that time plug­ging away like a lit­tle tug­boat via the old chan­nels. Other top Repub­li­cans — namely Newt Gin­grich, Sarah Palin, Rick San­to­rum and Mike Huck­abee — have taken right to the high seas by go­ing to work for Fox News.

It’s easy to get news cov­er­age, it turns out, when you work for a news com­pany!

Politico wrote this week that Fox’s tra­di­tion-de­fy­ing em­ploy­ment of mul­ti­ple po­ten­tial pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates has thrown oth­ers for a loop.

That in­cludes com­pet­ing news out­lets, which get lit­tle or no air time with the big­name Repub­li­cans be­cause they are un­der ex­clu­sive con­tract to Fox. It also in­cludes other po­ten­tial GOP con­tenders, though they made their com­plaints qui­etly, lest they anger the pow­ers at Fox.

As­tory that once might have prompted shock and ou­trage got lit­tle play out­side po­lit­i­cal cir­cles. Why? Be­cause the in­for­ma­tion jug­ger­naut built by Ru­pert Murdoch and Roger Ailes, once a GOP at­tack dog and now head of Fox News, has been tilt­ing the play­ing field for so long, so per­sis­tently and deny­ing its bias so shame­lessly that it’s cre­ated an al­ter­na­tive re­al­ity.

We are talk­ing about a

or­der where Fox par­ent News Corp. un­apolo­get­i­cally gave $1mil­lion to the Repub­li­can Gover­nor’s Assn. We are talk­ing about a new or­der where Fox’s sup­posed news per­son­al­i­ties — not just its prime-time opin­ion mak­ers — rou­tinely pound away at con­ser­va­tive talk­ing points. (Who but Fox knew that a cou­ple of punks call­ing them­selves Black Pan­thers and stand­ing in front of a Penn­syl­va­nia polling place in the last na­tional elec­tion had fo­mented a na­tional cri­sis, wor­thy of weeks of breath­less cov­er­age?) We are talk­ing about a new or­der where Palin and a clown­ish Florida pas­tor (and would-be Ko­ran burner) un­abashedly com­mend Fox as the place to go to get your story out.

One doesn’t even blink with sur­prise any­more when a Fox opin­ion pro­gram rolls out black-and­white news­reel footage of fas­cists, and with uni­formly straight faces sug­gest that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has Amer­ica on the brink of a sim­i­lar calamity.

Don’t fool your­self

I can al­ready hear some of you start­ing to pound out your re­but­tals via e-mail: Sure, Fox has a point of view. But all the other news out­lets are shame­lessly lib­eral. What about CNN? What about MSNBC?

What about them? CNN has hewed re­lent­lessly to the he-said-she said re­port­ing im­per­a­tive of old. The 24-hour news pi­o­neer puts on al­ter­na­tive view­points and not merely as whip­ping ob­jects for ide­o­log­i­cal hosts. It’s aired mul­ti­ple seg­ments dis­sect­ing Pres­i­dent Obama, his eco­nomic poli­cies and his plans for Afghanistan.

MSNBC, in con­trast, has clearly tried to get its Fox on and fol­low an In­ter­net Age im­per­a­tive to find an au­di­ence niche and give it what it wants. Its left­ward tilt is un­de­ni­able. I’ve writ­ten be­fore about clear cases where news an­chors — not just prime-time hosts like Keith Ol­ber­mann and Rachel Mad­dow— smacked down con­ser­va­tives and car­ried the lib­eral torch.

But MSNBC’s bosses and an­chors stand as rank amateurs in brand­ing and mes­sage dis­ci­pline com­pared with their coun­ter­parts over at Fox. Whether that’s be­cause of some la­tent, ar­chaic news scru­ples, mere inat­ten­tion or the in­com­plete­ness of an on­go­ing trans­for­ma­tion, I don’t know.

In Mon­day’s story, Politico made it clear that Gin­grich & Co. are not the first pres­i­den­tial as­pi­rants who have launched cam­paigns from a com­fort­able me­dia roost. Pat Buchanan hosted CNN’s “Cross­fire” in the 1990s, leav­ing that spot in early 1995, shortly be­fore declar­ing his can­di­dacy for the 1996 Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion. But the story points out that Fox’s cur­rent in­cur­sion into the cur­rent rank of GOP hope­fuls was un­prece­dented in scope. Com­pet­ing TV op­er­a­tors told the web­site how they had been shut down when they tried to get the Fox con­trib­u­tors on their pro­grams.

These com­plaints did not come from wild ide­o­logues, mind you, but news vet­er­ans like Steve Scully, po­lit­i­cal edi­tor of C-SPAN, who had tried and failed to get Palin to ap­pear. If the Switzer­land of news out­lets — with­out peer in play­ing the mid­dle — can’t get one of the Fox can­di­dates, who can?

Not that Palin is aching to be let out of Fox’s sta­ble. The for­mer Alaska gover­nor has made it clear she doesn’t want to con­tend with any­one who might re­ally probe or prod her. Re­mem­ber this is the woman who buck­led un­der the re­lent­less hec­tor­ing of the me­nac­ing Katie Couric, the CBS an­chor with all those ques­tions about Palin’s time in govern­ment and, for gosh sakes, what news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines she reads.

Them again?

Fol­low­ing up on the Politico story, lib­eral me­dia watchdog Me­dia Mat­ters counted the num­ber of times the po­ten­tial can­di­dates ap­peared on Fox for more than a pass­ing moment since the start of this year.

For­mer Arkansas Gov. Huck­abee, who has a week new end pro­gram on Fox, led the way with 96 ap­pear­ances. Next came for­mer Penn­syl­va­nia Sen. Rick San­to­rum (52) , for­mer House Speaker Gin­grich (48), Palin (37) and for­mer U.N. Am­bas­sador John Bolton (36).

Through mid-Septem­ber, those out­side the Fox sta­ble were cen­tral to far fewer seg­ments. Paw­lenty ap­peared 14 times and for­mer Mas­sachusetts Gov. Mitt Rom­ney, an­other pres­i­den­tial as­pi­rant, just nine times.

I called Paw­lenty po­lit­i­cal spokesman Alex Co­nant to ask why his man was wast­ing time on all that, you know, gov­ern­ing and old­school pol­i­tick­ing. Why not just chuck it, like that erst­while gover­nor, Palin, and, un­en­cum­bered, de­liver opin­ions on Fox?

Co­nant laughed. A lit­tle. “I un­der­stand the point you are try­ing to make,” Co­nant said. “But we have a very good re­la­tion­ship with Fox News. They are very re­cep­tive to hav­ing [Paw­lenty] on.”

Ex­pect the sta­ble of po­ten­tial can­di­dates to stay un­de­clared and on the Fox pay­roll for as long as pos­si­ble.

That way, they can pitch to a fa­vorite au­di­ence, main­tain a high pro­file for fundrais­ing and ward off those pesky news peo­ple, the ones who work for ev­ery other tele­vi­sion news out­let in Amer­ica.

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