Never before in post-World-War America has a media entity become so involved in the presidential selection process of a major party. I think that is bad news for all of us in terms of the political process imagined by the framers of the Constitution working as intended in 2012.
We can all agree that the current field of GOP presidential hopefuls is a confused and sorry one, can't we?
The fact that recent polls have found Donald Trump a front runner is more than enough evidence of that for me. I thought NBC was scraping poop off the bottom of its shoe when it named him the host of a reality TV show. Now a substantial portion of the public is somehow considering this mountebank a legitimate presidential candidate. (Yes, "mountebank" is exactly the word for him -- if you don't believe me, look it up.)
And the most amazing thing, even as Washington political analysts chart the state of GOP disarray, they seem to have stopped talking about the role of Fox News. A piece in the Baltimore Sun today from the Tribune's Washington bureau does a nice job of chronicling the "legal and semantic haze" of "who's in and who's out" in the GOP race, yet there is no mention of the biggest reasons for that very legal and semantic haze: Fox News.
The cable channel's leader Roger Ailes signed several of the major GOP contenders, and now he appears to be telling them when and how they can or cannot essentially run or not run for president of the United States.
The longer some of them keep from actually declaring, the longer they can keep their big-bucks contracts (Think Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee). Among those who lose under that scenario are voters who don't get to judge the candidates in open, fair, debates -- or in how they handle the rigors of head-to-head campaigning and full-court press scrutiny.
Just as I denounced the Obama White House in 2009 for trying to discredit Fox News on the grounds that the executive branch of government should not be telling the press how to behave, so I now have to say how wrong and potentially destructive it is for a media entity to be so deeply involved in the process of electing a president of the United States.
I held my powder back in the days when Sarah Palin first started saying she would only talk to Fox News (blah blah blah) and Fox started signing potential candidates. I thought, "Let's not pre-judge. Let's see what the effect is on the process."
But now we are starting to see the effect in the confusion of the GOP, the lack of any serious competition for President Barack Obama and the rise of the likes of Trump with his rhetoric of schoolyard boasts and birther sleaze.
This is not how this democracy is intended to work, and Ailes knows it. If he doesn't, he shouldn't be running the highest rated cable news channel on television. The press covers presidential politics on behalf of the public, hopefully with transparency and honesty. It does not determine who those candidates should be in private meetings and through the use of million-dollar talent contracts.
And where are the wise analysts of the right who should be counseling the troops that the longer this continues the easier it will be for President Obama to get re-elected -- no matter how high the price of gasoline goes or how many wars he gets us into when we can't afford to pay our own bills at home? Those analysts, like Charles Krauthammer, whom I admire, are on the same payroll. Is the Fox paycheck silencing them as well?
The other reason I finally decided to write about this now is that two Fox "personalities," who are currently "suspended" from the cable channel, will have decide in the coming week whether they are in or out as presidential hopefuls. I am trying to get out in front a little on that one.
Under what has come to be known as "The Fox Rule," as if it was handed down to Moses atop a mountaintop rather than cooked up in the corridors at Fox News, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have to tell Fox News by May 1 whether they are in or out. Tell Roger Ailes and Fox News, not the American people, whether they are in out.
But the stone tablets that were handed down from on high apparently included a clause that excluded Palin and Huckabee from the May 1 deadline.
Here's how my friend and colleague Howard Kurtz reported the situation in an excellent piece written early in March at The Daily Beast :
This just in: Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee aren't running for president.At least not now.The network excluded the two contributors from a suspension it carried out Wednesday against Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, on grounds that Palin and Huckabee haven't taken any overt steps toward a White House run.
The former Alaska governor "hasn't done anything herself to show us she has any intention of running right now," says Dianne Brandi, Fox's executive vice president for legal affairs.What about the former Arkansas governor, who has given a whole slew of interviews over the past week about how he is grappling with whether to mount a second presidential campaign? "Huckabee is selling books now," Brandi says.
... Now, in addition to the political calendar, we have the Fox calendar...
A legal and semantic haze indeed.
But wouldn't it be ironic, if Fox News, which has been called a propaganda wing of the GOP by some critics, wound up with an unintended consequence of so fouling the process that someone as ridiculous as Trump became the nominee?
As delicious as it might be, as a citizen, I'll pass on the irony in favor of a responsible press and trustworthy political selection that leads to the best candidates winding up on the ballot.
If Fox News can't do it for the right journalistic reasons, let's hope it at least does it for the wrong partisan reasons, and takes immediate steps to remove itself from such intense involvement in selecting candidates who would be the next president of the United States.