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Rick Santorum: What's good for Fox News is bad for the country

As Wednesday's GOP debate arrives with Rick Santorum now at center stage, it is impossible not to notice how much his rise is welcomed at Fox News.

It is also impossible not to see how deeply owner Rupert Murdoch and chief Roger Ailes have already corrupted the party and our political process through owned and operated candidates like Santorum.

Yet, as impossible as it is, lots of my colleagues are acting like they don't notice, because while the turmoil in the Republican Party isn't as good for them and their employers as it is for Fox, it still makes for more interesting subject matter and better business.

As for the proper role of the press in a democracy, go talk to Edward R. Murrow or some other old, dead true believer, Zurawik. We think Roger Ailes and his cynicism are the cool way to be. Besides, when Ailes and Fox give us a few crumbs of access for playing ball with the channel's PR agenda, we get page views, and what's democracy compared to the almighty click?

On Monday, Murdoch, the guy who went back to England and played the role of addled old man when faced with an inquiry into the ways he had already corrupted the UK's political system, tweeted: “From distance, Santorum doing great. Values really do count in America, and not sneered at as in parts of Europe. Win Michigan game over.”

He had already done the same twice in January on the eve of the Iowa caucuses.

Tweet One: "Can't resist this tweet, but all Iowans think about Rick Santorum. Only candidate with genuine big vision for country."

Tweet Two: Good to see Santorum surging in Iowa. Regardless of policies, all debates showed principles, consistency and humility like no other."

Can you imagine if David Sarnoff at NBC, William Paley at CBS, or one of the other founding giants of network news had endorsed someone and attempted to sway votes this way -- someone who it helped bring into millions of homes in America by giving them a job on their network doing political analysis?

It wasn't that long ago that managing editors at papers like the Washington Post wouldn't even say how they voted for fear of showing favoritism. But those days are gone now, aren't they?

Do you see how obliterated the wall has already become between a press that scrupulously covers the American political process and one that seeks to manipulate it?

The quid pro quo here is obvious: A drawn-out primary GOP dogfight, especially if it goes all the way to the convention, is going to be ratings manna for Fox. Of course, Fox is already number one. But in election years, CNN has always come on strong.

But who are you going to turn to for inside dope if the various elements of the right go to war with one another over the GOP candidate? CNN will get a spike from people wanting a coherent journalistic narrative of the chaos, but Fox will be so far through the roof, Nielsen will probably have to invent a new kind of People Meter to measure its audience.

Backing Santorum the way it has is a win-win-win-win-win-ad-infinitum for Fox. And if he should improbably get the nomination, and even more improbably win the general election, Murdoch will have succeeded in his attempt to own American politics beyond even his grandest dreams.

But forget the doomsday scenario. Look at the way in which Santorum's Fox-fueled rise has already debased the political process in recent days.

Instead of talking about the millions of Americans who are growing more and more desperate every day because they have lost jobs or are worried sick about losing the jobs they have, we are talking about President Obama's "theology" and issues connected to women's reproductive  rights that the nation had decided decades ago with Roe v. Wade.

The discourse Santorum initiated with his talk of President Obama having a "phony theology" is one more approriate for a rigged election in a totalitarian theocracy like Iran -- not one in this democracy. But here we are, aren't we?

I could go on for days with how distressed I am about the way Fox News and the press that plays along with it have let this campaign go.

I hope CNN, the last organization with the resources and the inclination to be a great international source of trustworthy news and information, will not let Santorum's extreme right-wing social-issues agenda drive Wednesday's debate. That will be a start.

And if Santorum starts in with more of the "liberal press" bashing that he's taken to in recent days, I hope moderator John King will take him on the way the way Wolf Blitzer did in shutting down Newt Gingrich during a previous CNN debate.

But most of all, I hope more of my friends and colleagues in the press will quit playing the game and start denouncing Fox's debasement of our political system.

I know some have, and even though I have been singing this tune for the last 18 months, I am not the first to hit these notes. But a lot of good journalists are looking the other way as Murdoch and Ailes shred one of the two major political parties in this country.

And love or hate the GOP, we will be a weaker and more confused and corrupt nation with only one strong party.

Trust me, I know. I live in a city and state like that: Baltimore, Maryland.

And the corruption and lack of citizen concern in government make me want to gag.

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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