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Hannity, Fox cross line with on-air GOP fund raising

As someone who has found himself often defending Fox News the past year against attacks by the Obama administration, I feel an obligation to also call Fox out when it is behaving badly. And what follows is an example of Fox News behaving very badly.

My defense of Fox News against Team Obama and its partisan surrogates is based on a fundamental principle: the belief that a free and independent press is vital to democracy, and we cannot let the executive branch ever decide what it and is not a legitimate news outlet. And Obama leads an executive branch that seems unduly interested in manipulating and bullying the press.

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But if Fox News wants folks like me to defend it as a news organization, it should behave like one -- and that definitely does not include using your channel for partisan political fund raising on the eve of what could be a watershed election as Fox did Thursday night during Sean Hannity's show.

Hannity brought on John Kasich, Ohio's Republican candidate for governor, and shamelessly let him use the interview to raise money for his re-election campaign, one of the most contested and important in the nation. I'll include just the part of the transcript with the clearest fund raising call from Kasich -- and the video of the interview. (View the video below, and click ahead for the transcript.)

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Here's the fund raising portion of the interview in boldface:

HANNITY: The polls have you up. But I've been reading and seeing that there is more money going against you. How many times has the president and vice president been in Ohio to campaign against you?

KASICH: Well, Barack Obama will be here 11 times on Sunday night, Sean.

(LAUGHTER)

KASICH: And -- 11 times. And Joe Biden has been here -- you know, he's been four times in the last three weeks. There's been more money spent against me than any candidate in America.

And the reason is Obama is running for reelection, because he knows if he loses Ohio he's in trouble. And all I'm doing is running for governor. He's going to appear with his twin here, Ted Strickland. And, you know, I mean, it just gives people an opportunity in this race to vote against more taxes, more stimulus, to be in a position to vote against Obamacare. Try to get this economy straightened out.

So it is a very central race. And, 11 times, Sean, they're coming after Johnny Kasich for 11 times he's going to be here. It's amazing.

HANNITY: Yes.

KASICH: People can come on our website at KasichforOhio.com. Sunday night at 6:30. We're going to talk about the damage the Obama agenda has done to us. And if you have extra nickels or dimes please send it our way.

HANNITY: Well, I --

KASICH: KasichforOhio.com.

HANNITY: I want to put this -- put some emphasis on this because this is really important. Explain to people why -- we cannot afford to lose that race?

KASICH: Well, no Republican has ever been elected president without winning Ohio. Ohio is ground zero. The eyes of the country is on this race. We've had people come from Europe to take a look at this race. The BBC apparently reporting. The Economist has been here.Look, this is it, Sean. This is where his -- this is his firewall to be reelected in 2012. And so he's here trying to rev up his base. I've had, you know, all -- the liberal organizations have been involved in here. All the big labor PACs, from the SEIU to the teachers union. They've all been in here because they're afraid of change, of getting back to conservative approach. And they're afraid that Obama will lose this election if he doesn't win Ohio.

In April, Fox News clipped Hannity's wings when it found out that Tea Party organizers in Cincinnati were selling tickets to a broadcast of Hannity's show. The Cincinnati broadcast was cancelled on a dime, and Hannity was ordered back to New York.

Given all the controversy about the channel's parent corporation giving $1 million to the Republican Governors Association, it is time for management to end and publicly pledge not to let any of its shows be used in a such a partisan and inappropriate manner.

While I don't like it, I am willing to acknowledge that much of the public seems comfortable with the distinction Fox News, MSNBC and now CNN make about their prime time programs being like the editorial and op-edit pages of a newspaper, while their daytime shows are more like the news pages. So, critics shouldn't judge the prime-time shows by strict news standards, their argument goes.

Fine, even if I would totally accept that, I still have news for senior management at Fox: There isn't a reputable mainstream newspaper in the country that lets its editorial page be used for partisan fund raising. What Hannity allowed Kasich to do on his show Thursday crosses the line as to what's acceptable for any news organization, and we all know it isn't the first Hannity time has done this.

If Fox News management wants mainstream critics to defend the organization's right to be treated like a news organization, it needs to behave like one -- all the time. Hannity's bosses need to publicly put an end to such partisan on-air fund raising now -- not sometime in November after the election.

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