Saturday, December 29, 2007

Fox News Gives a Boost to the Paul Campaign

***UPDATE 3, 1/1/2008*** CNN, via the AP, is now reporting the original story was, in fact, correct. Apparently Fox News has offered an explanation for excluding Paul that is based on the idea that it has insufficient space in its "mobile studio" to accommodate six candidates. They claim Paul is excluded because he did not receive double digit support in recent polls. This strikes me as bogus; if the criteria is to be likelihood at winning the nomination, Fox News should not be saying who has a likelihood of winning the nomination before there has even been a vote cast. The criteria ABC News has selected for its debate the preceding debate strikes me as far more reasonable and objective, based in part on the Iowa results; Fox's criteria give the appearance that it just wanted to exclude Paul from the debate. While they certainly have the right to do so, they are giving up any claim to "we report, you decide" in the process and are intentionally and overtly seeking to steer the results of the GOP race. As I said in my original post, below, it is likely that the Paul grassroots will make this decision backfire on Fox, but it is still a move that is beyond shady.

***UPDATE 2, 12/30/2007*** It is now pretty clear that the whole story was false. Which means that there were a whole host of errors here that went uncorrected for several days. When I first heard about the story on Thursday night, I was a little bit suspicious of it; but when the story remained unrefuted through most of yesterday and had been picked up by numerous sources both pro and anti-Paul, I figured it was safe to write about. I was wrong. My original analysis, which remains below, is therefore inaccurate and now meaningless.

***UPDATE***Death By a Thousand Paper Cuts raises some significant doubts about the validity of this story. The story first appeared a couple days ago, but there still has not been an official announcement from Fox News that the forum even exists or that it will be televised. Since the source of the original story was the AP (which was why I felt comfortable posting about it) and also the Paul campaign itself, I'm still inclined to think there is a story here. But the doubts raised at DBKP make a lot of sense; at the very least, there seems to be a need for more hard facts on this story. My original post remains below, unedited:

As is now widely being reported, Fox News is apparently excluding Ron Paul from a last-minute televised "candidate forum" set for January 6 in NH- two days before the NH primary, and three days after the Iowa caucuses kick off the race for delegates. I don't think it's necessary for me to repeat the many obvious problems with this decision by Fox News, which importantly appears to be Fox's decision rather than the decision of the state party itself. If you really do need an explanation of what is wrong with this decision, you can't do much better than this. The only real expanation for Fox's actions is that Fox overtly wants to control the coverage and outcome of the GOP race. While this is hardly surprising, the overtness of this actions demonstrates that Fox has dropped any pretense of being above politics and something other than an interest group unto itself.

Wake Up America has a balanced discussion of possible responses by the Paul grassroots. In this case, the grassroots are absolutely right to be angry, but the idea of "nonviolent disruption" of the event is one of the worst things they could do- they'll just come off looking like idiots. Fortunately, cooler heads seem likely to prevail and the grassroots could come up with a new creative response to turn this into a positive.

Which brings me to the point of this post. If Fox News was hoping to hurt the Paul campaign with this move, it will almost surely backfire. For starters, these debates long ago passed the point of being tiresome and meaningless; we've had one every couple of weeks for the last six plus months. While this particular debate is only two days before the NH primary, everyone in New Hampshire at this point has to be pretty much sick of hearing about politics. What this means is that the actual substance of the "forum" will have little to no effect on voter decisions in the state, and people nationally just won't care all that much.

On the other hand, Paul's exclusion will be conspicuous, especially coming on the heels of an anticipated $20 million fundraising quarter that should keep Paul in front of the cameras for much of the week. If Paul finishes third in Iowa - a distinct possibility - that absence will be even more conspicuous. Another oft-ignored fact is that Paul has been getting an unusually large number of nationally broadcast interviews the last few months; his absence will be conspicuous. On top of all that is the fact that his exclusion will itself be news, especially with the passionate hatred that exists for Fox News at the other television media outlets. There are going to be a lot of even stalwart Republicans who will think that Fox News' decision on this is a little bit shady. That treatment could make them sympathetic to Paul's campaign in a way that another debate appearance could not.

But any possible benefits like this will go out the window if Paul supporters do something stupid along the lines of disrupting the forum itself or in any way harassing average residents of the state.