Ron Paul: Fair and Balanced

The prolific obfuscation regarding a Fox News “debate” will eventually be resolved. [Update: still no final word on Ron Paul’s participation.] However, it presents some important issues that need to be aired.

For those who missed the story, Fox News and the New Hampshire GOP had been engaged in discussions about holding a Republican Presidential Debate. Those plans were abandoned when ABC and WMUR committed to a broadcast debate one day prior to the Fox proposal. In light of that situation, Fox News felt that it needed some visibility just prior to the January 8th primary. They decided to host a “round table discussion” in a closed studio with a few of the candidates (presumably as a supplement to Chris Wallace’s Fox News Sunday program).  They sent out invitations to those that they considered leading contenders (double digits in the polls), which did not include Ron Paul. That upset Paul supporters and his campaign, which continues its efforts to gain his admission.

This event is not a “debate”, nor even a “forum”, which implies a public event with the direct engagement of the Republican Party in a legitimate effort to inform their members and voters of New Hampshire. Even if the NHGOP had facilitated arrangements, as it has done for many media outlets, the intended broadcast is a private event. Which presents a bit of a conundrum for Ron Paul and his supporters (I count myself among them).

As a defender of the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment, Paul believes that every individual (and every private corporation) has a right to use their own resources to express their own views: even if it lies, deceives, misrepresents, and distorts the facts for its own purposes. As a libertarian, he has no interest in coercing anyone to present contrary views and he opposes all legal interventions, including the “fairness doctrine.” In a free and open society, where there are no banned words, the truth will eventually emerge.

Of course, that position doesn’t preclude anyone from attempting to use persuasion; to encourage those with communication resources to present alternative or contrary views. That is what Paul and his campaign have done: attempt to persuade Fox that Ron ought to be included in their broadcast. Whatever their decision, Paul will accept it … even if he disputes the wisdom of that decision.

Fox News can do as it pleases and everyone has the option of viewing their broadcasts or not. My only objection to Fox is that they are dishonest. They are, in my opinion, unwilling to state their biases, prejudice, and political objectives. To be kind, Rupert Murdoch saw a market for a news outlet that offset what he saw as a liberal bias in broadcast journalism. Fair enough. What is disingenuous is the marketing claim that Fox would be “Fair and Balanced” in their coverage. They aren’t balanced and they only barely pretend to be fair. Their objective is to offset their perceived slant of the mainstream media – counter-balancing it – by offering and promoting their own opposing view. The facts that interest them are those that contradict those alternative viewpoints. In my words, they don’t intend to be fair or balanced in their own presentation of the news, but rather to counter what they consider an unfair and unbalanced general marketplace of news and ideas. That objective isn’t bad, but being dishonest about it is.

What is evident to anyone who watches Fox News is that they are slavish and unapologetic advocates for the George Bush view of the nation and the world. Although Roger Ailes and friends pretend to be conservatives, they equate almost every Bush position with conservatism, even if they occasionally mumble about the most extreme un-conservative policies and actions of the administration. It is their duty, as they see it, to “carry water,” for every Bush position, even after Rush Limbaugh has abandoned that task. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing that, in my view, if it is done honestly.

As with any news organization, Fox wants their viewers to be confident that they are a credible source for accurate information. Therefore, a decision to blatantly oppose any particular candidate puts their marketability in jeopardy. They are put in a position of saying that they will not present any candidate who opposes George Bush on a wide range of issues … their viewers be damned. For months, Fox has assiduously avoided mentioning Ron Paul, has scoffed at the enthusiasm of his supporters, barely mentioned his achievements, and attempted to “write him off” as a quixotic kook who has no chance to win any contest [See my comments on "can’t win".]

Given those marketing interests, it seems to me unlikely that Fox will make any final determination on the participation of Ron Paul in their broadcast roundtable event until after the Iowa primaries. If Ron Paul doesn’t get a “ticket” (third or better), they will have grounds for denying him a seat at their table. The problem is that they would have to exclude every other candidate below the top three finishers. It will be very hard for them to maintain any credibility if they apply different standards to different candidates. Almost daily, they hope and pray, without apologies, that John McCain or Fred Thompson (Bush friends) will do well enough to be considered viable in New Hampshire and beyond. If Fox includes them, and excludes Paul, their viewers will see that they have no interest in being “fair and balanced.”

Ron Paul supporters have a similar problem. Given their devotion to a candidate who defends Fox’s right to be wrong, what is the proper response if Paul is excluded? Certainly, they have every right to condemn that decision, proclaim it, protest it, and use whatever resources are at their command (with help from other media). However, there are limits. Intentionally swamping Fox email or web services, harassing advertisers, or any kind of malicious ad-hominem attacks are not in keeping with the demeanor and principles of their hero.

The best response is to simply prove Fox wrong. Commit to Ron Paul’s success, which would be a public rebuke and embarrassment for Fox’s dishonest manipulation, unfair, and unbalanced credo. When their viewers realize that they have been denied information on a serious, credible, and viable candidate, they will look elsewhere for honest news coverage. Fox doesn’t need to be destroyed, just humbled.

Update1: James Joyner at Outside The Beltway says “it’s hard to justify keeping him out”; Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo says “Yep, It's an Outrage”; Digbys Blog says “The Republicans don't like what Paul is saying and they told their boy Ailes to shut him down. They aren't even trying to hide it.”; Debra at Big Brass Blog says “He is well known enough that he should be allowed to participate in the debates because he does raise points that need to be discussed out in the open. But this is Fox, what the heck was I thinking?”; and even Paul critics like Damien Penny says “You know my feelings about Ron Paul's rabid supporters, but this time, I think they have a point.”

Update2: After a week of virtual silence and artful dodging, NHGOP Chairman Fergus Cullen has released a clear statement:

The New Hampshire Republican Party believes Congressmen Ron Paul and Duncan Hunter should be included in the FOX forum on Sunday evening.  Our mutual efforts to resolve this difference have failed.
While we understand that FOX News continues to move forward it is with regret, the New Hampshire Republican Party hereby withdraws as a partner in this forum.

Fox responded with one sentence:

We look forward to presenting a substantive forum which will serve as the first program of its kind this election season

Update3: Manchester, NH station MCAM-TV will be broadcasting a live Ron Paul one-hour townhall meeting concurrent with the Fox broadcast, simulcast on the web.