Liberal conspiracy theorists sometimes imagine that Fox News is somehow mysteriously pulling the strings of the conservative movement and even the United States. That is, of course, just nuts. But those who obsess about Fox’s outsize influence actually have something to chew on this year. It turns out that by forcing public figures who are under contract to it as commentators to declare their presidential intentions one way or the other the network my have more influence on the roster and the timing of the Republican presidential field than any group or party faction.
Earlier this year, Fox helped Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich to make up their minds by suspending them after it became clear that both were planning campaigns. Without the nudge from Fox, both could have played coy about actually running while still claiming they were “exploring” the possibility of a candidacy. That was followed by the network’s strong-arming of Mike Huckabee to fess up about his plans. The 2008 Republican contender probably never intended to run but, like anybody with a television show and other media projects, he benefited from the uncertainty. That is, until Fox made it clear that unless he withdrew his name from consideration he would lose his weekly show on the channel.
Fox’s motivation in forcing these men to stop playing around is entirely principled. The network rightly considers it improper to give a candidate or possible candidate a paid forum. But no matter how you look at it, their decision to collect a roster of presidential wannabes gives them a certain degree of clout, at least as far as the composition of the GOP candidate’s list.
But there is one more possible Republican candidate that is still on the Fox payroll: Sarah Palin. Given the relative silence from the Palin camp for the last few months, there was no need to force her hand since it appeared that she had no interest in running in 2012. But with Palin returning to a schedule of speaking engagements this weekend—she is planning on touring the Northeast in a red, white and blue bus that bears a striking resemblance to the sort of conveyance candidates like to cruise around in—it may be time for Fox to put the former Alaska governor to the question.
Nobody really knows whether Palin’s upcoming appearances are campaign stops or if she is just enjoying her celebrity and influence with no real intention of entering the race. She is, no doubt, enjoying the speculation and would like to milk it for as long as possible before she makes a decision. But it’s doubtful that Fox News chief Roger Ailes will let her get away with this for very long.
Despite liberal whining, Fox isn’t really very different from the rest of the media except for the fact that it is more honest about its political tilt. But by compelling its commentators to halt the guessing about their presidential intentions, it must be conceded that Fox has more influence in terms of the choices that Republican voters will have than any other outlet in recent memory.