Chris Wallace took one for the team.
At the outset of Fox News Sunday, the host noted that Christine O'Donnell had abruptly cancelled her planned appearance. "This is not the program we were planning to bring you," said Wallace, as he explained to viewers that the controversial Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Delaware had backed out of her promise to appear on Fox News Sunday.
Wallace expressed no judgments about O'Donnell's last-minute maneuver and generally played down the somewhat jarring turn of events.
But let's be honest, news that O'Donnell had bailed on Fox News Sunday represented a humiliating setback not just for Wallace, who lost out on a rare chance to generate ratings for his perennial last-place Sunday program, but also for the whole Fox News team which is essentially sponsoring O'Donnell's candidacy.
Yes, O'Donnell also gave Bob Schieffer's Face the Nation the slip over the weekend. And yes, O'Donnell's campaign floated the implausible excuse that the candidate could not do the Sunday morning shows in Washington, D.C. because she had to be back in Delaware for a Sunday afternoon event. (Has O'Donnell never ridden Amtrak?) But it was O'Donnell's decision to stiff Fox News that caused the most commotion, and likely the most headaches inside the cable network.
Why? Because now Fox News has to explain to viewers why O'Donnell is ready to serve in the U.S. Senate even though she's not ready to appear on Fox News Sunday.
Before this campaign season, O'Donnell's disappearing act would have been truly shocking. "I can't remember when anybody has canceled on us on a Saturday, but there's always a first," CBS's Schieffer told the Associated Press. He's right. It was generally unheard of for a candidate to walk away from a prestigious, and much sought-after, Sunday morning platform; a chance to reach tens of thousands of voters back home, while also reaching the entire nation. Statewide candidates dream of that kind of exposure, as well as the attention that goes along with it.
But not O'Donnell.
The spectacle of Tea Party favorites refusing to be interviewed by mainstream journalists like Schieffer at Face The Nationhas, sadly, become rather commonplace. Recall that Rand Paul famously backed out his Meet The Press appearance at the last minute, while in Nevada candidate Sharron Angle has been caught practically running away from inquisitive reporters.
In truth, it would have been newsworthy if O'Donnell had actually gone through with that Face The Nation interview, just because the norm for Sarah Palin-backed candidates has been to run and hide from legitimate journalists and refuse to appear in any sort of news-making forum where the questions are not tightly controlled and sympathetic. Their idea of interacting with the press is taking softball queries from AM talk radio hosts.
And Fox News.
So unfortunately, O'Donnell's decision to back out on Face the Nation wasn't all that surprising. But O'Donnell's decision to walk away from her commitment to sit down and answer Chris Wallace's questions represents a new level of paranoia and fear on the part of a far-right, novice candidates. And it's her last-minute cancellation that's created a new mess for Fox News.
It's true there was lots of media chatter last week about the odd civil war that erupted on Fox News as contributors such as Karl Rove and Charles Krauthammer belittled O'Donnell's candidacy both right before and right after the Delaware vote. The men belittled O'Donnell, stressing she had no chance of defeating a Democrat in a November vote in the blue state. (Rove: "[T]here are just a lot of nutty things she's been saying that just simply don't add up. ")
Following her surprise primary win though, the rest of Fox News demanded Republican non-believes "get over" their doubts about her. Sean Hannity called her GOP rival, Rep. Mike Castle, a "crybaby" for refusing to endorse a candidate he doesn't think is qualified for the job, while Fox & Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson lamented that it was "suicide" not to back O'Donnell's run.
Objective bystanders? Hardly. But that's the Opposition Party game Fox News has been playing all year where political activism trumps any semblance of traditional journalism.
It's the latest twist that makes events so strange and messy for Fox News, though. Because the fact is, in recent months there had been either a spoken or unspoken campaign agreement in play: Fox News would promote a select number of high-profile Tea Party candidates who in return they would essentially appear on Fox News exclusively, where they would not run the risk of being asked any questions from non-partisan reporters, and where they would be given the chance to fundraise on the air.
Now O'Donnell has mucked up the agreement, apparently unprepared to even appear on Fox News programs. Or more specifically, unprepared to appear on certain Fox News programs. Because don't forget, after her primary win last week in Delaware, O'Donnell dashed to appear on Hannity. Starring in the Sean Hannity-sponsored primetime pep session, O'Donnell was treated to softball questions as well as a national platform to shill for campaign donations. She also was quick to visit Fox's morning crew, Fox & Friends, who are hardly known for their hard hitting questioning of GOP candidates. Meaning, O'Donnell wasted no time feeding at the Fox News media trough.
However, faced with the prospect of having to answer questions from Chris Wallace -- who unlike Hannity sometimes plays the role of an actual journalist on television –and faced with the prospect of likely being asked about her recently discovered comments about how the proud conservative Christian candidate had once "dabbled in witchcraft," O'Donnell backed out to ran back to Delaware.
Now Fox News has to explain why O'Donnell was so eager to appear on Hannity's show, as well as Fox & Friends, but refused to sit down with Wallace. (O'Donnell has also rejected requests from Bill O'Reilly to appear on his show, according to that host.)
How messy has the O'Donnell campaign become for Fox News? This messy: If she had canceled on Face the Nation and went through with her weekend appearance on Fox News Sunday, that would have simply been seen as even more proof of how deeply in the pocket Rupert Murdoch's channel is for Republican candidates.
And keep in mind that by canceling on Face the Nation and Fox News Sunday, O'Donnell seemed to advertise how unprepared she is for the spotlight. Yet Fox News is still doubling down on her candidacy.
I repeat: Fox News has a Christine O'Donnell problem.