With the competitive race for the Republican nomination effectively over, the runners-up are expressing their hurt feelings with how they were treated by the press. Traditionally, those barbs have been directed at the so-called liberal media for the way reporters and pundits covered conservatives. This year though, the GOP complaints are raining down on Fox News, with both Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich taking shots at their former employer for what the candidates consider to be the channel's unfair and unbalanced primary coverage.
Fox News is biased! So claimed Gingrich this week:
During a meeting with 18 Delaware Tea Party leaders here on Wednesday, Newt Gingrich lambasted FOX News Channel, accusing the cable network of having been in the tank for Mitt Romney from the beginning of the Republican presidential fight.
And so claimed Santorum last month:
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum accused Fox News of "shilling" for GOP front-runner Mitt Romney during a contentious interview Tuesday on the "Kilmeade and Friends" radio show.
"He's had a 10-to-1 money advantage," Santorum said of Romney. "He's had all the organizational advantages. He has Fox News shilling for him every day, no offense Brian, but I see it. And yet, he can't seal the deal because he just doesn't have the goods to be able to motivate the Republican base to win this election."
Like a classroom filled with favorites used to being the center of the teacher's interest, the GOP candidates this season, flattered nonstop for years on Fox, suddenly found themselves competing for the channel's attention and fighting for kingmaker Roger Ailes' affection. Was it inevitable that the incestuous primary process played out on Fox would produce hurt feelings and bruised ego? Yes. Was the spectacle yet another reminder that Fox News has transformed itself into a purely political entity? It was.
Because while candidates and their campaigns used to complain that the Republican National Committee, for instance, was not staying neutral during primary contests, the focus this year shifted to Fox News, which in many ways has replaced the RNC as the driving electoral force in Republican politics today. (Fox proudly sponsored the entire primary season.) So now it's Fox News accused of putting its fingers on the scales; of picking a favorite and shunning competitors.
Gingrich this week complained that at some point Fox owner Rupert Murdoch had declared Mitt Romney would be the nominee and that the cable channel's coverage soon reflected that. Gingrich added, "[T]here's no question that Fox had a lot to do with stopping my campaign because such a high percentage of our base watches Fox."
Santorum made similar complaints.
From Columbia Journalism Review:
Judging from the lopsided tenor of most of the coverage during the broadcast day on Fox News on the Monday before the Wisconsin and Maryland primaries, Mitt Romney already had been anointed as the GOP nominee. In contrast, Rick Santorum was often as invisible as a purged Soviet general airbrushed out of history by Stalin.
In real terms, the blackout meant being cut off from the Fox News activist audience during primary season. As Mike Huckabee spelled it out last year, "If you want to talk to voters in the Republican primary, you do O'Reilly, you do Fox News." That's why Sean Hannity proudly proclaimed his GOP love-fest show to be the "Hannity primary." And it's why a January poll by the Pew Research Center found that 36 percent of all Republicans, and 53 percent of Tea Party supporters, picked Fox News as their primary source of campaign news.
The truth is Gingrich and Santorum launched their presidential campaigns in part based on the national platform Fox News had given them as commentators. With the primary season now concluding, it's telling that both candidates feel jilted by the "news" channel.