Fair, balanced and well compensated

TODAY'S GUEST POST IS BY PEPPERCOMMER BETH STARKIN.

A post in Monday's POLITICO highlighted an interesting issue in that four of the anticipated  GOP candidates for the 2012 election are currently on FOX’s payroll.  This raises several concerns from both a communication and reputation standpoint, with the overarching issue that this essentially gives each of these potential candidates the opportunity to be paid to disguise Fox-news-gop their campaigning as news.  Despite the “fair and balanced” tagline, being on FOX’s payroll offers these politicians an opportunity that is anything but. 

Unlike other candidates, who will have to answer to reporters who may question their stances and proposed policies, these individuals have free reign to spread their messages without needing to answer to anyone but themselves.  In fact, no-compete clauses in the contracts of each pretty well guarantee that they won’t have to answer tough questions from other journalists, as they are forbidden from appearing on other stations.  When no one can challenge you, it’s pretty easy to keep your reputation intact and make the case that your solutions are best.

And what about the other candidates?  Is it fair that they will be up against a competitor who has unbridled access to the media, who in fact is being paid to share his/her opinions and publically stump?  I dare say, no.  They will have to fight that much harder to gain even the same level of recognition as their commentator competition, much less support for their stances and agendas.

As for all the other media outlets, they are stuck between a rock and a hard place.  How can you cover an election when you don’t have access to many of the expected candidates?  Is it fair to throw down the gauntlet and openly question stances and positions when the person being questioned isn’t available to answer?  Can you just ignore legitimate concerns because someone can’t appear on your station? 

Unfortunately, it’s the American people who are ultimately hurt because they can’t get access to the full picture about our candidates for the most important job someone can hold in this country.

11 thoughts on “Fair, balanced and well compensated

  1. Touché…but, not only does the plight of the migrant farm worker affect my meals somewhat, it also affects all of our livelihoods and retirements. Americans could have those jobs if they wanted them, but as Colbert shared, most are too lazy and hold themselves in too high of a regard to seek such employment. If I needed a farm job, I would put on my overalls and take it (see my previous opinions posted here about the unemployment plight of middle management execs who stay unemployed due to ego).
    I firmly believe that voters should seek out info from all corners and those that stick to one channel or paper aren’t completely informed. Perhaps Obama wouldn’t have won and we wouldn’t have doubled our debt during the time he has been in office if more people watched FOX?
    Simply put, politics is a dirty business and we all know money talks. If a voter such a Rupert Murdoch, who is also a large business owner (employees thousands and pays a bunch in taxes), wants to use his network to better his political party’s chances of success, who are you to complain? Who is anyone to complain?
    PS – the Gray Lady certainly shows favoritism to the liberal set, doesn’t it? Personally, I’ve had a hard time finding any kind of pro-conservative coverage, outside of the occasional commentary piece, in the paper. What about you?

  2. Well, Lunch, the plight of the migrant farm worker impacts what you’re having for lunch, so maybe it’s worth paying more attention to, but it still has nothing to do with the issue at hand.
    So, if I’m understanding what you are saying correctly, we should move the entire televised GOP primary political debate to FOX news (at least any discussions until official bids are announced)? Wow, talk about a home court advantage for those four potential candidates. Oh, and yes, FOX does intend to enforce the no-compete clause.
    Do you honestly not see the issue in the media and politicians being so closely aligned? Or the problem with one particular outlet holding so much power within an election season? Or the unfair advantage these candidates hold?
    Regardless, this isn’t an issue along party lines – in fact, it will impact the voting for the GOP primary far more than the final election (other than in helping to determine who the GOP’s candidate is). It’s a bigger issue about access to information and role of media to ensure the American public can make educated and informed decisions when they enter the voting booth.

  3. Well, I am only talking about the issue because some fool decided that the “plight of the migrant worker” was important enough to waste my tax dollars by inviting a comedian from TV to appear before our the House. Thanks for making a mockery of our Government and your party simultaneously! This is the perfect example of how quickly “change” became “change the channel.” (Meaning the president is on TV an awful lot and look how much good that has done him, you, me, us).
    So, as for the debate over whether or not a real journalist, pundit or broadcast commentator can run for office and still keep his/her day job, where is the wrong? His/her opposition can either appear on Fox News – if the no-compete is enforced – or the person can carry its battle into print, online outlets or the blogosphere. Aren’t politicians supposed to be creative and able to reach and strike a chord with their audiences?
    It seems to me that you are you waving the white flag even before the fight is over. And this no-compete will be the reason for the loss? Really, it is much more. This seems like quasi-social engineering to me. Simply put, those that complain about Fox employees running for office simply don’t have the confidence in themselves or their party necessary to win a spot on the American voter’s dance card.

  4. Lunch, the Colbert appearance was primarily the act of a single person trying to raise awareness for a serious issue impacting her district – the plight of the migrant farm worker – a publicity stunt stunt of sorts that seems to have worked, since everyone is now talking about the issue. But both Republicans and Democrats on a whole were not pleased by it, and, no it’s probably not the best use of taxpayer dollars. But that’s really a whole other issue.
    The issue is that these potential candidates are on FOX’s payroll, with their own shows. This gives them unfair access and opportunity to stump, without challenge. Sure, other candidates will have platforms on other stations, but with the usual questioning that comes with it. These four are protected from the challenge by no-compete clauses.

  5. Ghost, excellent point, and I agree with you. In the case of these industry organizations, transparency is key, and any PR person who advocates creating a third-party organization without making it clear who is behind the funding is doing both their client and the public a grave disservice. But, I would argue that paid political commentators who are also potential candidates takes things to a whole new level of questionableness…

  6. Beth, you can complain about this when your elected democratic leaders invite a comedian (Colbert) to testify before Congress? What a blatant sorry waste of our tax dollars. Can’t they pass a bill or something instead? Who was asleep at the wheel when this decision was made?
    And, for what it is worth, I have a client on Fox Business every Wednesday (tune in at noon if you want to watch) who is very conservative. But, in fairness and in balance, they pit him against Erika Payne, a mouthpiece for liberals who is founder of the Agenda Project (they were the ones selling the “F*cK the Tea Party” coffee mugs for $12 bucks recently – which is very capitalistic, no?).
    There will be outlets that will offer all candidates a platform, but many will be too scared to accept the challenge.

  7. Excellent observation as always, Ghost. As soon as I read your post, I thought of the disingenuous social media work done a few years ago by Edelman on Wal-Mart’s behalf. In Edelman’s defense, they did apologize for not identifying their employee bloggers as ‘independent fans’ of the retailer. But, the damage had been done and PR was once again painted as the culprit. We live in a time of blurred lines. Fox, and its stable of paid presidential contenders, is just the latest manifestation of a communications world gone mad.

  8. I wonder how many Democratic candidates can say they have a daughter on ‘Dancing with the stars’? Those Palins are something very special.

  9. But here’s the question: How different is this than, say, creating a third-party organization that claims independence for the sake of appearances but, in reality, is completely funded by an industry or cause? PR folks can’t have it both ways: We can’t create these type of bogus organizations to help our clients sell more widgets — and then bemoan the technique when it successfully spreads into other realms of our lives.
    I believe historians — at least the astute ones — will realize that our times are a distinct reflection of the triumph (or, depending on one’s opinion, blight) of the public relations industry on our culture on the whole.

  10. Thanks for the comment, Ann. I’m with you. We’ve become a country who can’t focus beyond the soundbite, and I believe we do need to take some personal responsibility in reading and watching outside of our comfort zone. And with a station paying candidates to masquerade their stumping as news, that’s become all the more necessary.

  11. Beth, I think that if this were happening on the other side of the aisle, I’d feel just as strongly about the danger of such a practice. Americans aren’t as well read as we should be, and many of us rely on just one cable channel for all of our news. If that news source is also the stump for candidates, how will they ever know better?