Fox News narrowly avoided FEC punishment for illegally aiding Republican presidential candidates by setting up the debate rules so that they could hold two presidential debates.
A complaint was filed with the FEC after Fox News changed the original rules by splitting the first presidential debate into two parts. The commission deadlocked 3-3 with all Democrats voting to punish Fox News and all Republicans voting against it.
Fox is spinning this story as Democrats trying to punish Fox News. Republican FEC Commissioner Lee Goodman whined about censorship, while ignoring the very real issue behind the complaint, “All press organizations should be concerned when the government asserts regulatory authority to punish and censor news coverage.”
The big issue that Fox News and CNN are avoiding is that by setting the criteria for the debates that they will also be television, the cable news networks crossed the line between journalism and political participation. It is not the job of Fox and CNN to determine the criteria for debates. The criteria should have been left up to a third party sponsor of the debate.
The FEC complaint brought up a valid concern that news media should not be determining which candidates get to participate in debates. By creating second debate, both CNN and Fox News illegally aided the candidates who participated in the early debates.
What Fox News did was an illegal contribution. Fox deserved to be punished for their aiding of Republican candidates. The message sent would have been to discourage future primary debate broadcasters from setting and changing criteria for inclusion.
When television networks set the criteria for participation, the result is a broadcast focused more on entertainment than informing the public. The concept of presidential debates as reality television is how the Republican Party ended with Donald Trump as its nominee.
Fox News has been illegally aiding Republican candidates for years, but for the first time, they almost got caught.