The Fox News debate is becoming the circus that many thought it would be after Republican presidential candidate Mark Everson filed a complaint with the FEC asking that the network’s rules for participation in the “pre-show” debate be declared illegal.
Everson is arguing that election law requires debate organizers to set “pre-established and objective standards” for inclusion and that Fox News has not met that requirement for Thursday’s debate in Cleveland.
Fox announced earlier this year that it would limit the debate to the top 10 candidates in “an average of the five most recent national polls” as of Aug. 4 at 5 p.m. ET. The network later announced that it would hold a separate on-air forum earlier Thursday for candidates who did not crack the top 10 but “score 1% or higher in an average of the five most recent national polls.” That was the same standard Fox set for inclusion in its GOP debates in the 2012 campaign cycle.
Last week the network scrapped the 1% requirement for the early event, with Executive Vice President for News Michael Clemente saying it will instead include “all declared candidates whose names are consistently being offered to respondents in major national polls, as recognized by Fox News.”
Everson believes that Fox News is violating election law, and while the network shouldn’t be overly worried about his FEC complaint, the door has been opened for even bigger issues to come. The problem is that Fox is making up the rules as they go along. No one knows what five polls they are going to be using to determine candidate inclusion. What happens if one of the candidates loses out on the final spot in the main debate? John Kasich, Chris Christie, and Rick Perry are separated by less than a point for ninth, tenth, and eleventh place. One of these three is going to miss the debate.
Does the candidate who gets left out sue Fox News for inclusion? What about the dozens of other candidates who are being left out of the “pre-show” debate? Since Fox has dropped the 1% threshold, theoretically any of the other declared candidates could view themselves as eligible.
Fox News has made such a mess of this debate that it shouldn’t surprise anyone if they end up in court. Everson’s federal complaint is just the tip of the iceberg. Fox News could be in some very hot water between now and Thursday.
Mr. Easley is the managing editor, who is White House Press Pool, and a Congressional correspondent for PoliticusUSA. Jason has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. His graduate work focused on public policy, with a specialization in social reform movements.
Awards and Professional Memberships
Member of the Society of Professional Journalists and The American Political Science Association