Rick Santorum on Fox’s alleged Romney tilt: Good for business

March 13, 2012

Ah, speculation. (RICHARD DREW/AP)

Who knows whether Santorum’s claims of a pro-Romney tilt have any basis in the transcripts. Sifting through hundreds of thousands of words of on-air chatter would be required to render a judgment on that question.

What we do know is that Santorum’s suspicions about Fox’s primary coverage is good news for Fox. Those suspicions keep the cable network just where chief Roger Ailes likes it. In the center of a public dialogue, that is.

Cynics call it the “Fox primary” — the alleged process by which the channel allegedly decides what candidate it wants to back. Speculation about this alleged primary arose late last year, when Fox News’s Bret Baier sat with Romney against a backdrop of what appeared to be canned goods. The impeccably prepped inquisitor pilloried the candidate on immigration and other issues on which he’d shown positional flexibility, shall we say. It was a fabulous session.

In a subsequent moment on air, Baier notified Fox viewers that Romney had expressed displeasure with the interview after it had concluded. That came off as something of a cheap shot against Romney, cueing speculation that Fox was tilted against Romney and in favor of the surge practitioner of the day, Newt Gingrich.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow in early December jumped on the signals coming from Foxland:

That’s not an anchor reflecting on how the interview went. That’s the anchor giving you the behind the scenes, backstage dirt that the candidate probably thought was off the record. And doing it on TV, sort of spilling the beans. Bret Baier informing the entire Fox News audience that behind the scenes, when he was doing something he probably thought was unreportable, Mitt Romney’s a real whiner.

So if we’re inclined to believe both Maddow and Santorum, Fox late last year favored Gingrich to fend off Romney and now favors Romney to fend off Santorum. Implausible?

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Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.
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