The commission was reportedly split, 3-3, so Fox will face no penalty. (Update: The FEC record of the vote shows the commission deadlocked on a vote to find "no reason to believe" Fox News broke the law. But a spokesman for Commissioner Ellen Weintraub explained that her "no" vote was an objection other language in the motion. She voted with Republicans on a separate question about whether there is reason to believe Fox committed a violation, meaning the commission ultimately sided with Fox, 4-2. In a statement, Weintraub said she believes Fox was "trying to do the right thing.")
Nevertheless, some view the vote as the latest example of persecution against right-leaning media outlets, at a time when conservatives have their antennas up.
Gizmodo reported last month that Facebook workers routinely suppressed conservative news in the trending topics box on users' homepages. Facebook denied systemic bias but said it takes the charge seriously and last week announced new training for employees. After the last presidential election, the IRS admitted to "absolutely inappropriate" targeting of some conservative groups, which were subjected to undue scrutiny in their applications for tax-exempt status. Some nonprofit media outlets on the right have said they, too, were targeted.
Democratic commissioners' vote against Fox News got banner treatment on the Drudge Report on Thursday morning, and outrage flowed on Twitter.
The case against Fox News — stemming from a complaint by an as-yet-unnamed presidential candidate, according to the Washington Examiner — centers on a decision to lower the bar for entry into what ended up being a doubleheader debate night on Aug. 6. Originally, the event was reserved for the top 10 candidates, as determined by national polls. Two months beforehand, however, Fox added an undercard debate for anyone polling at 1 percent or higher — given the GOP field numbered 17, which was too much for one debate. Then, about a week ahead of the event, the network threw out the 1 percent requirement and invited all declared candidates to participate.
The expansions helped Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, Lindsey Graham, Carly Fiorina, George Pataki and Jim Gilmore, who were outside the top 10.
The argument is that Fox effectively made in-kind contributions to those candidates by tweaking the rules in a way that gave them exposure they would not have received otherwise. Fox hasn't issued an official statement on the vote.
CNN sponsored the next Republican debate night, last September, and also altered the requirements, citing a lack of recent polling. The result was an expansion of the primetime stage from 10 to 11 candidates, a change that benefited Fiorina. CNN also had an undercard debate that day, but it had been planned even before Fox's.
The FEC, as far as we know, has not taken a vote against CNN. It's not hard to see how conservatives sensitive to bias against their favorite news outlets would interpret the Fox News case as being politically motivated — even though it reportedly originated with a complaint by a Republican.