GETTING STINGY WITH DEBATE INVITATIONS….After having watched every major debate for both parties’ presidential candidates, I can certainly understand the temptation on the part of organizers to limit participants. The more candidates on the stage, the greater the need for shorter answers and fewer questions.

Having said that, this just isn’t kosher.

Republican Rep. Ron Paul and his supporters are targeting the Fox News network today after an Internet discussion spread during the weekend that the cable network wasn’t giving the Texas lawmaker a seat at the table for a New Hampshire forum scheduled two days before the state’s Jan. 8 primary. […]

This morning, Washington Wire received a mass email from an independent Paul supporter calling on his considerable online organization to write to Fox employees and protest the decision. The email listed the addresses of about 60 Fox employees, from press contacts to hosts Bill O’Reilly, Shepard Smith, Neil Cavuto and Brit Hume.

“Has Fox News Excluded Ron Paul From the Pre NH Primary Forum?” the email said, “Fox News cannot just stifle public opinion. debate and impact a primary election by excluding Ron Paul just because they don’t like his message of freedom and liberty,” the email said (typos included).

Fox News and the New Hampshire Republican Party will host a forum at St. Anselm College, featuring Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Fred Thompson. Given that Paul has about twice as much support in New Hampshire as Thompson, he’s likely to finish ahead of Giuliani in Iowa, and he’s raised more money in the fourth quarter than any of them, it’s hard to understand how the Republican network can justify excluding Paul. (Fox News has not announced its criteria for participation.)

What’s more, the state GOP has said it wants Paul on the stage, meaning that it’s Fox News specifically that’s decided to exclude the Texas Republican from the event.

Josh Marshall added, “Paul’s out because he’s not a Fox News Bush-clone. Say whatever you want about the guy, Fox News shouldn’t be able to silence him because they don’t like his views.”

I’m not even close to a Ron Paul fan, but I’m certainly willing to concede that Fox News shouldn’t stack the deck like this.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.