The limits of an awkward media relationship

THE LIMITS OF AN AWKWARD MEDIA RELATIONSHIP…. It seems likely that the Tea Party “movement,” such as it is, wouldn’t exist in any meaningful way were it not for Fox News. In turn, the right-wing groups that make up the “movement” reward the Republican network with their unyielding loyalty.

Last week, when Rupert Murdoch said publicly that Fox News shouldn’t play a formal role in “supporting the Tea Party,” it was unintentionally hilarious. The network has already invested heavily in doing just that, repeatedly, for the better part of a year.

It was interesting, then, to learn that there are limits to the awkward media relationship.

Fox News executives cancelled Sean Hannity’s planned Tea Party show from Cincinnati Thursday night when they learned that the organizers were selling tickets to the taping of the show — and pricing the tickets based on proximity to Hannity. As I suggested in a post earlier Thursday, Hannity and the Tea Party were essentially involved in a co-production, and that crossed several lines of cablecasting propriety.

The conservative author and host was ordered back to New York Thursday afternoon by his bosses to do his show in-studio rather than from a hall at the University of Cincinnati that the Tea Party organizers were paying for. The university official who booked the hall told me in an email response to my earlier post that the Tea Party paid for the rent and was essentially giving Hannity a free ride on use of the hall for his cablecast.

“FOX News never agreed to allow the Cincinnati Tea Party organizers to use Sean Hannity’s television program to profit from broadcasting his show from the event,” Bill Shine, executive vice president of programming for Fox News, said in a statement emailed to the Sun Thursday. “When senior executives in New York were made aware of this, we changed our plans for tonight’s show.”

The network obviously made the right call here. Hannity had effectively obliterated the line between professional standards and shameless hackery, and apparently even Fox News has its limits. It’s one thing for a cable network to become a promotional vehicle for right-wing activism, but to allow far-right groups to effectively co-produce a broadcast, and make money from selling proximity to a media professional was apparently deemed indefensible, even for Fox.

James Poniewozik summarized the dynamic nicely: “Attention, Tea Party: You do not make money off Fox News! Fox News makes money off you!”