Republican Party Gave First Presidential Debate to Fox News as Political Payoff

Eric Zuesse

Millions of especially non-Republicans on Thursday night were disappointed to find that they couldn’t access the first Republican Presidential debate because they don’t subscribe to the Fox News Channel, the Republican Party’s news channel.

Immediately, Newsweek posted an announcement explaining: 

Fox News is making it difficult to watch the first 2016 GOP presidential debate online. If you have a cable account, you can sign in to Fox New’s website and watch a live stream here. The Fox News app is available for smartphones and game consoles as well, allowing viewers with cable accounts to watch on the go, but also only if you have a subscription to cable. … Fox is closely protecting the only legal stream option, and heavily restricted the venue’s audience.

In other words: FNC was using this Presidential debate primarily to make money, not primarily to inform voters, nor to help the Republican Party. 

If FNC had wanted to inform voters, or even to do a favor for the Republican Party and help them reach out to and attract some non-Fox (that’s basically non-Republican) voters, then they’d have suspended, for this event, their usual money-making system, and allowed millions of political independents, and even Democrats, to watch it.

As was recently explained by the great Bruce Bartlett, at the website of the great Barry Ritholtz, a recent striking finding by the pollster, PPP, is that 56% of Republicans place Fox News Channel as their most trusted source of news, and that the #2 news-source for Republicans is, tied at 10% for each of the two, CNN and ABC.  There’s nothing comparable to FNC for Democrats: the top-trusted news source for them is CNN, at only 21% of Democrats who cite them as being their most trusted news source. (FNC is #5 1/2, or tied for fifth and sixth place, amongst Democrats.) Bartlett explains how FNC was created by Ronald Reagan’s TV guru Roger Ailes, with Rupert Murdoch’s money, and how Ailes has always run it like a Republican Party instrument. “Fox viewers were very right-wing from the start,” notes Bartlett.

Restricting the viewing of the debate to FNC-payers means restricting it to the biggest Republican audience there is, but also means incentivizing any non-subscriber who wants to see the debate to pay for the privilege. It’s saying to them (not by words, but by deeds): If you want to watch this, and you’re not already providing a source of income to us, then either subscribe now, or else cross your fingers and hope that you’ll be able to see this debate somehow, at some other time, and in some other way. It’s warning them: If you don’t pay us, you won’t even be able to see major events such as this! That’s a significant inducement to subscribe. It’s not just a paywall: it’s a locked paywall.

Of course, this is also providing to the candidates the freedom to direct themselves to only Republican voters, and allowing the candidates to ignore independents or possible crossover voters, in the first Republican candidates’ debate. But that will mean a higher likelihood of the farthest-right candidates to lead the contest at this early period; and this could increase the chances for the Party to end up nominating a candidate who in the general election will be the easiest for the Democratic nominee to beat.

So: why would FNC be placing income above even its service to their Party?

Rupert Murdoch has never placed money-making second; it’s his top motivation.

But why would the RNC, the Republican National Committee, choose for its crucial first big debate, an outlet that places its own financial interest above that of even the Party itself? Isn’t the supplier supposed to serve the client, not the other way around?

There are two ways to explain that: 

First of all, one might say that the very essence of conservatism, at least as it’s represented by the Republican Party, has historically been to appeal to its donors’ self-interest. The rationalization for that is essentially the libertarian one: the collective best-interest is the sum of the individuals’ best-interests. Everyone should serve himself first. It’s hard-core Republicanism. During the Ailes-Reagan era, it was “Greed is good!”

The other explanation is: Rupert Murdoch is owed this, for all of his decades of service to the Party. It’s just a big “Thank you!” for him. In a transactional-ethical culture (“You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”), it’s a proof to Murdoch of the Party’s loyalty to him. He’ll thus likelier stay loyal to it.

But, either way, it’s a political payoff to Murdoch, and also to Ailes. It might help to produce a right-skew to the Party’s ultimate Presidential pick, its selection of their nominee; but, even so, it fits the Republican ideology. It really does.

This ideology isn’t shown by words. It’s shown by the decisions that people actually display in their actions. Instead of reporting the news by what people say, this is reporting the news by what people do; and that’s the way I report the news.


Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.