- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2008

The decision by Fox News not to include Republican hopeful Ron Paul in Sunday’s prime-time presidential debate in New Hampshire has made some wonder whether the network has overstepped its bounds as a news organization.

“Limiting the number of candidates invited to participate in debates is not consistent with the tradition of the first-in-the-nation primary,” said Fergus Cullen, chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party. “A level playing field requires that all serious candidates be given an equal opportunity to participate — not just a select few determined by the media prior to any votes being cast.”

The party has prevailed upon Fox News to include Mr. Paul — and any other lesser-tier candidates from either side — to be included in the 90-minute forum.

Earlier this week, the network blamed logistics. There was simply no room for Mr. Paul on the debate’s cramped mobile set, which happens to be inside a bus.

“Fox is not necessarily being mean; they’re being mute. They won’t acknowledge our requests to be included,” said campaign spokesman Jesse Benton.

Mr. Paul has taken on Fox himself.

“They are scared of me and don’t want my message to get out, but it will,” he told reporters during an interview in a New Hampshire diner. “They are propagandists for this war and I challenge them on the notion that they are conservative.”

Others accused Fox News of censorship.

“The Paul snub exposes censorship of competitive voices There is simply no tolerance of competing voices against the political elite of two-party politics,” said Shane Cory, director of the Libertarian Party.

“Fox News itself apparently wants to limit the GOP discussion to variations on a neocon theme of perpetual war for perpetual big government,” said conservative author Richard Viguerie.

“Ron Paul is a traditional limited-government conservative in the grand tradition of Robert A. Taft, Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan,” Mr. Viguerie said, adding that Mr. Paul has raised $20 million and bested Fred Thompson, who is included in the Fox debate, in some polls.

“While Fox has ended the Democratic monopoly in TV news, it is becoming disturbingly clear that it is perpetuating the pro-big-government monopoly in TV news,” Mr. Viguerie said.

ABC News also has garnered criticism for its policy: To be included in Saturday’s debate, candidates must place in the top four spots in Iowa, or at least make a 5 percent favorability rating in national or New Hampshire-based opinion polls.

Such thinking irks the local press.

“New Hampshire, not TV, should decide,” wrote Joseph W. McQuaid, publisher of the New Hampshire Union Leader.

“It is a perversion of the New Hampshire primary process to have serious, if longshot, contenders excluded from this possibly significant TV exposure. All New Hampshire citizens should be insulted and affronted by it.”

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