"Network has been criticized for promoting tea party activities"
From an April 16 Cincinnati Enquirer article:
Fox News' abrupt cancellation of conservative talk show host Sean Hannity's appearance at a Cincinnati Tea Party rally Thursday raises questions about whether the news network crossed - or feared it was about to cross - an ethical line in journalism.
"I think they think they might be too close to that line, based on what happened with Hannity," said Kelly McBride, ethics group leader for the Poynter Institute, a journalism think-tank in St. Petersburg, Fla.
The news network has been criticized for promoting tea party activities. Hannity decided to use the paid-admission event in Cincinnati as the last stop on his book tour Thursday and to tape his talk show there.
That decision intensified criticism from those who think the Fox network is too closely aligned with the tea party.
The Cincinnati Tea Party charged $5 for basic tickets and $20 for tickets near the Hannity stage.
When Fox executives discovered the local tea party group would keep any profit, it immediately ordered its talk show host back to New York at the last minute, leaving fans in Cincinnati frustrated and confused.
The Hannity situation highlights a sensitive question that plagues many news organizations: How close is too close?
"The primary journalistic value in play is independence," said McBride. "I think Fox is realizing through trial and error where it wants to draw the line on independence."
"Fox has been very permissive of allowing its talent to develop relationships with the tea party, and allowing its talent to appear to be in line with the tea party. That pays off for them because everything we're looking at with the polls suggest that there is a strong correlation between the tea party and Fox's audience," she said.
Media Matters, a nonprofit media analysis organization, was the first to raise questions about the Cincinnati event. It took issue with the admission fee and with flyers that advertised Hannity's appearance at the event.
"Organizations who purport to be news organizations should not be an active part of producing a political event," said Ari Rabin-Havt, vice president of research and communications for Media Matters. "Would it be OK for the Enquirer to produce an event with MoveOn.org?"