Research/Study Research/Study

The Fox Primary: 8 Months, 12 Candidates, 604 Appearances, 4644 Minutes

  • In the weeks before the Iowa caucuses, New York Times television critic Alessandra Stanley noted that "[i]t's certainly obvious in Iowa that candidates are investing a lot more time in television interviews than they are on the campaign trail." Stanley observed: “All the networks, broadcast and cable, are closely covering the campaign, but Fox News practically owns and operates it: Its viewers are seeing the world through the eyes of a Tea Party activist in Davenport or a small business leader in Ames -- my own private Iowa.”

    Last October, during a discussion lamenting Gov. Rick Perry's refusal up to that point to appear on Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, Fox host and former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee told Bill O'Reilly that “if you want to talk to voters in the Republican primary, you do O'Reilly, you do Fox News.”

    Perry eventually got the message, appearing on Fox News frequently during the fall, including two interviews on O'Reilly's program. But as the comments from the network's hosts suggested, most of the other candidates in the Republican primary had already been regularly appearing on the network (and continued to do so). Indeed, from June of 2011 through January of this year, Fox News lavished GOP candidates with airtime.

    Media Matters tracked every one of the 604 appearances the Republican hopefuls made on Fox News and Fox Business between June 1 and January 22 -- a full 77 hours and 24 minutes of television time. (We also tracked appearances by potential candidates who ultimately did not enter the race. For data that includes these appearances, see the bottom of this report.)

    Broken down by candidate, the data paint a picture of a network eager to involve itself in the Republican primary, promoting the campaigns of both frontrunners and longshots. (A gray bar indicates a candidate who dropped out of the race. We ceased tracking these candidates' Fox News appearances when they made their intentions known.)


    Gingrich (12 hours and 14 minutes over 85 appearances), Rick Santorum (nine hours and 23 minutes over 85 appearances), Herman Cain (11 hours and six minutes over 73 appearances), Michele Bachmann (nine hours and three minutes over 73 appearances), and Ron Paul (about eight hours and 40 minutes over 81 appearances) led the pack in total time and number of appearances.

    Where did the candidates go most often? Broken down by program, the data show a few standouts: On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, Hannity, Fox & Friends, Your World with Neil Cavuto, and Fox News Sunday. Together, these shows comprised 58 percent of all time spent hosting the candidates and 51 percent of all appearances. (A gray bar indicates a program cancelled during the period of the study.)

    Hannity clocked in with nine hours and 23 minutes devoted to interviews with Republican candidates; On the Record was a close second at eight hours and 17 minutes. The two shows combined for 127 individual interviews. Fox & Friends devoted six hours and six minutes to the candidates over 58 appearances while Your World featured 50 interviews amounting to six hours and 25 minutes. Fox News Sunday, which regularly features longer interviews than the cable programs, spread 23 interviews over five-and-a-half hours, for an average of about 14 minutes per interview.

    In promos for his show, Fox News has touted Hannity's interviews with the GOP's candidates as “the Hannity primary” and a chance for viewers to “meet the candidates.” Hannity is not known for his tough questioning of Republicans; even O'Reilly acknowledges that Hannity “has a Republican show,” while other media figures have mocked his softball interview technique. Last January, Slate's David Weigel proposed a new definition to the neologism “Hannitize”: “to clean up a messy situation with a softball interview.” During the 2012 campaign, GOP candidates flocked to Hannity's show to receive this treatment, and were not disappointed.

    Regular access to Fox's audience was especially valuable to candidates like Bachmann, Cain, Gingrich, and Santorum, all of whom lagged behind Romney and Perry (as well as Ron Paul) in fundraising and at times lacked traditional campaign structures.

    Santorum's campaign was recently described by the New York Times a “ragtag operation, run on a shoestring budget.” Cain's campaign was reportedly nonexistent in several early primary states. Ed Rollins, who resigned as Bachmann's campaign chair in September, reportedly told ABC News that the campaign lacked both the finances and the campaign infrastructure to be competitive. Gingrich's roller-coaster campaign had to rebuild itself last summer after most of its senior staff resigned and as of December still reportedly lacked a “robust national campaign infrastructure.”

    Fox News helped these candidates compensate for their comparative lack of organization and fundraising by giving them a platform from which they could promote their message and reach out to voters. In place of a fully-functional campaign apparatus, they had Fox.

    Ron Paul combined relatively strong fundraising and campaign infrastructure with regular appearances on Fox News.

    Romney and Perry, on the other hand, largely avoided Fox throughout the summer, before turning to the network in the fall. To the chagrin of Fox News personalities, Perry almost entirely ignored the network in August and September while his poll numbers soared. After his poll numbers started to crater in early October, Perry began appearing on Fox far more frequently.

    Romney was largely absent from Fox (as well as many other media outlets) for long stretches last year. But Romney eventually found a use for Fox's megaphone, as evidenced by a marked uptick in his time on the network towards the end of 2011, as the primaries approached. During a December appearance on the network, Romney explained his strategy to Fox host Neil Cavuto: “I'll be on Fox a lot because you guys matter when it comes to Republican primary voters.”

    The Fox Primary By Candidate

    Michele Bachmann

    Herman Cain

    Newt Gingrich

    Rick Santorum

    Rick Perry

    Mitt Romney

    Jon Huntsman

    Ron Paul

    For the above report, we only included declared presidential candidates. However, over the course of study we also tracked potential candidates John Bolton, Sarah Palin, Rudy Giuliani, and Donald Trump until it became clear they were not going to enter the race. The below chart includes these potential candidates' Fox appearances during the time period they were considering running for president.


    Media Matters searched the Nexis database between June 1, 2011, and January 22, 2012, for all guest appearances on Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, and Fox News Sunday for 17 declared and potential presidential candidates: Michele Bachmann, John Bolton, Herman Cain, Jim DeMint, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, Jon Huntsman, Gary Johnson, Thad McCotter, Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Tim Pawlenty, Buddy Roemer, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Donald Trump.

    McCotter and Roemer were added to the study beginning on July 21, 2011. We began tracking all others on June 1.

    David Asman's nightly Fox Business network program (which has since been canceled) changed its name from America's Nighly Scoreboard to Power and Money during the course of this study. The data for both shows has been comined.

    We stopped including the following declared or potential candidates as they either declined to run or dropped out of the Republican primary:

    • DeMint. June 14, 2011: DeMint declines to run for president. DeMint made no appearances between June 1 and 14, 2011; we have removed him from the study completely.
    • McCotter. September 22, 2011: McCotter ends his campaign.
    • Pawlenty. August 14, 2011: Pawlenty ends his campaign.
    • Trump. August 14, 2011: Trump declines to seek the Republican nomination and instead teases an independent run. Trump does not officially enter the race during the period of the study.
    • Bolton. September 6, 2011: Bolton declines to run for president.
    • Palin. October 5, 2011: Palin declines to run for president.
    • Giuliani. October 11, 2011: Giuliani declines to run for president.
    • Cain. December 3, 2011: Cain ends his campaign.
    • Johnson. December 28, 2011: Johnson declines to seek the Republican nomination and instead bids for the Libertarian Party ticket.
    • Bachmann. January 4, 2012: Bachmann ends her campaign.
    • Huntsman. January 16, 2012: Huntsman ends his campaign.
    • Perry. January 19, 2012: Perry ends his campaign.

    For programs where a transcript was unavailable, Media Matters reviewed the raw video.

    (Drew Gardner designed the top chart in this report.)