REPORT: Fox donates at least $40 million in airtime to potential GOP presidential candidates

Between January 1 and October 31 of this year, five potential Republican presidential candidates -- Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, John Bolton, and Rick Santorum -- who also serve as Fox News contributors or hosts have appeared on the network for a combined total of nearly 66 hours. Media Matters for America estimates this time to be worth at least $40 million in advertising costs.

Palin, Gingrich, Huckabee, Santorum, and Bolton have all hinted at 2012 presidential runs.

Sarah Palin. An article to be published in the November 21 New York Times Magazine reports that Palin is “weighing a run for president,” and quotes her saying: “I'm engaged in the internal deliberations candidly.”

Newt Gingrich. The Des Moines Register reported on November 17 that Gingrich “said Tuesday he is making personal arrangements that would allow him to launch a campaign for president early next year, which his closest political adviser expects him to do.”

Mike Huckabee. Huckabee appeared on Fox News Radio's The Alan Colmes Show on November 15 and talked about how his media presence would impact a potential 2012 run: “The one nice thing, whether I should decide to run or not, is that more people at least would know me by what I actually believe and say, as opposed to what some opponent has defined me to be, and that's kind of encouraging.”

Rick Santorum. National Review Online reported on October 13 that Santorum spoke at a Republican event in Iowa and said in an interview: “The folks in Iowa are great. As the first-in-the-nation caucus state, politics are a part of their lives.” Santorum added: “If I were to get into this, I would certainly not be one of the favorites, so doing well out of the box would be much more important to me than to some of the more well-known candidates.”

John Bolton. On September 9, Bolton said on Fox Business Network that he is considering running for president: “I am thinking about it because I think legitimate issues of national security should be more at the center of the national debate than they have been for the last two years.”

Fox gave potential candidates at least $40 million in free advertising

Fox News candidates appeared on the network for nearly 66 hours. Media Matters calculated the amount of onscreen time each of the five potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates appeared on Fox News as contributors or hosts. Former Republican Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, whose role as host pushed him to the top this list, appeared onscreen for more than 38 hours. Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin -- the Republican vice-presidential nominee in 2008 -- and former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich both appeared for approximately nine hours of time on the network. Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) clocked in just about five hours, while John Bolton, who served as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. under George W. Bush, appeared on Fox for more than four hours.

Air Time chart

Fox News candidates' appearances were worth at least $40.23 million in advertising costs. Media Matters also estimated the equivalent cost advertisers would pay for the amount of air time Fox gave to each of its potential candidates. Advertisers would have spent about $22 million for screen time given to Huckabee, who is the only candidate to host his own, regular Fox News program. Gingrich's appearances would have been worth almost $6 million to advertisers, and Palin's would have cost them approximately $5 million. Santorum's advertising equivalency is about $4.19 million, while Bolton's would have cost just under $3 million.

Ad Value chart

Methodology: Media Matters updated our results from a previous study counting appearances by each of the five candidates on Fox News shows available in the Nexis database. Media Matters also included Huckabee's weekly program, which does not appear in Nexis.

Media Matters counted pre-taped interviews as appearances but did not count brief statements by the potential candidates that aired as part of news packages.

Media Matters reviewed video for all appearances recorded in the Nexis search (as well as Huckabee's show) and tallied the total time length for each. Using advertising data from the Campaign Media Analysis Group, Media Matters calculated the total amount spent on ads during each program in which one of the five potential candidates appeared. For each broadcast, we divided this dollar amount by an estimated amount of ad time per show* in order to calculate an estimated value of one minute of air time on that show. That result was then multiplied by the total time that Fox candidates appeared during that broadcast, yielding an estimated value for each appearance by a Fox candidate.

In other words:

Monetary value of appearance = (Total $ spent during given broadcast / average total ad time for that show) X length of candidate's appearance on given broadcast

In instances where the ad costs were not available for a specific broadcast, Media Matters instead used the median cost of ads on that show during the relevant month.

In instances where the video was not available for review and the length of an appearance time could not be determined, Media Matters instead used the median appearance time for that specific potential candidate calculated from all appearances over the course of the study.

* Ad time per show was estimated by selecting three random airings of each relevant show and averaging the total amount of time devoted to ads.