The IRS targeting and (ongoing) VA wait time scandals seemed to confirm numerous conservative perceptions of the bureaucratic state: Abusive, self-interested, dishonest, unaccountable and even vengeful. Now comes a new report that the Democrats on the Federal Elections Commission, which governs elections law, attempted to launch an investigation into an independent media entity reviled by the Left on the thinnest of premises. Via the Washington Examiner:
Finally making good on long-harbored anger at conservative media, Democrats on the Federal Election Commission voted in secret to punish Fox News' sponsorship of a Republican presidential debate, using an obscure law to charge the network with helping those on stage. It is the first time in history that members of the FEC voted to punish a media outlet's debate sponsorship, and it follows several years of Democratic threats against conservative media and websites like the Drudge Report. The punishment, however, was blocked by all three Republicans on the commission, resulting in a 3-3 tie vote and no action....At issue was the Aug. 6, 2015 Fox presidential debate. Initially, the network planned to host one debate featuring 10 candidates. But as the date got close and the nearly two dozen GOP presidential candidates were close in the polls, Fox added a second debate that included seven other candidates. One of the candidates left out filed a complaint to the FEC, charging that Fox was essentially making a contribution to the 17 candidates by letting them have a voice in the debate. CNN did the same thing, but there is no indication that they faced a complaint.
There's documentation of all of this, so it's not some paranoid fever dream. Let's see if I have this straight: Fox News supposedly violated the law by making the editorial decision its debate coverage to include more candidates in an unusually deep and large presidential field? But other networks who followed suit didn't? Preposterous. The hypocrisy angle is obvious (it's also worth noting that Fox tried to host a Democratic debate -- to which Bernie Sanders agreed -- but the Clinton camp balked); more worrisome is the apparent willingness of the FEC's three Democratic members to try to criminalize and sanction the journalistic decisions of the one major network that isn't dominated by liberals. Here is the GOP commissioners' statement on the matter:
A complaint was filed with the FEC alleging that Fox News' editorial decision to expand the debate from one debate to two debates, and to include 7 candidates in the undercard debate, constituted an illegal corporate contribution by Fox News to the candidates who participated in the debate. The FEC had to decide whether to enforce the corporate contribution ban against Fox News. Astonishingly, three FEC commissioners (Weintraub, Ravel, Walther) concluded that Fox News violated the Federal Election Campaign Act by making a prohibited corporate contribution to the 7 candidates invited to the debate. That is, by expanding the debate format to a broader group of candidates, Fox News violated the law. Three FEC commissioners (Lee Goodman, Matthew Petersen, Caroline Hunter) blocked this regulatory overreach into newsroom editorial judgments. Commissioners Petersen and Hunter and I voted to free Fox News' editorial judgments from the FEC's regulatory jurisdiction under the Free Press Clause of the Constitution and the Press Exemption in the Federal Election Campaign Act. Congress included in the Act an explicit exemption for the press and we respect Congress' decision.
This appears to have been a narrowly-failed regulatory assault on the institution of journalism. But as Kimberly Strassel documents in her new book, The Intimidation Game (a more legally-rooted complement to our related cultural critique in End of Discussion), such a flagrant abuse is hardly unusual on the Left, which routinely manipulates the levers of power to crush dissent and stifle opposition. This is just the latest example. As we saw in the IRS imbroglio, these unelected partisan bureaucrats very well may have taken their cues from the top. The Obama administration has actively demonized and ghettoized Fox News, setting a hostile tone very early -- even overreaching to the point of offending other outlets, prompting an organized protest. I'll leave you with some ratings news. Much to the chagrin of some elected Democrats and their appointed henchmen, Fox is thriving:
Editor's note: Guy Benson is a Fox News Contributor.