All eyes are on Ames today. Except all the eyes on Rick Perry’s announcement in the aptly picked state of South Carolina. But wherever you point your eyes we’re now getting into the first real round of winnowing in the Republican presidential field. And absent some surprising development, what it looks like is that we have three real candidates in the race. Two plausible nominees, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry (though I think the jury’s more out on Perry than we might know), and one favorite of the fire-breathers, Michele Bachmann, who would appear to stand zero chance of securing the nomination (let alone the presidency) but could pull more than enough votes to play a pivotal role in the unfolding primary process and debate.
But watching Fox News’s coverage today reminded me of another primary which may be as important as New Hampshire or South Carolina in the GOP nominating process: the Murdoch primary.Murdoch’s role in getting behind one or the other national candidates (parties) in UK elections is quite open. Cameron’s need to ease Murdoch back behind the Tories actually played some small role in his entanglement in the phone-hacking scandal. But that’s a story for another day. The process is somewhat known in New York, where the Post speaks for the Murdoch clan. But it’s no less true in UK national politics. Murdoch virtually always gets behind the Republican. But the question is, which one. And of course it’s not just the New York Post. It’s the centerpiece, Fox News, and for the more upscale folks it’s the new prize: the Wall Street Journal.
It’s one thing when the Republicans are out of office you can go to town trying to make a star out of a Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin. But now that we’re moving into the fast lane, what kind of treatment does Bachmann get in the Murdoch press? Even more interesting to watch will be the treatment of Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, the two men who at the moment at least appear to stand a real chance of securing the nomination.
One wildcard here is the phone-hacking scandal itself. Will it distract Murdoch too much from the 2012 cycle or will his control over News Corp be sufficiently attenuated to throw him and Ailes and the rest of their game? I suspect not. But even if it does, the truth is that Murdoch owns so much of the right wing press in the United States that they can’t not make a decision. After all, Fox reports and Fox decides and Fox totally dominates the right wing media in the United States. Indeed, it does a decent job dominating all electronic media in the US. The Journal and especially the Journal oped page fill in the remaining gaps in elite conservative opinion. The Post dominates the critical New York media political meme market. And don’t forget the UK properties either. The UK press, with its considerably more permissive reporting standards, also plays an important role in seeding political stories into the US mediasphere.
Keep watching: the coverage will be the tell.