The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza has a fascinating item on the Senate's "Gang of Eight" and their efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform, and there's quite a bit to chew on in the piece. But like Paul Waldman, I was struck by an interesting tidbit I hadn't heard about before: Republican "gang" members actually lobbied Fox News on this issue.
Fox News has notably changed its tone since the election.... McCain told me, "Rupert Murdoch is a strong supporter of immigration reform, and Roger Ailes is, too." ... McCain said that he, Graham, Rubio, and others also have talked privately to top hosts at Fox, including Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Neil Cavuto, who are now relatively sympathetic to the Gang's proposed bill. Hannity voiced support for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, which he previously dismissed as "amnesty," on the day after the 2012 election."God bless Fox," Graham said. "Last time, it was 'amnesty' every ﬁfteen seconds." He said that the change was important for his reelection, because "eighty per cent of people in my primary get their news from Fox."
At a certain level, all of this makes perfect sense. Republican proponents of immigration reform want to boost their bill's prospects, and if Fox News decides the legislation is a mistake, their job becomes vastly more difficult. With this in mind, it's not surprising that leading GOP senators would privately lobby Fox hosts in the hopes of persuading them on the bill's merit.
But let's not brush past the underlying significance too quickly. As Waldman explained:
This shows Fox not as a journalistic organization making news judgments, but as a group that gets targeted for (and responds to) lobbying, much in the same way as Congress.... If there were consensus on immigration reform within the GOP like there is with most issues, there would be no need to lobby Fox; they'd know exactly what they're supposed to say. But because the party is divided, the network isn't sure where exactly it should come down.
And as such, lobbying becomes necessary.
It's worth emphasizing that private chats between policymakers and media professionals are quite common, and there's nothing wrong with that. Indeed, I can think of many instances in which President Obama has held off-the-record chats with journalists, including, in some cases, prominent progressive media voices.
So isn't this roughly the same thing as McCain and Graham lobbying Hannity and O'Reilly? I don't think it is. When Obama, for example, chats with center-left opinion journalists, he's offering them a candid look at his thinking on the issues of the day. It is, in effect, an informal interview.
But look again at what Lizza reported: Republican senators didn't approach Fox hosts with behind-the-scenes details about the legislation; they approached Fox hosts in the hopes of getting them on board with the party's agenda. This was about members of the same team closing ranks and agreeing to the same gameplan.
In other words, GOP senators look at the network as another constituency group under the party umbrella. On an issue like immigration, Republican officials have an informal checklist in their mind of all the various contingents they need to win over: business leaders, the religious right, Fox News, etc., and each group is lobbied accordingly.
Is it any wonder so many people, when asked to name the Republican Party's most prominent leaders, identify Fox News hosts?