The big story from yesterday's Sunday morning talk circuit was former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-TN, bemoaning his treatment by Fox News... during an appearance on Fox News.
Taking issue with the network's focus on his sagging poll numbers, the Senator quipped: "This has been a constant mantra of Fox, to tell you the truth... for you to highlight nothing but the negatives in terms of the polls and then put on your own guys who have been predicting for four months, really, that I couldn't do it, kind of skew things a little bit. There's a lot of other opinion out there."
Indeed there is. But let's focus on Thompson's gripe first. Could he possibly be on to something? Or is his complaint the product of a candidate who is, indeed, lagging in the polls and regarded, at least among the punditry, as having failed to live up to the lofty expectations.
Evidence actually suggests a strong relationship between the Tennessean and the network that reports so that you can decide.
In October, the first full month after officially launching his presidential bid, Thompson had more than an hour of on-air television face time, something matched by only four other presidential candidates. Almost 95 percent of that was spent on the Fox News Channel, National Journal reported. By comparison, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney appeared on-air for 48 minutes during October, and only 43 percent on Fox News. Even former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani - who some have claimed receives, how to put this, preferential treatment by the Fox higher-ups - got less play from the network than Thompson. The former mayor was personally on Fox News for 53 minutes in October, roughly 90 percent of all his airtime.
But Thompson's relationship with Fox News is about more than just airtime. The station and its hosts have run several very complimentary segments about the Law and Order star.
In early May 2007, Chris Wallace, the same host with whom Thompson sparred yesterday, led off his show with the type of praiseworthy analogy the Senator could only have dreamed of. "Fred Thompson the next Ronald Reagan?" the Sunday show began.
Towards the end of the interview Wallace waxed even more glowingly. "We've got a couple of minutes left," the host said. "I'm sure some people are listening to you and saying, "You know what, I like this guy. I would like him to be my presidential candidate."
On the night of Fox News' June 2007 debate, Thompson was not yet a White House candidate and, appropriately, did not attend. But Fox accommodated him nonetheless, booking him for an interview (undoubtedly more air time than the other candidates received during the debate itself) on Hannity & Colmes. The questions, moreover, were posed solely from the like-minded conservative Hannity.
Three months later, Fox once again hosted a presidential candidate forum. And, once again, Thompson didn't show - he was launching his campaign on Leno that night, remember? Still the network aired the Senator's first television ad during the debate and the moderators brought up Thompson's impending entrance into the race, repeatedly.
Of course, the Thompson who entered the presidential contest amidst such hype and hope is not the same Thompson who today finds himself in single digits in New Hampshire polls. As his campaign has sputtered, it is more than conceivable that Fox's coverage has grown increasingly critical.
But perhaps the fraying of the Thompson-Fox relationship is much simpler. Perhaps the Fox hosts are getting angry because Thompson has been so damn inaccessible while on the campaign trail. As Fox News host Laura Ingraham offered to Thompson's wife Jeri on a November 20 segment: "One of the criticisms of your husband, and this is from Dick Morris, -- and I'm sure you know this -- he was on FOX News channel. And he said that Fred Thompson won't come on with Bill O'Reilly because he's lazy."
Take that, Fred.