It has now been more than three months since Karl Rove first appeared on television as a Fox News political analyst on Feb 5. In no fewer than 57 appearances, he has increasingly been welcomed into the Fox News fraternity, even joking that the "Hannity & Colmes" show should be renamed the "Colmes & Rove" show. After departing from a Bush administration in political tatters last August, he has reemerged to hold forth at length on the 2008 presidential race. And he may have plenty of seasoned political wisdom to offer Fox's audience. Rove, however, is playing a strategic role that he and the network refuse to reveal to viewers.
Fox News hosts routinely introduce Rove as a "former senior advisor to President Bush," "the architect," a "political wizard" and a "famed political consultant." But never has he been introduced as he should be -- as an informal advisor and maxed-out donor to John McCain's presidential campaign.
To political news junkies, a disclosure of Rove's relationship to the McCain campaign may seem unnecessary. But whether the public simply assumes that Rove supports McCain isn't the point. The "most influential pundit" in America, as Fox likes to trumpet, should have to play by the same rules as other high-profile political analysts. For example, Paul Begala and James Carville are regularly identified as supporters of Hillary Clinton when they appear on CNN. But Rove has been able to act as an independent observer while criticizing Clinton and Barack Obama, McCain's likely general election opponent.
There is nothing shocking about Rove's attacking Democrats, of course. And his operating with a duplicitous air of independence probably isn't going to make or break Fox's claim to "fair and balanced" coverage. But will the greater public catch on?