09/15/2011 05:12 pm ET | Updated Nov 15, 2011

Fox News And The 'Bachmann Blackout'

Over at the New Republic, Walter Shapiro has watched 50 hours of Fox News Channel content (so you don't have to) in order to gauge how the network is "deploying its unprecedented powers in its coverage of the 2012 GOP presidential race." Given that Fox commands the attention of millions of likely GOP primary voters, Shapiro uses the term "Fox Primary," which I've seen used elsewhere as well. Shapiro's dive into their coverage -- he describes it as a "nine-day hallucination of strident voices, blonde hair, and more pitchmen hawking gold coins than at any time since the heyday of King Midas" -- revealed much in terms of the way the news channel treats each of the contenders (genuflection to Ron Paul's large following, sneeringly dismissive of Jon Huntsman), and to his estimation, demonstrated that Fox seems to have a clear favorite.

But I won't spoil the big reveal (though I'm sure you can guess). For that answer, go read the whole thing. Instead, I'll highlight the curious case of Michele Bachmann:

When I began this undertaking, I was braced for a bacchanalia of Michele Bachmann coverage. Less than two weeks earlier, she had been the toast of conservatives after winning the Iowa Straw Poll. But I had failed to appreciate just how quickly the enthusiasms of Fox News would shift. Without a major gaffe or gotcha moment, Bachmann was almost entirely absent, like a Red Army general excised from the Great Soviet Encyclopedia after being purged by Joseph Stalin. She was almost never pictured on screen, even though she was on a four-day campaign swing through Florida. When her name came up, it was usually coupled with a glib dismissal of her chances.

Shapiro says that when he finally got to sample some lingering coverage of Bachmann, it came in the form of a discussion on "The Five" (Fox's new roundtable show that replaces Glenn Beck's 5 p.m. ravings), in which they went after Bachmann for being in favor of oil drilling in the Everglades. At the time, one could have covered Bachmann in many critical ways, but the Everglades matter was special for the way it put Bachmann at odds with her fellow Republicans. President George W. Bush and Bachmann's competitor Mitt Romney are two key figures who've opposed opening up the Everglades for oil exploration and drilling. Current Florida Representative and rising Tea Party star Allen West has loudly denounced Bachmann's stance on the matter. Current Republican Governor Rick Scott supports the notion, but given the Scott's widespread unpopularity, that's not much help to Bachmann. (It should be noted, though, a regular panelist on "The Five," Greg Gutfield, agrees with Bachmann on this.)

Nevertheless, at the time, it was precisely the sort of issue you'd harp on if you wanted to cleave Bachmann from the support of the GOP base. (This week, you can apparently do the same with her anti-vaccine posturing.) Shapiro bore witness to the network trying to essentially put Bachmann on fade (Shapiro terms it the "Bachmann blackout"):

With hours of air time to fill, there was no reason for the network to prematurely airbrush Bachmann out of the picture, but that’s exactly what happened. Did this have an effect? Possibly. A Fox News poll at the end of my viewing period showed her with just 4 percent support, her weakest showing since early June. That poll then cemented the new Bachmann-is-irrelevant story line.

It is a pretty interesting transition in Bachmann's fortunes with Fox. Let's recall that when Bachmann was interviewed on "Fox News Sunday" back in late June, host Chris Wallace caused a minor kerfuffle when he asked Bachmann, "Are you a flake?" Bachmann complained and Wallace was compelled to offer a public apology for asking the question. After reading Shapiro's take on the way Bachmann was covered in August, one gets the impression that such an apology would now be much harder to obtain.

Just about every failed candidate for political office eventually faults the media for their demise. I wonder if Bachmann's noticed the way Fox has been treating her?

Idiot Box [Walter Shapiro @ TNR]

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