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MSNBC host Rachel Maddow said Thursday night Fox News appears to have tried to block Donald Trump from qualifying for the network’s upcoming Republican presidential debate in Ohio by making a last minute addition to its qualifying criteria.
“Today, Fox News apparently changed their debate rules,” Maddow said, suggesting the network had added a brand new requirement–that candidates provide financial reporting within a set time–that was designed specifically to keep Trump from being on the stage.
Why would a television network try to deny access to a known ratings draw–and the candidate running at or near the top of national polls? Maddow suggested Republicans wanted to avoid a “side show” or “fiasco.”
But the “change” that Maddow reported wasn’t a change at all–and certainly wasn’t a last-minute effort by Fox News to block Trump–since the financial disclosure requirement was among the original debate rules announced in May, before Trump’s entry into the race on June 16.
(The financial disclosure actually isn’t a Fox News rule at all. The network’s debate criteria require that candidates “file all necessary paperwork with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).” It’s the FEC that mandates one of those filings be a financial disclosure.)
Earlier in the week, Maddow said Fox’s decision to limit participation in the debate to just ten candidates was “killing” the early caucus and primary states and their historic roles in choosing presidential nominees. Maddow said it was “completely unprecedented in American history.”
But the sources cited by Maddow on Thursday night seem to directly contradict her claim that Fox changed the rules. She showed a Washington Post article and said “Fox News today said that all the Republican presidential hopefuls who want to qualify to be in their debate need to submit their personal financial disclosure paperwork within 30 days of declaring this bid to run. If you request an extension, you will not be eligible to take part in the August 6 debate.”
Actually, the WaPo story says this:
Fox News, which is hosting the debate with Facebook and the Ohio Republican Party, clarified Thursday that the criteria for candidates to participate include filing the required personal financial disclosure within 30 days of declaring their bids.
“FOX News has never wavered from the initial debate criteria we set forth,” Michael Clemente, the network’s executive vice president of news, said in a statement, which was first reported by the New York Times.
“As we have said from the beginning, part of that criteria involves filing ‘all necessary paperwork with the FEC,’ ” Clemente said. “The FEC, as is well known, requires that presidential candidates file a financial disclosure statement as part of that paperwork. During routine pre-debate discussions with all of the campaigns, we have reiterated all components of the criteria, from poll standing to filing the proper paperwork, to ensure that all candidates fully understood the entry criteria. We have no intention of changing any aspect of the criteria nor have we deliberated doing so.”
Maddow goes on to say “this was first reported by The New York Times. The New York Times intimated in its report that this new rule, announced by Fox, is an effort by the Republican party to keep Donald Trump off the debate stage.”
But The Times story, a long report on Republican misgivings about Trump’s rise in the polls, makes only a passing reference to Fox News, and says nothing about a “new rule announced by Fox.”
The quote used in Maddow’s graphic (left) is attributed to “Republicans” who had “nudged Fox” to clarify that its broad requirement that candidates file “all necessary paperwork” does, in fact, mean financial disclosure, which it does.
For what it’s worth, with or without a rule change, Donald Trump has no plans to miss the debate. He told reporters Thursday his financial disclosure paperwork would be filed in time (he has until the 16th) for him to be on stage in Ohio.
UPDATE: Rachel Maddow has responded to this story. Her comments appear below, in full:
I didn’t get my facts wrong. Fox News asserts that they haven’t changed their criteria, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in the real world.
Fox’s initial announcement about their debate criteria only stated that candidates “Must file all necessary paperwork with the Federal Election Commission”.
Before this new word from Fox yesterday, though, candidates seem to have been under the impression that filing “all necessary paperwork” could mean filing a request for an extension. With the exception of Marco Rubio and Ben Carson, that’s what they all did.
Now, with this announced change (er, “clarification”) candidates are scrambling to get their financial disclosures submitted earlier than they had expected, because Fox News now says that “all necessary paperwork” isn’t really what they meant.
Donald Trump says that he will get his financial disclosure in on time: we’ll see if he does. If this was an effort to squeeze him out of the Fox debate, it will be fun to see him try to deflect that effort.
We are now hearing some worries on the right that Jeb Bush will be the one that will not be able to get his financial disclosure in on time, now that Fox says it has to be in before August 6th.
If the Bush campaign knew all along that Fox expected their candidate’s financial disclosure form to be filed before the first debate, there would be no question about whether that would happen, and no late scramble to try to make the deadline.