Gingrich and Santorum Suspended as Fox News Paid Contributors (UPDATED)

Fox News is sending a signal that it wants to be taken seriously as a news organization: it has started to deal with the ticklish issue of what to do with paid commentators who are on their payroll who decide to run for President. It has suspended the its contributor arrangements effective today with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and with former Senator Rick Santorum — two GOPers poised on the brink of announcing runs for the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination.

The issues are how a news organization can objectively cover someone who is overtly running for President and on their payroll and also whether a candidate on the payroll of a news organization is being influenced by it. And, also, whether if someone running for President is on the payroll of a news organization that can be construed as a corporate contribution to that person. Here’s the announcement. This will be a 60 day suspension and on May 1 their contracts will be officially axed. If they notify Fox that they won’t be running their contracts will be operative. Here’s the Fox News announcement:

UPDATE: Some details from the Los Angeles Times:

Dianne Brandi, the network’s executive vice president of legal and business affairs, said in an interview that the channel made the move because Gingrich aides told Fox News executives that the former House speaker is stepping up his exploration of a presidential bid…..

….Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, has indicated that he plans to participate in Republican primary debates, Brandi said, “so that leads us to believe he is seriously considering running.”

Brandi said the network acted out of journalistic principle.

“We can’t have Speaker Gingrich on our payroll while he is in the midst of an exploratory committee to see if he’s going to run for office,” she said. “It’s a clear conflict.”

Fox News still has two other potential White House contenders on the payroll: former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

“As soon as each of them shows some serious intention to form an exploratory committee, we would take the same action,” Brandi said. “Huckabee is on a book tour, so I think his present intention is to sell books.”

As for Palin, “She hasn’t yet shown a serious intention to form an exploratory committee.”

Brandi said the network sent Gingrich and Santorum letters Tuesday night informing them of the suspension. The two men have until May 1 to tell the network whether they plan to run, or their contracts will be officially terminated.

All of the Fox News politicos who have commentator contracts have a tough choice: they make big bucks on Fox, plus it can boost their speaking fees. They can burnish their “branding” but if they run for office the goal of their opponents is to unburnish it. And if they crash and fizzle too badly, they won’t be considered as hot properties for Fox if they later seek to return to their old Fox News roles.

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