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It’s a new shortcut to running for president. Forget about forming an exploratory committee and spending the next 18 months on the road, shaking hands and eating rubber chicken. There’s a much easier and less messy approach: just get a job on Fox News.

Think about it. There’s no sweat involved. You just have to talk. As often as you want to. To a nationwide audience of like-minded conservatives. You don’t even have to know the facts. You just give your opinion, no matter how wacky. And you get paid for it!

It’s worked for Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Lou Dobbs, John Bolton and Rick Santorum. Why do you think nobody takes Mitt Romney seriously? Because he’s so boring not even Fox would hire him.

But, for years, the big question in media circles has been: How can Fox get away with it? Every one of the Fox political sextet has made noises about running for president. So why are they still on the air? Pat Buchanan had to leave CNN when he ran for president. J.D. Hayworth had to drop his talk-radio job when he ran for U.S. Senate. Years ago, I was forced to resign my nightly commentator slot on KABC-TV in Los Angeles when I ran for California state insurance commissioner. Why doesn’t the FCC do the same for Palin, Gingrich, Huckabee, Dobbs, Bolton and Santorum?

Or, perhaps more significantly, why hasn’t the Federal Elections Commission taken any action against Fox? By affording Sarah Palin and their other in-house candidates so much valuable air time, Fox is, in effect, giving them an indirect campaign contribution – and a financial advantage not available to non-Fox candidates like Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty.

Well, what do you know? Either fearing an intervention by the FCC and FEC – or attempting to prove that they are, indeed, “fair and balanced” – Fox News has announced it’s beginning its own spring political house cleaning by suspending Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum until May 1. At which time, if they haven’t made their plans official, to run or not run, they will be terminated. Fox was forced to take this action, host Bret Baier solemnly intoned, because both commentators have “signaled possible runs for the presidency.”

No kidding! Of course, they’re running for president. As early as January 2010, Santorum told his supporters in an e-mail: “I am considering putting my name in for the 2012 presidential race.” And Gingrich, who launched a website just this week,, says the only thing left for him to decide about a 2012 race is “whether or not it is practical, which I increasingly think it is.” What took Fox so long to discover what was no big secret to anybody but Roger Ailes?

But the bigger question is: Why dump only the two of them, while leaving Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee on the payroll? They’re at least as serious about challenging Obama in 2012 as Gingrich and Santorum. Palin already has her own PAC, just hired a new political director, and when asked about her plans for 2012 last September, told Fox News: “I would give it a shot.”

And Huckabee’s so far into running for president he’s already trying to lock up the “Birther” vote by claiming President Obama was born and raised in Kenya! Talking to radio talk-show host Steve Malzberg this week, Huckabee said he’d like to know more about President Obama’s background. But “one thing I do know is his having grown up in Kenya, his view of the Brits, for example, is very different than the average American.” That’s dangerous, Huckabee continued, because “he probably grew up hearing that the British are a bunch of imperialists.”

Only two things wrong with that. One, Obama did not grow up in Kenya – and never visited the country until his early 20s. Two, the British were, indeed, a proud bunch of imperialists. Did he ever hear of the “British Empire?” What’s scary is that this guy is seriously thinking about running for president. What’s even scarier: He still has a job on Fox News.

So it’s good that Fox News has finally started to clean house. But they have a lot more presidential trash to take out before anybody takes seriously their claim to be politically and presidentially pure.

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