COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — As Tuesday’s runoff election in the 2nd Congressional District Republican primary approaches, one candidate and another who was defeated last month allege that Fox News, is trying to determine the outcome of the Georgia race by offering airtime to one of the candidates at the exclusion of others.
Jeremy Hunt was the leading vote-getter in the May Republican primary and has made 15 appearances on Fox programming since Jan. 13, while his opponents have basically been shut out by the network.
Thomasville attorney Chris West is facing Hunt in the June 21 runoff.
“They have not invited me to come on Fox News,” West told News 3 this week. “From someone who’s from here, announced their candidacy in Thomasville, now we find ourselves in a runoff in a very close race that a lot of people are paying attention to. And yet Fox News … it looks like they are, some might say, trying to put their finger on the scale.”
Macon businessman Wayne Johnson finished third in the six-person primary and failed to make the runoff. He claims that Fox News is trying to tip the scales.
“It is not their fingers on the scales,” Johnson said. “They put a dump truck on the scale.”
Hunt declined to comment to News 3 for this story. News 3 attempted to get Hunt to comment on his relationship with Fox News via text and an on-camera interview. Specific questions about that relationship were sent via text to Hunt and a campaign associate. Neither responded to those questions.
A Fox News spokeswoman, Alexandra Coscia, responded to News 3 by email, saying that Fox News confirmed that Jeremy Hunt was not paid for any appearances on the network and appeared in the capacity of a guest.
“We are declining to comment on your additional questions,” Coscia said.
Hunt, 28, is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He served five years in the Army, attaining the rank of captain.
After his military career, he enrolled in Yale University Law School. Hunt said during a debate this month that he just completed his second year at Yale, doing his work online.
Hunt announced his candidacy in January, changed his voting registration from Fulton County to Muscogee County in February, according to Muscogee County elections records, and qualified in March.
The winner of the Republican primary runoff will face entrenched Democratic Rep. Sanford Bishop, who has held the seat for three decades.
After watching Hunt appear six times on Fox News as a candidate for the 2nd Congressional seat, Johnson complained to the network and its executives CEO Suzanne Scott and Senior Executive vice president Irena Briganti in a letter dated Feb. 17.
He claimed the network was promoting Hunt for the seat.
“On multiple occasions, the Fox media organization and its program hosting talent have openly and actively promoted, in an apparent orchestrated fashion between respective Fox media programming assets, Mr. Jeremy Hunt as a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia’s 2nd District,” Johnson wrote to the Fox News executives.
The attempt to push Hunt was blatant and gave Hunt an advantage, Johnson claims.
“The programming presentations on Fox which include Mr. Hunt have intensely identified and advanced him as a candidate for Georgia’s 2nd congressional seat and even gone so far as to endorse him for this seat and allow him to make direct and open requests for viewers to go to his fund-raising websites,” Johnson wrote in the Feb. 17 letter.
After his complaint, Johnson appeared four days later briefly on Fox & Friends. That was his only appearance before the May 24 election. No other 2nd Congressional District candidate has been on the network during this race.
Two weeks before that election on May 11, Johnson registered another complaint in a letter to Scott, the CEO.
In his letter, Johnson alleged that the news organization was in violation of federal campaign finance laws, claiming the airtime to Hunt was a political contribution. He also claimed that Fox was in violation of the Federal Communications Commission equal-airtime regulations.
“On behalf of myself and the other candidates who are running for congress in Georgia’s 2nd Congressional District and who are complying with Federal Election law and FCC regulations, I once again must insist that Fox News, its various programs, and hosting talent refrain from unlawfully benefiting Mr. Hunt and cooperatively breaking Federal campaign finance laws,” Johnson wrote to the Fox News CEO.
Hunt continued to appear on the network despite Johnson’s objections.
“One was on election morning where Jeremy Hunt was front and center saying, ‘I am running for Congress, come out and vote for me,” Johnson told News 3.
West was scheduled to be on Fox News in early March, but that appearance was canceled.
“I am so sorry, but unfortunately, we are going to have to reschedule due to breaking news in Russia and Ukraine,” Fox News employee Nicole Croteau wrote in a March 2 email to the West campaign. “I am very sorry about this and appreciate your understanding. We will be in touch.”
Stephen Lawson, a Republican campaign consultant working with West responded, “Ok—can we follow up next week? Just want to make sure we get him on sooner than later since this is an equal air time thing with Jeremy Hunt … “
In late April and then again in early May, Lawson circled back and got no response from the network.
In his first letter to Fox News, Johnson noted a pattern in Hunt’s appearances.
“Mr. Hunt has also made it a practice to send tweets out on Twitter with date and time of his upcoming appearance,” Johnson wrote. “Recently he specifically stated by tweet that he would be on a specific program to ‘chat with Larry Kudlow about our campaign here in Southwest Georgia.’”
That segment on Feb. 9 started as a conversation about Black History month and ended with Hunt making a campaign pitch.
That is a problem, Johnson says.
“Clearly, the overriding reason for Hunt’s appearance on this program with Mr. Kudlow was to promote his candidacy,” Johnson pointed out to Fox executives. “Just yesterday, February 16, Hunt tweeted that he was about to be on ‘@FoxNews with my friend @kilmeade’ which certainly indicates a ‘coziness’ and personal familiarity with Brian Kilmeade.”
In that first letter to Fox, Johnson went as far as to call the network’s coverage of Hunt an “infomercial.”
“What is transpiring looks very much like Fox media sponsored “Jeremy Hunt for Congress, Georgia” infomercials,” he wrote. “This is by any normal standard unfair to me and other candidates and may in fact be determined to be unlawful campaign contributions by Fox as a corporation, and even by the Hosting Talent of Fox. It may also be determined to be unlawful acceptance of campaign contributions by Hunt and the Hunt Congressional Campaign.”
Johnson tells News 3 that this story is hard for someone who was not involved in the 2nd Congressional District race to understand.
“What has happened with the engagement of Fox in the support of Jeremy Hunt is actually unbelievable,” Johnson said. “If I had not directly engaged in the campaign process and witnessed it front and center, I would not have believed it. But as a candidate when you are seeing repetitive appearances by one of your opponents on a major news outlet where they are being allowed to present themselves and openly solicit money, it gets your attention.”
After the primary loss, Johnson endorsed West.
“Including his announcement for his Congressional candidacy on January 13, Jeremy Hunt has been on Fox for at least 15 segments,” Johnson told News 3.”The total airtime for these segments is more than 56 minutes. With Fox airtime going for $50,000 per minute this amounts to $2.8 million in free airtime for Jeremy Hunt.”
And because of on-air endorsements, Johnson argues that value to Hunt increases.
“The actual value of this airtime when coupled with on-air endorsements and positioning of Hunt as a Congressional candidate expert is ‘ priceless,’” Johnson said. ‘There is no way that me or Chris West or any of the other candidates could compete with this level of political propaganda.”
Hunt started his relationship with Fox News in 2016, while still on active duty in the U.S. Army. He wrote a series of articles that were published on the Fox website.
One of his first appearances on Fox News was in 2020 when he talked about why as a black man he was not going to vote for Rev. Raphael Warnock, a black candidate who was running for the U.S. Senate in Georgia. Warnock won that race.