Rachel Maddow Pillories Fox News For GOP Debate Criteria

Should a cable network -- rather than voters -- decide which candidates have a shot for president and which ones don’t? Rachel Maddow doesn’t think so.

Maddow tore into Fox News on Wednesday, saying the network has established “flexible, irrelevant and opaque criteria” for hosting the Republican presidential candidates. Fox, which is moderating the first few GOP debates, is limiting the stage to the top 10 candidates according to an average of national polls, but has not disclosed which polls it will use -- or whether it’s rounding. Fox did announce on Wednesday that it would hold a "candidates' forum" before the debate for contenders who didn't make the cut.

“The way Fox News is proposing winnowing down the field this year -- what they’ve disclosed anyway -- is at best an arbitrary basis on which to be deciding something as important as who is allowed to compete for the presidency,” Maddow said. “It is a terrible decision that they have decided to make -- making this decision themselves instead of leaving it to the voters.”

The MSNBC host pointed out that Carly Fiorina, who polled at 1.6 percent among Republican voters in one poll and trails 10th-placing Ohio Gov. John Kasich by .4 percent, could either be excluded or included in the primary debates depending on rounding.

“That’s ridiculous,” Maddow weighed in. “You’re talking about infinitesimal differences here that really will determine whether or not a candidate’s campaign is essentially over, and the gatekeeper is a cable news network?”

It’s not just the liberal news host who’s complaining. Maddow pointed out that the New Hampshire Republican Party had sent an open letter to the Republican National Committee saying early-primary states typically winnow down the presidential field. "It is not in the electorate’s interest to have TV debate criteria supplant this solemn duty,” the letter reads in part. “To do so would undermine the very nature of our process and the valuable service that states like New Hampshire provide to voters across the country.”

The New Hampshire Union Leader also announced it would hold its own Republican presidential debate, which will air on C-SPAN, on the day Fox News holds its first forum. “What Fox is attempting to do, and is actually bragging about doing, is a real threat to the first-in-the-nation primary,” the newspaper said in a post on its site.

Maddow said the pushback in New Hampshire “just blew up the Republican primary process for 2016.”

“What is becoming very clear is that Fox News’ plan to just cut off the field at a nice round number based on flexible, irrelevant and opaque criteria it is really not going to stand,” she said. “It’s not going to stand with Republicans, it’s not going to stand in New Hampshire, and it’s really not going to stand for the country.”

Gabriel Arana is senior media editor at The Huffington Post.