WASHINGTON Fox News said Wednesday it was taking off the air two prominent Republican analysts because they appear to be preparing presidential campaigns, denying them a powerful platform to advocate their views.
The move by the U.S. television network applies to former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. Both paid contributors are thought to be planning to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.
One of the network's top anchors, Bret Baier, cited Fox News policy in announcing on air that the suspensions would last 60 days unless Gingrich and Santorum tell the network they are not running for president. Fox News is often accused of favoring Republicans.
Fox News executive Dianne Brandi told the Los Angeles Times that: "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. It's a clear conflict."
She said the policy might also apply to two other high-profile contributors, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.
The suspensions took place as still no big-name Republican has announced a presidential run in a slow start to campaign 2012, although a long-shot candidate said he planned to jump in.
Former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer was to hold a news conference Thursday in Baton Rouge at the bank where he is president, Business First Bank, to announce a presidential "exploratory" committee.
"I'm not Mr. Know-it-All, but I plan on being in Iowa and going to New Hampshire and South Carolina and eventually across the country. talking about some solutions to a nation that has some problems," he told Reuters.
Several major contenders are believed to be biding their time in preparation for announcing campaigns in coming weeks and months for the right to oppose President Barack Obama.
The White House, which has sought to stay out of the 2012 Republican fray, tiptoed in Wednesday.
Spokesman Jay Carney pushed back against a potential Republican candidate, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, who accused Obama of deliberately driving up gasoline prices to generate demand for alternative fuels.
Carney said Obama is "keenly aware" of the impact of rapidly rising gasoline prices and Barbour's remarks "were clearly made in the context of 2012 politics so you have to take them, I think, understanding that."
Huckabee, who is on a book tour while flirting with a presidential run, found himself doing some damage control over remarks he made about Obama.
The folksy conservative had told WOR radio in New York on Tuesday that Obama has a different worldview from having grown up in Kenya. Obama was born to a Kenyan father in Hawaii but never visited Kenya until he was an adult.
"I simply misspoke when I alluded to President Obama growing up in 'Kenya' and meant to say Indonesia," Huckabee said.
(Editing by Xavier Briand)