Reporting from Washington — Fox News announced Wednesday that it is suspending the contracts of political contributors Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum because both have demonstrated that they are seriously considering running for president.
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.
While Gingrich is not expected to announce that he is forming a federal exploratory committee this week, he is expected to say in Georgia on Thursday that he is meeting with advisors to explore seeking the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, a Gingrich aide said.
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.
Jumping into the race means walking away from lucrative contracts: Santorum was making a little under $100,000 a year at Fox News in a three-year deal set to expire in 2013. Gingrich, who has worked as a contributor for the network since 1999, was getting nearly $1 million a year as part of his latest two-year contract, which would have expired in 2013. Huckabee earns around $500,000 a year in a deal that goes through 2012, while Palin is making $1 million annually in a three-year agreement that goes through the end of 2012.