Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting recently issued an “action alert” highlighting the exclusion of Democratic Party presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich from a recent televised debate on NBC. Kucinich–who was originally invited to participate in the debate–was excluded when rules were changed to require candidates to have finished third in either Iowa or New Hampshire to participate in the debate. Initially, the rules required that a candidate had to have placed fourth in either of the two contests.
FAIR asks if the Kucinich’s exclusion is part of a larger effort to minimize coverage of Kucinich’s campaign:
Does Kucinich’s campaign represent ideas that offend either NBC managers or their bosses at General Electric? It’s a fair question, given that MSNBC canceled Phil Donahue’s nightly show in early 2003 due to the host’s opposition to the Iraq War; the company worried that the host would be a “difficult public face for NBC in a time of war” (FAIR Press Release, 4/3/03).
Kucinich’s peace platform might be something that a major defense contractor like General Electric would rather not expose to voters on its cable network. Likewise, Kucinich’s strong opposition to nuclear power likely doesn’t sit well with GE, a major player in the industry; the issue was sure to come up in any debate in Nevada, where the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump is intensely controversial.
It’s also worth noting that NBC–like most other corporate media outlets–has had little time for Kucinich’s campaign from the start, deciding long ago that the candidate was simply not viable (FAIR Media Advisory, 5/8/07). Kucinich’s name has been mentioned only a few times in passing on NBC Nightly News, and Kucinich–unlike six other Democratic candidates–has yet to appear as part of Meet the Press’s “Meet the Candidates” series.
What role does excluding candidates from debates–especially at this early stage–have on the electoral process? Does it limit voters’ choices?
As Media Mouse reported back in November, the presidential debate process used once the candidates are selected for the general election is incredibly flawed and results in the deliberate exclusion of third party candidates. In the general election, the debates are controlled by a private corporation that sets incredibly high criteria for participation that effectively makes it impossible for third party candidates to participate. Moreover, the corporation is run by the two major parties.
For those interested in working to reform the debate process, the Open Debates organization has a wealth of resources and is currently organizing around the 2008 debates. Earlier this month, it issued a press release condemning Kucinich’s exclusion from the debates.