Third Party Vice Presidential Debate

Last night, vice presidential candidates from several of the third party presidential campaigns held a debate in Las Vegas.

Yesterday, some of the third party vice presidential candidates gathered for a debate in Las Vegas at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. Unlike the highly scripted and vague vice presidential debate held by the two major parties last month, the third party VP debate offered a wide range of perspectives far outside of what one traditionally hears:

Watch live video from The REAL Vice-Presidential Debate on

Watch the rest of the debate:

  • Part 2
  • Part 3
  • Part 4
  • Part 5
  • Part 6
  • Part 7
  • Part 8
  • Third Party Presidential Debates Held, but Ignored by Media

    Yesterday, third party presidential candidates debated in Cleveland. Unfortunately, only CSPAN bothered to air and cover the debates.

    Unlike the major party debates which get tons of news coverage and are aired in their entirety on network television, third party presidential debates generate little news coverage.

    Yesterday, independent candidate Ralph Nader, Libertarian Party candidate Bob Barr, and Contstitution Party candidate Chuck Baldwin debated in Cleveland. CSPAN has the debate available online, but aside from them, most channels opted not to cover it. As a contrast to the highly scripted and exclusionary major party debates, there was no criteria used to exclude candidates.

    Video from a previous third party debate is also available:

    On Sunday, there is a third party vice presidential debate planned.

    Third Party Candidates Excluded from Michigan Senate Debate

    For last night’s debate, WGVU used a set of criteria set by the station to exclude third party candidates from its Michigan Senate debate.

    Last night, incumbent Carl Levin–a Democrat–debated Republican Jack Hoogendyk in downtown Grand Rapids. The debate, which was not open to the public, was televised by local PBS affiliate WGVU. The debate was one of two that will be held during the campaign and is viewable online.

    However, the debate excluded third party candidates Scott Boman of the Libertarian Party, Doug Dern of the Natural Law Party, Harley Mikkelson of the Green Party, and Mike Nikitin of the US Taxpayers Party. In response to the exclusion, Libertarian Scott Boman contacted WGVU to ask why the station excluded him. In an email exchange posted on Boman’s website, WGVU station manager Mike Walenta says:

    “This email constitutes a formal response to your communication regarding the upcoming WGVU-sponsored debate between the Republican and Democratic candidates for the US Senate from Michigan. WGVU has hosted such programs for many years and has utilized these criteria when extending invitations to candidates. Candidates must meet all three criteria:

    (1) the person seeking to participate must have qualified for the ballot;

    (2) the candidate must be running a visible and comprehensive campaign as determined by WGVU; and

    (3) the candidate must show a certain fixed level of support — at least 5% — in professionally conducted public opinion polls.

    These criteria were adapted by WGVU from those developed by our broadcast partner, National Public Radio and have been used by WGVU for U.S. Senate debates in 1996, 2000, 2002, 2006, and again this year. While you meet criterion one, it is WGVU’s judgment that you do not meet criterion two or three. For that reason, we did not extend an invitation to you. We appreciate your interest in public television and thank you for your letter.”

    However, the criteria is clearly problematic. While the first criterion is acceptable, the other two are difficult given the heavy bias in the media against third party candidates. In a Michigan Messenger article, reporter Todd Heywood writes that he could only find one poll–not a statewide one–in which Boman was even included as an option, making it basically impossible for a third party candidate to qualify. The other criterion–that a candidate “must be running a visible and comprehensive campaign as determined by WGVU”–offers no transparency and essentially gives the station the ultimate decision on who to include.

    Taken together, the criteria means that third party voices will consistently be excluded from debates hosted by WGVU.

    Local Coverage of the Vice Presidential Debate

    The local media’s coverage of the Biden-Palin contained very little information about what the candidates said during the debate. Despite giving the debate prominent attention, the coverage focused on style over substance.

    Last Thursday’s nationally televised debate between vice presidential candidates Joe Biden (Democrat) and Sarah Palin (Republican) received a significant amount of coverage on the major Grand Rapids news outlets. All three local TV stations made it their lead story and the Grand Rapids Press put the debate on the front page. As has been the trend, the coverage tended to focus more on style than substance.

    WZZM 13 ran an ABC story that was 90 seconds long and edited in such a way as to provide sound bites of both candidates. The reporter began by saying that the debate was filled with “drama” and throughout the story said that candidates landed a few “punches.” The only issues that were mentioned were energy policy, the financial crisis, and the US war in Iraq, but the candidate comments were quite limited. Here is what both were quoted as saying on WZZM 13 about Iraq:

    Biden: “John McCain has been dead wrong on the fundamental issues relating to the conduct of the war…”

    Palin: “Your plan is a white flag of surrender in Iraq.”

    The WXMI coverage was considerably better since they provided more time for candidate comments. Here is what the candidates said on the channel 17 run story:

    Palin: “We can not afford to lose against Al Qaeda and the Shia extremists who are still there, still fighting us. But we are getting closer and closer to victory and it would be a travesty if we quit now in Iraq.”

    Biden: “With all due respect to your plan, Barack Obama has offered a clear plan. Shift responsibilities to the Iraqis, over the next sixteen months draw down our combat troops, ironically the same plan that Maliki, the Prime Minister of Iraq, and George Bush are now negotiating……The fundamental difference is that we will end this war. For John McCain, there is no end in sight.”

    Palin: “Your plan is a white flag of surrender and that is not what are troops need to hear today for sure and it’s not what our nation needs to be able to count on.”

    WOOD TV 8’s coverage was similar that that of the other two stations with comments from both candidates on taxes and Iraq. However, none of the stations provided any analysis of the candidate comments, nor any verification of the claims made by either Biden or Palin.

    The Los Angeles Times story that ran in the Grand Rapids Press didn’t do much better in terms of providing readers with much of what the candidates said during the debate. The article spent the first several paragraphs framing the debate as a contest and discussing whether or not candidates could “hold their own.” Here is an example of one of those paragraphs:

    “So how surprising was it really that neither candidate devolved into a Jerry Springer screaming fit or fell into a state of catatonia? In fact, both were in rare form, giving what might have been their best campaign performances yet.”

    The only issues that were mentioned in the entire story were the economy, Iraq. and Israel. However, in each case the issue was only mentioned–the only excerpted comment on an issue was from Palin who said, “I’m happy to know we both love Israel.” The Press did run a short Associated Press story that accompanied the main article that provided four candidate comments and four “fact checks” of those comments. The article did not provide a source for the analysis, but you can find a lengthy critique on the claims made by the vice presidential candidates on the non-partisan site

    The Press ran a third story, one that was longer than the fact check piece, about reactions from viewers after the debate. Most of the comments focused on the “performance” of the candidates and no issues were mentioned. In fact, the article does not even give an indication of where or how these comments were solicited, since there is no mention of how the reporter talked to those cited.

    WZZM 13 and WOOD TV 8 also sought reactions from viewers after the debate. WZZM13 went to the locations that both political parties held screenings of the debate, with comments from both sides believing their candidate “won” or “did well.” WOOD TV 8 had a small group of “undecided voters” watch the debate at their station and then aired the comments of four of the viewers. However, one has to wonder what the value is for the public to have news agencies get feedback from debate viewers, when they offer no substantive analysis of the debates in their coverage or ask relevant questions to those who took the time to watch the debate.

    Grand Rapids News Media and the First Presidential Debate

    The local media’s coverage of the first presidential debate portrayed the debate as a boxing match while utilizing words like “sparing,” “punched back”, “survived the blows” and “retaliated” to describe the debating. Not surprisingly given this language, there was little coverage of what the candidates actually said.

    After reading and watching the local news coverage of the first presidential debate, one would think that they were watching a boxing match. The three Grand Rapids-based TV stations all used stories from the networks featuring reporters who used words like “sparing”, “punched back”, “survived the blows” and “retaliated” to describe the debate. The print media wasn’t much better, since the Grand Rapids Press front page story for September 27 read, “Round 1: In your face.”

    The first of three presidential debates was billed as a foreign policy debate, but the moderator decided to have the candidates focus on the proposed $700 billion dollar Wall Street “bailout.” None of the local news outlets we looked at had any concrete responses from either candidate, only comments where candidates blamed each other’s policies for the “failed economy.” All four local news sources we looked at included comments from the candidates on their tax policies, but in each instance, the comments were partial and not solution-based. For example, the Press quotes Senator Obama as saying that the economic crisis is “a final verdict on eight years of failed economic policies promoted by President Bush and supported by Senator McCain.” The reporter does not verify the claim or investigate which of the Bush administration’s economic policies Senator McCain has indeed supported.

    However, most of the coverage focused on the candidates’ positions on Iraq. WXMI 17’s story quoted Senator McCain as saying that “Senator Obama has admitted that ‘the Surge’ in Iraq worked” and Senator Obama stated that it is “because of the sacrifice of our troops.” In the WZZM 13 story, Senator Obama says that “McCain was wrong on the war in Iraq” while the Press article stated:

    “McCain accused his younger rival of an “incredible thing of voting to cut off funds for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan,” a reference to legislation that cleared the Senate more than a year ago. Obama disputed that, saying he had opposed funding in a bill that presented a “blank check” to the Pentagon while McCain had opposed money in legislation that included a timetable for troop withdrawal.”

    Despite Iraq being mentioned as an area of disagreement, there was little information in any of the local news coverage to actually support such a claim, even though there has been plenty written about their positions on Iraq.

    The Press did run an additional article on page two on Saturday, September 27 from the Associated Press (AP) entitled “Candidates flub on some facts.” Despite the bad headline, the article did provide some analysis of comments made by both candidates that were inaccurate or misleading. The original version of the AP story was much longer and looked at the candidates ‘comments on Syria, Cuba, Venezuela, Pakistan and Russia, all of which were brought up in the debate.

    This type of fact checking is extremely important for the public in order to make informed decisions about the candidates, especially when most of the coverage lacks any substance and presents the debate as a spectator sport.

    Presidential Debates Decided; Minor Parties Likely Excluded

    Yesterday, the campaigns of the two major party candidates for president agreed to a series of three debates. Once again, the terms agreed to will likely exclude third party candidates from the debates.

    Yesterday, the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and John McCain announced that they have agreed to a series of three presidential debates this fall. The debates–held once again by the private Commission on Presidential Debates–will be highly scripted events in which every detail has been pre-determined by the Democratic and Republican campaigns.

    As has been the case in previous years, the two major party candidates have come to an agreement on the participation of third parties. In all likelihood, third party candidates–such as Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney and independent Ralph Nader–will be excluded from the debates. While the debates are theoretically “open” to their participation, they must meet an impossible threshold for third party candidates–polling at an average of15% in five national opinion polls. Third parties are similarly excluded from the discussions that set the terms of the debates.

    The debates agreed to by the two campaigns:

    First Presidential Debate — September 26 at the University of Mississippi

    Topic: Foreign Policy & National Security

    Moderator: Jim Lehrer

    Staging: Podium debate

    Answer Format: The debate will be broken into nine, 9-minute segments. The moderator will introduce a topic and allow each candidate 2 minutes to comment. After these initial answers, the moderator will facilitate an open discussion of the topic for the remaining 5 minutes, ensuring that both candidates receive an equal amount of time to comment

    Vice Presidential Debate — October 2 at Washington University (St. Louis)

    Moderator: Gwen Ifill

    Staging/Answer Format: To be resolved after both parties’ Vice Presidential nominees are selected.

    Second Presidential Debate — October 7 at Belmont University

    Moderator: Tom Brokaw

    Staging: Town Hall debate

    Format: The moderator will call on members of the audience (and draw questions from the internet). Each candidate will have 2 minutes to respond to each question. Following those initial answers, the moderator will invite the candidates to respond to the previous answers, for a total of 1 minute, ensuring that both candidates receive an equal amount of time to comment. In the spirit of the Town Hall, all questions will come from the audience (or internet), and not the moderator.

    Third Presidential Debate — October 15 at Hofstra University

    Topic: Domestic and Economic policy

    Moderator: Bob Schieffer

    Staging: Candidates will be seated at a table

    Answer Format: Same as First Presidential Debate

    Closing Statements: At the end of this debate (only) each candidate shall have the opportunity for a 90 second closing statement.

    For more on the history of how the debates are decided, we urge you to read an earlier article on from November of 2007 that covers the Commission on Presidential Debates.

    Democratic Debate Focuses on the Trivial

    Last Wednesday’s Democratic Party presidential debate, featuring Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, has been criticized for focusing on trivial issues rather than more substantive policy discussions. ABC News, who hosted the debate, has come under fire for spending 45 minutes of the debate on trivial matters ranging from Obama’s patriotism and questions about his wearing a flag pin on his lapel to Clinton’s Bosnia “sniper fire” story. Some of the questions posed to the candidates included:

    “CHARLES GIBSON: You got talking in California about small-town Pennsylvanians who have had tough economic times in recent years, and you said they get bitter, and they cling to guns or they cling to their religion or they cling to antipathy toward people who are not like them. Now, you’ve said you misspoke; you said you mangled what it was you wanted to say. But we’ve talked to a lot of voters. Do you understand that some people in this state find that patronizing and think that you said actually what you meant?

    GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, let me pick up on this. When these comments from Senator Obama broke on Friday, Senator McCain’s campaign immediately said that it was going to be a killer issue in November.

    CHARLES GIBSON: Senator Obama, since you last debated, you made a significant speech in this building on the subject of race and your former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

    Senator, let me follow up, and let me add to that. You have said that he would not have been my pastor, and you said that you have to speak out against those kinds of remarks, and implicitly by getting up and moving, and I presume you mean out of the church. Do you honestly believe that 8,000 people should have gotten up and walked out of that church?

    GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator, two questions. Number one, do you think Reverend Wright loves America as much as you do?

    Senator Clinton, we also did a poll today, and there are also questions about you raised in this poll. About six in ten voters that we talked to don’t believe you’re honest and trustworthy. And we also asked a lot of Pennsylvania voters for questions they had. A lot of them raised this honesty issue and your comments about being under sniper fire in Bosnia.

    And you yourself have said she hasn’t been fully truthful about what she would do as president. Do you believe that Senator Clinton has been fully truthful about her past?

    CHARLES GIBSON: It’s a question raised by a voter in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, a woman by the name of Nash McCabe. Take a look.

    NASH McCABE: Senator Obama, I have a question, and I want to know if you believe in the American flag. I am not questioning your patriotism, but all our servicemen, policemen and EMS wear the flag. I want to know why you don’t.

    GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: A follow-up on this issue, the general theme of patriotism in your relationships. A gentleman named William Ayers, he was part of the Weather Underground in the 1970s. They bombed the Pentagon, the Capitol and other buildings. He’s never apologized for that. And in fact, on 9/11 he was quoted in the New York Times saying, “I don’t regret setting bombs; I feel we didn’t do enough.” An early organizing meeting for your state senate campaign was held at his house, and your campaign has said you are friendly. Can you explain that relationship for the voters and explain to Democrats why it won’t be a problem?”

    Unfortunately, while this was one of the most watched debates of the campaign, it focused on the most trivial issues of all the debates. However, this is not particularly abnormal for coverage of presidential campaigns–the media tends focus on such issues rather than substantive policy distinctions.

    The systemic nature of this kind of coverage in the media was explored by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) who said that even when the debate turned to more “substantive” questions it reflected a rightwing spin:

    “But even when the questions turned to issues of actual substance, things hardly improved. It was not until a full three quarters of an hour into the debate that the candidates were asked the question about what Stephanopoulos acknowledged was “the No. 1 issue on Americans’ minds”– the economy.”

    A focus on frivolous details in political campaigns has also been seen here in West Michigan, with the Election Watch 2004 and 2006 projects documenting numerous examples of such coverage.

    The Clinton/Obama Debate?

    With John Edwards dropping out of the presidential race Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are the only candidates left in the process to see who wins the Democratic Party nomination. Did this make much of a difference in the final Democratic debate before the February 5 Primary? The Grand Rapids Press headline on February 1st read, “Obama, Clinton mix civility and a few barbs in last debate before Super Tuesday contests.” The Associated Press story did not mention a single issue raised during the debate. Instead, the reporter chose to focus on how nice the two candidates were to each other and whether or not they would make a good president/vice president team. also noted that the debate seemed more like “an agree-athon than a debate.” However, the analysts at Political Fact Check did mention that there were issues raised during the debate and several instances where candidates made inaccurate claims. The claims they investigate are voter turnout, corporate tax loopholes and driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.

    Consumer advocate and possible presidential candidate Ralph Nader also weighed in on the Clinton/Obama debate. In his article titled “No Debate,” Nader states, “As in all debates involving presidential candidates, the reporters were unwilling or incapable of asking the unconventional questions reflecting situations and conditions widely reported or investigated by their own colleagues.” Besides commenting on what was not asked at the debate, Nader decides to ask several colleagues he respects what questions they would have asked the two Democratic candidates. Chris Hedges, author and former New York Times Middle East bureau chief says he would have asked:

    “The Israeli government is imposing severe and continual collective punishment on the 1.5 million people of tiny Gaza, which includes restricting or cutting off food, fuel, electricity, medicines and other necessities. Malnutrition rates among many children resemble the worst of sub-Saharan Africa. Israel’s leading newspaper, Ha’aretz, has reporters and columnists describing these horrific conditions and concluding that the ferocity of the blockade is detrimental to Israel as well as the Palestinians.

    Collective punishment is clearly a violation of established international law. Prominent, former military, security and political leaders in Israel are speaking out against this punishment and calling for negotiations with Hamas. Do you, Senator Clinton and Senator Obama, agree with these Israelis or do you continue to support the policy of collective punishment against innocent men, women and children in Gaza?”

    Nader himself provides several questions he would have asked, questions that range from the issue of impeachment of Bush, challenging the health care industry, corporate fraud and corporate welfare.

    Lastly, Minnesota-based journalist Lydia Howell raises important points about the CNN-moderated debate between Obama and Clinton. Responding to the blame both candidates assign to Bush for state of the US economy, Howell writes:

    “While blaming the Bush Administration for the declining economy, greedy corporate globalization wasn’t questioned even as it has wrecked much of Mexico’s economy and communities across the U.S. Factories closing, three million jobs have disappeared in the last decade — which obviously includes the Clinton Administration era. So-called “free trade” agreements, such as NAFTA — passed while Hillary Clinton got some of her experience as First Lady, and pending trade deals with South Korea and Peru — weren’t worthy of discussion.”

    With Edwards out of the race, several commentators have expressed concern that neither Clinton or Obama will seriously address the issue of poverty. Howell states:

    “Both candidates started the night lauding John Edwards, but neither took up his banner of fighting poverty. Housing foreclosures got a nod; the housing crisis for the working poor and rising homelessness were ignored. Katrina became just a tool of Bush-bashing, but, neither pledged to really DO anything. Neither Obama or Clinton issued the strong challenges to corporate power at the heart of Edwards’ campaign. Perhaps, Obama got the warning loud and clear from Edwards’ fate. Clinton’s 15 years as a corporate lawyer makes where she stand clear — no matter how many times she cites her connection to the Children’s Defense Fund.”

    Kucinich Uninvited from Debate

    photo of dennis kucinich

    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.

    Fact Checking vs. Horserace Coverage in the Democratic Debate

    Earlier this week, the Democratic candidates participated in a debate moderated by CNN reporter Wolf Blitzer. The CNN coverage of the debate said that Blitzer served “as ringmaster and referee,” language that suggests the debate is more theater than policy. CNN’s coverage provided a summary of the statements made by candidates on a variety of policy issues and included an excerpt from each of them. What they failed to do is investigate the claims made by candidates in the debate, particularly claims about past positions and votes.

    For instance, at one point in the story John Edwards made this comment about Hillary Clinton. “She says she will turn up the heat on George Bush and the Republicans, but when the crucial vote came on stopping Bush, Cheney and the neocons on Iran, she voted with Bush and Cheney.” Unfortunately, CNN never bothered to check and see how Clinton voted on that legislation regarding US policy towards Iran.

    The “liberal” radio news program, NPR didn’t do much better with its story on the debate. NPR focused on Hillary Clinton’s claims that her Democratic opponents were “slinging mud” and that “Clinton needed a better performance than the last debate.” There was little reporting in the NPR story on issues, with only a brief mention of Iraq and immigration.

    The Annenberg Political Fact Check provides an excellent analysis of a debate in terms of both issues and accuracy. Just to be clear, the Annenberg analysis is of another debate in Las Vegas, the one hosted by MSNBC. Their team of researchers provides more details of the debate and they check the voting records and positions of the candidates on numerous issues in such a way so readers can verify claims made by the candidates. One example of this kind of fact checking is in response to a claim made by Hillary Clinton where she mischaracterized the 2005 energy bill, saying it had “enormous giveaways” to oil and gas companies. In truth, the measure raised taxes on those industries.

    Clinton: Well, Tim, I think it’s well accepted that the 2005 energy bill was the Dick Cheney lobbyist energy bill. It was written by lobbyists. It was championed by Dick Cheney. It wasn’t just the green light that it gave to more nuclear power. It had enormous giveaways to the oil and gas industries. … It was the wrong policy for America. It was so heavily tilted toward the special interests that many of us, at the time, said, you know, that’s not going to move us on the path we need, which is toward clean, renewable green energy.

    Analysis: This is the third time we’ve pointed out Clinton’s distortion of this legislation. She is continuing a bogus line of attack that we debunked when Democrats deployed it widely in the 2006 congressional elections. While it’s true that Republican lawmakers had once considered large tax breaks for oil and gas companies in the bill, the biggest of them had been stripped out of the bill by the time it passed.

    Once again, it’s true that the Energy Policy Act of 2005 contained $14.3 billion in tax breaks, but most of them weren’t for the oil and gas industry. They went mainly to electric utilities for such things as incentives for new transmission lines and “clean coal” facilities, and also for incentives for alternative fuels research and subsidies for energy efficient cars and homes.

    According to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, the bill did give $2.6 billion in tax breaks for oil companies, but what Clinton fails to acknowledge is that those breaks were more than offset by $2.9 billion in tax increases. The net result was a $300 million tax increase over 11 years on oil and gas companies.

    This is the kind of reporting we need from journalists on a regular basis. When reporters verify claims made by candidates, not only are voters better informed, it creates a climate of accountability no matter who is elected.