More Than a Two-Person Race

For Immediate Release

Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR)

Isabel Macdonald
212-633-6700 x 310

More Than a Two-Person Race

Corporate media largely ignore other presidential candidates

WASHINGTON - While the major-party race for the White House has been the subject
of broad media attention for more than a year, the corporate media have mostly
ignored at least four substantial third-party and independent candidates for
the presidency.

Green Party candidate
Cynthia McKinney and Libertarian candidate Bob Barr are both former congressmembers from the state of Georgia. Their presence in the White House race, along with independent
candidate Ralph Nader and Constitution Party
candidate Chuck Baldwin, would seem to present an interesting counterpoint to
the major-party race between Barack Obama and John McCain. While the corporate press has
apparently decided that the differences between Obama
and McCain are more or less the only political opinions worth exploring this
election season, the third-party and independent candidates take positions on
issues like drug war policy, Israel-Palestine, civil liberties and military
intervention that differ markedly from the views of either major-party candidate.

According to a Nexis news database search of the major network newscasts,
McKinney's name has never been mentioned this year on the networks' news
programs, while Barr and Nader's candidacies have
garnered a total of only 31 mentions between them (15 times on ABC, 12 times on NBC and 4 on CBS). Including the Fox network--which airs Fox News Sunday on its broadcast
affiliates--yields one passing mention of Nader, and
an interview with Barr (6/29/08). PBS's NewsHour with Jim Lehrer offered passing mentions of Nader and Barr
when they announced their candidacies (2/25/08, 5/12/08); more recently, the show has interviewed each of them one-on-one (10/14/08, 10/20/08).

The context in which
Barr and Nader have been covered is worth examining;
by FAIR's count, many of the references to the
candidates dealt primarily with the potential effect on the fortunes of the
major-party candidates--i.e., whether a third-party candidate would be a
"spoiler." That accounted for 11 mentions of Barr and Nader.

Passing mentions of Nader or Barr accounted for another 13 mentions; four of
these were joking or mocking references to Nader. (ABC's This Week includes humor clips from
late-night talkshows, two of which included Nader as a punch line.)

A March 4 report on ABC's Good Morning America discussed the presidential
election with a panel of children, one of whom asked, "There's like
another thing, there's a guy named something Nader....
I think he's either running for the Green Party or the independents." ABC correspondent Chris Cuomo
misinformed the children by saying "Green Party."

Actual interviews with
the candidates were somewhat rare, but Nader has
appeared on NBC's Meet the Press ( 2/24/08) and Nightly
News (10/20/08), ABC's This Week (6/29/08) and the CBS Early Show (2/25/08). Barr has appeared on ABC's This Week (7/16/08).

The main question media
tend to pose about third-party candidates is whether or not they will impact
the outcome of the election. This is not at all surprising, given corporate
media's preference for focusing on the horserace aspect of politics. The
lesser-known candidates' generally low standing in the polls appears to make it
less likely that they will play a decisive role on Election Day, but the
media's refusal to open up the political conversation makes this outcome more
or less a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But besides being a
process for choosing officials, elections are also an opportunity to discuss
ideas. By ignoring independent and third party candidates, the corporate media
are also helping keep a range of policy options about key issues that are not
espoused by either major party candidate off the table--including single payer
healthcare, a full withdrawal from Iraq, ending the war in Afghanistan and ending the death penalty. Democracy Now! (10/16/08) allowed Nader
and McKinney an opportunity to respond to the debate questions posed to Obama and McCain-- a rare opportunity for such candidates
to let voters hear them alongside major-party nominees.

Numerous policies that
are now seen as integral to American life were first proposed by third-party
candidates; Socialist Eugene Debs, for example, promoted the idea of Social
Security in his repeated runs for the presidency in the early 20th century, and
Progressive Henry Wallace advocated
desegregation in his 1948 race.

It's possible that the
minor-party candidates in the 2008 election are suggesting programs that will
one day seem as indispensable as Debs and Wallace's ideas. If so, you won't
hear about them from the corporate media.


FAIR, the national media watch group, has been offering well-documented criticism of media bias and censorship since 1986. We work to invigorate the First Amendment by advocating for greater diversity in the press and by scrutinizing media practices that marginalize public interest, minority and dissenting viewpoints. As an anti-censorship organization, we expose neglected news stories and defend working journalists when they are muzzled.

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