"How did Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton and Carol Moseley Braun get
into this thing?" ABC's Ted Koppel complained before the Democratic
candidates' debate that he moderated this week. "Nobody seems to know.
Some candidates who are perceived as serious are gasping for air, and
what little oxygen there is on the stage will be taken up by one-third
of the people who do not have a snowball's chance in hell of
winning the nomination."
This frustration came out at the debate, as Koppel quizzed all three
non-"serious" candidates: "You don't have any money, at least not
much. Rev. Sharpton has almost none. You don't have very much,
Ambassador Braun. The question is, will there come a point when polls,
money and then ultimately the actual votes that will take place...will
there come a point when we can expect one or more of the three of you
to drop out? Or are you in this as sort of a vanity candidacy?"
Kucinich responded with a dig at the industry that Koppel works for:
"I want the American people to see where the media takes politics in
this country. To start with endorsements, to start talking about
endorsements. Now we're talking about polls. And then we're talking
about money. Well, you know, when you do that, you don't have to talk
about what's important to the American people."
Was it a coincidence that the day after this exchange, ABC News
pulled the only journalist it had following the Kucinich campaign,
along with the two producers covering the two other potential "vanity"
candidates? Whether retaliatory or not, ABC's action signaled its
agreement with Koppel's assessment: Kucinich, Sharpton and Moseley
Braun don't have a snowball's chance of being nominated, and it's time
for them to get off the stage.
But why don't these candidates have any chance of winning? Is it
because their records and campaign promises have been scrutinized by
the American public and found wanting? It's hard to say that the
viewers of Nightline, the show hosted by Koppel, have had much of a
chance to scrutinize those three: None of them had been mentioned on
the show all year until it aired a portion of this week's debate.
Perhaps ABC would say that Nightline, a discussion show that
generally covers only one topic a night, is not where it provides
regular coverage of presidential candidates. What about World News
Tonight, ABC's nightly news program--would a regular viewer of that
show have learned enough about the supposedly oxygen-stealing
candidates to make an informed judgment that they aren't worth hearing
Altogether, Kucinich, Sharpton and Moseley Braun have been mentioned
a combined total of 10 times on World News Tonight so far this year.
If you watched every day, you'd know that Kucinich wants to withdraw
U.S. troops from Iraq, is critical of a power company connected to
last summer's blackouts, and met with someone trying to bring
attention to the plight of black farmers. You'd have heard Sharpton
described as a good speaker, and heard him being critical of George W.
Bush's military accomplishments, of Howard Dean's references to the
Confederate flag and of Democratic in-fighting. Of Moseley Braun,
you'd learn that she's running for president, and sees herself as a
clear alternative to Bush.
That's it--you would not have gleaned any more facts about these
candidates from watching ABC's main news program for the entire year.
Could it be that ABC believes that on the basis of this information
alone, voters ought to be able to make up their minds about what kind
of presidents these hopefuls would make? That seems doubtful--who
would think that a decision so weighty should be based on knowledge so
Or does ABC think that people should be going elsewhere to get their
news about the election campaign--that the network doesn't need to
bother providing information about these candidates, because
responsible voters will be finding out what they need to know to cast
an informed ballot from other outlets? That, too, is unlikely to be
the position of a network that used to boast of being America's No. 1
So the folks at ABC News can't believe that they've given you enough
information to make up your own mind, and they must not think that you
should go someplace else to get that information. Yet they think that
it's time to stop covering the candidates who are not "perceived to be
serious," and leave the stage to others.
Only one conclusion is possible: It's not for you to decide who's a
serious candidate for president and who's not. That's ABC's job.
Jim Naureckas is the editor of Extra!, the magazine of the media watch group FAIR. His email address is email@example.com.