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Campaign Compulsion: How the Media Picks the Candidates

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WHO ASKED KOPPEL?
A more recent case of press bias occurred in the days before the ABC-sponsored debate in Durham, NH, last month where ABC’s “Nightline” host, journalist Ted Koppel, expressed a desire to be rid of at least one-third of the field of Democratic candidates. “How did Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton and Carol Moseley Braun get into this thing?” Koppel reportedly asked. “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,” Koppel opined.

The three candidates Koppel expressed dismay about are the same three that Bacon placed in the media’s bottom tier, saying that when they receive any coverage at all, it is derisive of their chance of winning.

In New Hampshire, Koppel brought his reductionist bias to the stage of the debate, which he began with a lengthy discussion of former Vice President Al Gore’s endorsement of Dean’s candidacy. When it came time for Kucinich to respond, he chided Koppel by saying, “To begin this kind of a forum with a question about an endorsement, no matter by who, I think actually trivializes the issues that are before us. For example, at this moment there are 130,000 troops in Iraq. I mean, I would like to hear you ask during this event what’s the plan for getting out.”

Later in the debate, Koppel directed the following question to Braun, Sharpton, and Kucinich: “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 here—in places like New Hampshire, the caucuses in Iowa—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?”

Sharpton was the first to respond, stating, “In all seriousness the problem is that we are reducing politics to people with money. I think that Americans want people with ideas. The suggestion is that if you can’t buy your way now, that you can’t seek the highest office in the land. That is to really sell the White House.”

Kucinich answered next. Apparently unable to stand the derision of his campaign any longer, he took Koppel to task on the very issue of media bias:

“Ted, you know, we started at the beginning of this evening talking about an endorsement. Well, 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.

“Ted, I’m the only one up here that actually, on the stage, that actually voted against the PATRIOT Act. And voted against the war. The only one on this stage. I’m also one of the few candidates up here who’s talking about taking our healthcare system from this for-profit system to a not-for-profit, single-payer, universal health care for all. I’m also the only one who has talked about getting out of NAFTA and the WTO and going back to bilateral trade conditioned on workers rights, human rights, and the environment. Now, I may be inconvenient for some of those in the media, but I’m, you know, sorry about that.”

Braun spoke to the issue last, emphasizing her support, along with Kucinich, for single-payer health care, and opposition to the war in Iraq and the USA PATRIOT Act. “The people want to hear ideas,” said Braun. “They want some energy. They don’t want to just embrace the status quo and expect change. I am the clearest alternative to George Bush and I will take the ‘White Men Only’ sign off the White House door.”

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