{ An Autopsy of Democracy }

Friday, January 09, 2004

The Last Straw: Kucinich is being deliberately marginalized in the media

After months of wanting to write a letter to NPR complaining about their skewed coverage of the democratic candidates, I finally did. The last straw? A 'Morning Edition' story covering the Iowa debates didn't even mention Kucinich's name. And we're close to the primaries here, folks.

For such a long time now I've been praying for some coverage of Dennis Kucinich, who has been campaigning for a long time now and who I've supported since pretty early on. Nada. Almost never. Despite his consistent and fervent stance against the Iraq war. (And if he IS ever mentioned, not only is it invariably in passing but STILL they insist on stating [you know, just in passing] that he's a hopelessly unelectable candidate who doesn't stand a chance etc. etc... Grrr. . . .

Anyway, here's the email I sent to various and sundry folks at National Public Radio:

To whom it ought to concern:

This letter is long overdue. I should have written several letters before now, but in my naive hope that things would improve, I did not. At this point my tone might sound bitter and hostile, for which I apologize; but, quite frankly, I'm fed up.

Firstly, I will say I appreciate that NPR broadcasts interviews with each of the Democratic candidates running for president. This is very important, and sometimes more fair than a debate in which everyone struggles to get a word in edge-wise and ends up speaking for scarcely a minute or two.

I have been a supporter of Dennis Kucinich for many months now, and have noticed a consistent pattern in the media--including NPR, which I listen to every day--of ignoring and marginalizing this candidate. Until this week, I would not allow myself to believe this was deliberate. But the "last straw" came when Kucinich's name was NOT EVEN MENTIONED in the Jan. 6 Morning Edition coverage of the debates in Iowa, despite the fact that Dennis has been campaigning extensively there. Edwards was discussed--and I like Edwards, but his poll ratings are no better than Dennis's, so even a blind obsession with polls cannot explain the omission. Even candidates who were not campaigning in Iowa were mentioned. What's going on here?

Again, even though this is a crucial time before the primaries, I would not be so upset about this; except that it's been a quite consistent pattern for a long time, and there's simply no excuse for it. NPR has continued joining the mass media in trying to choose the candidates for the people--and if I hear Howard Dean's name one more time I think I'm going to slam my own head against the nearest wall.

Several months ago NPR ran a story ostensibly decrying all the publicity given to Kerry and Dean in various newspapers, magazines, etc. and criticizing the media for this undermining of democracy. The net effect of this story? More publicity for Dean, hardly an issue discussed, a public still ill-informed, and an undermining of democracy. (This was just the first of many such stories.) Dean was also explicitly called the "only" candidate who opposed the war in Iraq--which struck me as not merely an oversight but an outright lie at that point, because Kucinich had always spoken out fiercely against the war, voted against it and led the opposition in the House. The guest also said there were too many candidates, and the Democratic Party secretly wished all the rest would simply disappear. (Here Kucinich was named--as among those who ought to disappear.)

Indeed, I can't recall a single time I've heard Kucinich mentioned without the accompanying refrains: "long-shot," "doesn't stand a chance," "hopeless," "unlikely," "will never win," "doesn't have much money," "low ratings in the polls," "should just drop out," etc. etc. etc. I'm really not exaggerating here. Not a single time. (Even John Stuart, whom I love, made a point of it in Newsweek last week.)

Why is this? More than a year before the election, a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom had been set up, so that even people who had somehow managed to hear about him already believed he couldn't win.

Let's assume this is true, then; the question that needs to be addressed is WHY is this true? That's what you should be discussing. (Start with campaign financing, the moderate/right-of-center two-party system, media control/bias and the "liberal media" myth, . . .)

I would submit that my complaints are quite legitimate--and different from, say, someone complaining that Sharpton or Carol Mosley-Brown have been shunned and marginalized. Why? Forget the money and the polls for one second and start by looking at the issues and the platforms of the candidates. Compare Dean (a moderate portrayed by the media as a "liberal") with Kucinich, and it should be abundantly clear. (And keep in mind that as a governor Dean was under no pressure whatsoever, did not have to actually take a stand on anything [i.e. vote], whereas Kucinich did.) Again, Kucinich not only voted against the war but led the opposition to it in the House, and has consistently held this position; voted against the Patriot Act and promises to repeal it; voted against the $87 billion this summer [this holds great significance when you look at the number of abstentions from this vote, especially in the Senate--the vast majority abstained]; has repeatedly called for an end to the occupation of Iraq and has laid out a proposal for the transfer of control to the U.N.; promises to cut the bloated Cold-War-Era Pentagon budget [this is a huge, huge issue affecting every policy decision, foreign and domestic]. He's the only candidate (to my knowledge) with a plan for national health care, and who opposes NAFTA and its looming expansion (both these issues are regarded as very important to the vast majority of the people of this country).

Howard Dean (for all the hype) has had only reservations about the Iraq war, no plan for getting us out, will not cut the military/Pentagon budget, whole-heartedly supports the "war on terror," has a weak stance on the "Patriot Act," believes we should be TOUGHER on Iran and North Korea, supports NAFTA, and has a convoluted and feeble proposal for health care reform (NOT national health care) that does not address the for-profit system run by insurance and pharmaceutical companies. He also vows to balance the budget without saying what he will cut or if he would raise taxes (and in terms of "electability," if he wants to raise taxes he's simply not going to get elected, pure and simple).

And I could go on. But the point is, Kucinich is pretty much the only candidate with clear, strong positions on all the important issues. And he's being left out of the discussion.

I do not expect Kucinich to receive as much attention as Dean; Dean does have a great deal of support, it seems. But I will say this: the Iraq war and the presidential race should never be mentioned together without the mention of Dennis Kucinich. Ever. And this is the most glaring failure of the media, because in fact he is almost never mentioned.

I have tried to spread the word to people about Dennis, and invariably I receive the same response: "Wow, this guy's really great. Who is he? I've never heard of him." Almost EVERYONE says something to this effect. (Followed soon after by "I'd definitely vote for this guy--but it sounds like he doesn't stand a chance of winning . . .") I pose the question to you: why hasn't anyone heard of him? And what, exactly, is it about him that makes people declare him "unelectable"?

Ralph Nader spoke on CSPAN the other day and announced that he's considering running again. (Incidentally, Nader and LaDuke have both expressed support for Kucinich--now, with all the hype about Gore's endorsement of Dean, don't you think this might be worthy of at least some mention in the press?) Although I fear a repeat of 2000, I have to say: Thank God. I implore you to give Nader, also, the attention he deserves. He knows he won't win, but he's brilliant and inspiring and brings the real issues to the fore, giving a voice to millions who feel they have no one to represent them or even speak up for them, who are so disgusted with the system that disenfranchises them that they don't even vote. That's your job, too. You have a great deal of power in the political process, and thus a great deal of responsibility. Please, correct your skewed approach, and try to convince some of us that democracy is not dead. If things change, you can count on my membership and support; if not, I guess I'll just stick with DemocracyNow!, CSPAN, and the internet.

Thank you very much for your time.


Dustin W. Hansen
St. Paul, MN

p.s.: Sorry this is so long; again, it should have been several letters spanning several months, but I let it stew for too long. I hope you can appreciate that this is not a spur-of-the-moment rant, but rather the result of months and months of listening and consideration.

(Click here for the NPR story) (then scroll down to "Campaigning in Iowa Heats Up")

If you think I'm whining about this or being overly critical of the media, do a little study/search for yourself. Just search for "Kucinich," read some articles, and see whether or not his hopeless unelectability is referred to. The pattern is rather interesting . . .

You'll also discover that some right-wing nut has put up a satire site ( http://www.kucinich.com/ ) for the sole purpose of ridiculing him. I don't even know what to say about this one . . . I guess if it were humorous, I'd have no problem with it. But, well, it's really not.

Couple o' quotes for ye (from an interview):

"Your platform reads like Progressive pillow talk - universal healthcare, full employment, fully funded public education through college - but is America ready for that radical of a shift to the left?

What is radical about healthcare for all? What is radical about education for all? What is radical about jobs for all? When that starts to be radical, we have to ask ourselves, what in the heck has happened to this country? All of a sudden somebody starts talking about peace and prosperity and is seen as a radical? My God, where are we going as a nation? What does that say? All of a sudden "mainstream" is supporting monopolies? Mainstream is supporting war? Mainstream is supporting a healthcare system that is stopping people from being able to get care? It's like America has gone upside down, and so, you know, I am here to help put it right side up.

. . . . . .

Are you frustrated by the national media already discounting your candidacy as irrelevant before the first primary has even been held?

No, I think that the fact that they have done that has now become a story [laughs]. It kind of takes care of itself. After a while people are saying, well, why did they do that? Especially when people hear me. [They say,] "This guy makes sense! Why wouldn't you hear him?" When that happens people start saying, what is the motivation of not wanting this candidate to be heard? It is not the proper role of the media to tell people, these are your candidates, and these are not. It just isn't. This is a democratic society and people have the right to their own choices. Americans are particularly sensitive to stuffing the ballot box, whether it is electronically or with hanging chads. So, we have to be careful about the role of the media in a democratic society. The American people don't want the media telling them who to vote for.

. . . . . ."

(Click here for the whole interview)




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