"Challengers to powerful incumbents, candidates and their supporters from smaller parties -- like the Greens and the Libertarians -- often complain they're hurt by too little coverage," columnist Charlotte Grimes notes in today's Albany Times Union, "Critics of both the press and of politics say the comparative silence on alternative candidates and policies reinforces the two-party dominance of Republicans and Democrats, narrows the range of political thought and denies voters more choices."
Grimes isn't going to deny it, but she's definitely going to rationalize it. She quotes her national editor, Paul Gibbons, who justifies the exclusion of independents from coverage of the presidential campaign as "a matter of space. Every inch of copy we would give a minor candidate subtracts from the space available for covering the candidates our readers are most likely to vote for."
In other words, precisely because readers are already well aware of the candidacies of Senators McCain and Obama, the Times Union should give them even more coverage. That's Grimes's own view. "Journalists cannot -- and should not -- give equal coverage to all candidates," she writes, "Equal coverage for, say, Ralph Nader as to Republicans John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama would quite simply distort the reality of the presidential race."
What is the "reality of the presidential race?" For brevity's sake, let's boil it down to two options. One reality is that there are far more than two candidates running, some of whom may have useful ideas to contribute to our ongoing national debates. The other reality is that only two candidates have a "realistic" chance to win, and thus are the only ones worth covering. The first option involves nothing more than telling the truth. The second, chosen by Grimes and the Times Union, is to treat the presidential election like a sports event.
"It would be inaccurate to suggest by the amount of coverage that all the candidates were competing at the same level," Grimes adds. In other words, it'd be inaccurate to inform your readers that there are candidates who are just as much entitled to their votes as McCain and Obama. It'd be inaccurate to have one story in your paper every day detailing the positions of a non-frivolous independent candidate rather than report on the latest speech in which McCain or Obama repeats the same points he's been making for a month or more. It's somehow inaccurate to put aside the latest exegesis of the newest campaign ad, which people can see for themselves anyway, in favor of informing people that there are always more than two choices in a presidential campaign. It's inaccurate, as far as Grimes is concerned, and perhaps a disservice to the public to tell them about a candidate who doesn't have a chance to win. A real journalist might want to inform the public of all the choices available to them, but Grimes is as much a journalist as a racetrack handicapper.
Here's how Grimes dares to justify the exclusion of independent candidates -- it's their fault: "It's the candidate's responsibility, after all, to knock on doors, shake hands at factory gates, kiss babies at the state fair, inspire volunteers to help them campaign and raise their profiles high enough to warrant more coverage." Notice what's missing in her little laundry list. It's only the most important thing under current circumstances, which is raising money. Does Charlotte Grimes really believe that door-knocking and baby-kissing can make up for the typical independent candidate's inability to afford TV advertising, the handicap that makes them all appear inferior to Democrats and Republicans, whatever the quality of their ideas? Maybe if we banned political advertising from television -- not subsidized, but banned it, because otherwise candidates still have to pay the big bucks to all the creative people to produce a professional looking ad, -- we could rate candidates by how well they press the flesh. To suggest that Democrats and Republicans have reached their positions in the American Bipolarchy by shaking hands with more people than anyone else takes ignorance to the brink of willful ignorance. Maybe Grimes doesn't want to know about independents. Maybe they're all just wackos to her. She's entitled to her opinion, but it's unworthy of being printed in a newspaper.
For those who are as bugged about this as I am, but don't have blogs of their own to blow steam in, Grimes has conveniently provided an e-mail address. It is firstname.lastname@example.org.