Every political candidate deserves coverage
During the political season that has already been upon us for many months, how much media attention should be devoted to the candidates who do not appear to have much support?
The question comes up now because Fox News decided not to invite two Republican candidates, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, to its Jan. 6 New Hampshire primary forum, which did include the other five contenders. Also, ABC news limited participation in its New Hampshire primary Republican and Democratic debates to candidates who polled above 5 percent or who placed in the top four in Iowa.
Such decisions fit well into the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” category, as I remember from my days as the managing editor of the small daily newspaper in Salida.
In this backwater of Colorado, we never had to deal with presidential candidates, but aspiring governors, senators, congressional representatives, state legislators and the like all came through town, and of course we had our own races for county and municipal offices. My attitude was that anyone who put himself up as a candidate for public office deserved at least an interview.
That sounds fair, but not everyone agreed. One of my favorite “has no chance whatsoever of getting elected to anything” candidates was a fellow named Henry Olshaw, who lived on some acreage outside Pueblo.
Running as an “Unaffiliated American,” Olshaw got 0.2 percent of the vote in Colorado’s 1986 U.S. Senate race. Before that, he had run for several offices in this part of the state, which is when I interviewed him.
Olshaw’s campaign interviews made for good reading, but every time I ran one, I would hear from the county Republican and Democratic party chairs. Why was I paying attention to a crackpot who had no chance of winning? they asked. Newspapers have only so much space and reportorial staff, after all, and in their view, I was wasting both.
As a columnist, I can promote or ignore any candidate as it suits me. But as an editor in charge of news coverage, as I was then, was it my job to determine which candidates were “viable,” and pay attention only to them? Or to present the public with all the candidates, and leave the viability question up to the voters?
Further, viability is often determined by polls, which can be inaccurate or misleading. Back in 1992, Colorado voters were presented with Amendment 2, which prohibited municipalities from adopting ordinances that prohibited discrimination against homosexuals. I wrote against it once, early on, and saw that the polls showed the measure losing handily. Why beat a dead horse? I thought to myself, and wrote nothing more before the election. Coloradans apparently lied to the pollsters, because the measure passed, inspiring boycotts and denunciations of Colorado as “the Hate State.”
The moral of that story is that you shouldn’t trust the polls when you’re trying to make decisions about what deserves attention. But if you ignore those measures of public opinion and try to be fair to all, then you do end up giving a lot of attention to people and matters that are far from the mainstream.
So what? Elections should be discussions about what kind of country we want to live in, rather than a series of fluctuating numbers about who’s leading and who isn’t and who shouldn’t be allowed into the “horse race.” The more attention given to diverse political theories and issues, the better.
Shame on ABC and Fox News for taking it upon themselves to limit the discussion.
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