Last week I pointed out that the only female candidate in next month’s presidential election, the Green Party’s Jill Stein, had been arrested and handcuffed to a chair for eight hours during the presidential debate, and then gagged by local media. The episode was indicative, I argued, of a general tendency among political reporters to parrot the two dominate parties. I pleaded for fairer coverage of the wider spectrum of American political thought.
Brian Mann, the Adirondack-North Country region’s most active political reporter, responded with a string of arguments that painted me as a partisan conspiracy theorist, and a hypocrite for failing to report on the Green Party here at Adirondack Almanack.
Apparently, Brian Mann has forgotten that I’m not a paid political reporter. He’s also forgotten the language of the Public Broadcasting Act, designed “to encourage public telecommunications services which will… constitute an expression of diversity and excellence, and… a source of alternative telecommunications services for all the citizens of the Nation; it is in the public interest to encourage the development of programming that involves creative risks and that addresses the needs of unserved and underserved audiences.”
In short, of all political reporters in our region, Brian Mann has a unique responsibility to present a diversity of political views, particularly as they relate to unserved and underserved audiences. So when he writes “Yes, Stein is irrelevant in the 2012 presidential race,” he misses the point entirely about why taxpayers fund public radio and provide it space on our public airwaves. At the very least, according to his Congressional mandate, he ought to be covering when the only woman in the presidential race is handcuffed to a chair during a debate restricted to the views of two men. At a bare minimum he should realize who among us has the duty of political reporting. Here’s a hint – it’s not me.
Brian Mann’s vision of his role as political gate keeper does not surprise me. Despite his continued efforts to portray himself in heroic terms, engaged in a “good, noble fight… against the tide of popular taste,” it is a fact of American political life that our media generally frames the context of debate no wider than two political parties now in popular fashion.
I’ve been around and around with Brian on this point. I stand with generations of media critics, professional journalists, and academic journalism programs across the nation. For example, the day after my piece ran here at the Almanack, one of Brian Mann’s own, the Washington Post‘s ombudsman Peter Pexton, echoed my arguments. You can read that piece here, but Pexton concluded with a basic premise I share: “it is part of our First Amendment franchise to hear people out and to give voice to the voiceless, even if they can’t win and register only in single digits in the polls.” Partisan conspiracy theorist? You decide. There’s no point in me making that argument again.
Finally, resorting to the argument that the ideas of presidential candidates – or forget the ideas, that a presidential candidate was held incommunicado in handcuffs during the debate – is not worth reporting because she does not have the electoral support of the majority of Americans, is a dreadful corruption of the fundamental role of journalism to inform. It’s exactly the kind of journalism Brian Mann decries, a journalism where only “public taste” matters. There is nothing noble about that.
If readers still believe third party candidates should be denied inclusion in debates, I encourage them to watch Democracy Now‘s re-airing of parts of the second presidential debate, which provides an opportunity for the third-party candidates to respond to the same questions put to the Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. You can watch that version of the debate here.
NOTICE: No voters (or political reporters) were harmed during the inclusion of third party candidates in Democracy Now‘s debate mash-up. That’s more than the televised debate of the two dominate candidates can say.
Photo: (l to r) Dr. Jill Stein, Green Party 2012 presidential nominee; Virgil Goode, former six-term Virginia congressman and Constitution Party presidential nominee; and Rocky Anderson, former mayor of Salt Lake City, Utah running on the Justice Party ticket. Photo courtesy DemorcacyNow.org.