Thursday, October 21, 2010

How the media can help improve the political process

My October 8 post cited a letter from Charlie Earl to the Toledo Blade as the centerpiece of a discussion as to why third-party candidates cannot gain traction for their campaigns.

On Sunday, Columbus Dispatch columnist Joe Hallett was continuing his campaign against the negative advertising and lack of focus on issues being carried on by the major-party candidates. These prompted me to write an e-mail to Mr. Hallett suggesting how the problem might be resolved. To date, I have not received an answer, but will publish it here if I receive one. I have removed from this post one paragraph that introduced myself to Mr. Hallett -- you can get the same information on my About page. (The following is not indented, but is a direct quotation from my e-mail.)

Mr. Hallett:

I have been reading your columns with great interest in recent weeks, commenting on the candidates’ and major parties’ negativity and failure to effectively communicate the positions they would take on the critical issues of this election – particularly the gubernatorial candidates’ failure to openly address the $8 billion hole in the SFY 2012 budget. I trust your writing because I know you are an experienced observer of Ohio politics, and like your realistic style.

Your column today not only builds upon your campaign against negative campaigning reflected in your earlier columns this fall; but supports the thrust of today’s Letters to the Editor, particularly that of Norma Nero against the tactics used by Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern.

While I commend The Columbus Dispatch for not covering much of the silliness that Mr. Redfern (and for that matter, his Republican counterpart) are promoting; I suggest that the Dispatch and other media are in part responsible for this state of affairs by their insistence on ignoring the campaigns of independent and third-party candidates.

I know the objections – the largest third party in Ohio has only 6,000 registered voters; most independents and third-party candidates are underfunded, and often very naïve; the media are not responsible for promoting anything, let alone small parties; and in any event, journalistic resources are limited. And, anyway, the Dispatch at least mentions third party candidates, though usually in a way that says that oh, by the way, Larry Libertarian or Connie Constitutionalist is also running – without saying anything about what their positions are.

The problem with this policy is, there are third-party candidates who have enough funding to travel around the state, print brochures, and post yard signs; and enough knowledge to articulate their positions in the debates in which they are permitted to participate. While I am more familiar with the Libertarian and Constitution Party candidates than I am with the Greens and the Socialists, I have no reason to believe that my points would not also apply to them. Third party candidates not energetic enough? Look at the Facebook pages of Libertarian Secretary of State candidate Charlie Earl and the Constitution Party’s Attorney General candidate Robert Owens, who, by the way, is running for the second time for that office. Naïve? Look at the same candidates’ websites (Charlie Earl’s and Robert Owens’s). Not to mention Libertarians Travis Irvine for the U.S. Congress and Bill Yarbrough for Ohio Senate in the Third District. Both candidates have run effective YouTube videos: Mr. Yarbrough appeals to the intelligence of voters in his “sound bite,” and Mr. Irvine skewers the Republican “Pledge to America.”

The point is this: if the Dispatch and other media are truly serious about improving the quality of political communication – and I believe this is part of the mission of journalism – then they must have the diligence to at least fairly cover the third-party candidates who make the effort to knock on their door. That means not excluding those candidates from the editorial board interviews, not giving them short shrift in the resulting articles, and not ignoring them entirely. Not every candidate deserves to be covered; but many of them do, as I hope I demonstrated here. To ignore them is essentially to say, “what is, is right,” and turns into hypocrites those who work for those media who say they want cleaner, issues-based politics, but will not support the effort to find work with* candidates who practice them.

* My original post used the word find, but on reflection, work with better expresses my intent.


Bill Yarbrough said...

Brilliant Harold. THANK YOU.

CMR said...

Ditto for a certain TV station in Cincinnati which did not invite the candidates from the Libertarian and Green Parties to a televised debate for the 1st Congressional District. This act of inviting only Republican and Democrat cadidates just perpetuates the de facto two-party system in the United States, a system that cannot offer a solution to all of the problems and in fact exacerbates many of said problems.

Here is the reaction of the Libertarian and Green Party candidates to this snubbing.