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Reliable Sources

Are the Media Excluding Third Party Presidential Contenders?

Aired June 24, 2000 - 6:30 p.m. ET


HOWARD KURTZ, CO-HOST: The other White House candidates: Are the media giving short shrift to third party contenders and helping keep them out of the presidential debates? We'll ask Pat Buchanan and some top political reporters.

And the press pounces on the prince. Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where we turn a critical lens on the media.

I'm Howard Kurtz along with Bernard Kalb.

We'll talk with Pat Buchanan in just a moment. But first, are the media tuning out everyone but Al Gore and George W. Bush?


KURTZ (voice-over): The presidential contenders are in the media spotlight virtually every day. But these men aren't the only contenders seeking the White House. Pat Buchanan, who ran as a Republican in '92 and '96, has abandoned the GOP and is likely to win the Reform Party nomination this summer.

But you don't hear much about pitchfork Pat's conservative views these days. When he does turn up in the news, the story line is more political, his squabbles with the Ross Perot loyalists in the Reform Party, his split this week with left-wing activist Lenora Fulani, his potential running mates, including a rumor that he might pick radio's Dr. Laura Schlessinger, and his legal challenge over his possible exclusion from the presidential debates.

And what about the Green Party candidate Ralph Nader who's mounting a more serious effort this time around then he did four years ago? His press coverage has been even skimpier. Nader this week also filed a lawsuit over the presidential debates.

RALPH NADER, GREEN PARTY PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the American people are going to fall asleep watching the drab debate the dreary.

KURTZ: And thanks to his financial disclosure report, we know the liberal consumer advocate is worth nearly $4 million in large part because of holdings in high-tech stock.

Should Buchanan and Nader be getting more media attention? Is the lack of press coverage keeping them from reaching the 15 percent benchmark in the polls that would allow them into the debates? Or is the press justified in treating them as fringe candidates with no hope of winning the presidency?


KURTZ: Well, joining us now, Pat Buchanan, the leading candidate for the Reform Party presidential nomination.

Welcome. You got plenty of media attention when you were a Republican candidate. In fact, your whole career you've been kind of a master of drawing the spotlight. But as a Reform candidate who's way down in the polls, why can't you accept that you're not that newsworthy?

PAT BUCHANAN, REFORM PARTY PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, Howard, when I was in the Republican Party, quite frankly I did not get 15 percent in any poll. But I was in all the debates in 1996, for example. And I won three of the first four contests.

But if you took the 15 percent rule, I would not have been in any debates. Neither would John McCain have been in the early debates this year.

Neither would Ross Perot have gotten into the debates in 1992. He was at seven percent when he got in that three-way debate, and he ended up with 19 percent.

KURTZ: Is your quarrel with the 15 percent rule imposed by the Presidential Commission on Debates or with the media?

BUCHANAN: My quarrel, it's with both. My quarrel is with the 15 percent rule because of course it was imposed by folks like Frank Farenkov (ph), who is a lobbyist for the Las Vegas gambling industry and is part of a bipartisan, not a nonpartisan, group that set this arbitrary rule.

But secondly, the polls, Howard, are being conducted by the same media institutions which quite frankly are the same ones that give me the press or do not give me the press we need to reach that level.

Now thus far, if you take the network news in the evening, I think I've probably been on there once in the last six months. You cannot get the American people to understand I'm part of this debate if we're not covered.

BERNARD KALB, CO-HOST: Well, if you are against, for example, a 15 percent admission rule as it were, do you have any percentage that would make you feel comfortable?

BUCHANAN: Well, I think they should have left it the way it was. You see, this was imposed...

KALB: But let me pick up my question...

BUCHANAN: ... Sure. KALB: ... If I'm in charge of a 90 minute debate and I've got two heavyweight candidates of the major parties and the public is interested in those parties, and the fringe candidates are at two percent or four percent or six percent, I am responsible for the allocation of my debate time. And I would think I'm doing a greater journalistic service to the country by making sure those with the greater numbers of rating are out there getting a chance to present their debate rather than putting on the phrase you used before about fringe candidates.

BUCHANAN: All right, let me address that right away. Here's the criteria you use.

Is the political party -- has it been recognized by the Federal Election Commission? Is it funded with tax dollars as the Reform Party is? Do we get money for our convention from the FEC? Do we get money for the campaign from the FEC? o not the American people have a right to hear a candidate and a party they're financing with their tax dollars?

Second, who decides? Who should decide whether I should get in the debate? Should it be Frank Farenkov and Paul Kirk (ph) of the Republican and Democratic Party?

What we have here is a collusion and I believe an unacknowledged conspiracy to keep the presidential debates confined to the two major parties and thereby keep permanent control of the White House...

KURTZ: But to...

BUCHANAN: ... and the presidency of the United States.

KALB: Go ahead.

KURTZ: ... to bring it back to the media, Pat...


KURTZ: ... in the last two months, you've been on a dozen talk shows, including "Crossfire," "Hardball," "Good Morning America," "Inside Politics," "Fox News Sunday." Doesn't sound like much of a media conspiracy to me.

BUCHANAN: No, no, no, here's the thing. It is are we being covered as one of the three major candidates? Let me say this...

KALB: How do you paint yourself in as a major candidate, though, Pat?

BUCHANAN: ... If I get the nomination of the Reform Party, and forget the fact that they each got $250 million in soft money and $70 million in hard money, if I'm given the same coverage as the other two candidates, it will be a three-way race. If I'm in the debates also, it will be a three-way race because we have a different agenda than those other two parties here.

KURTZ: Are you suggesting that the major media has some sort of collective responsibility to turn you into a viable candidate?

BUCHANAN: No, no, I'm suggesting that the major media have a responsibility to take the American people issues the other two parties don't address. Let me give one of them...

KALB: Wait a minute, Pat, you've got the whole -- let me interrupt for a second.

BUCHANAN: ... But look, look, you're going to have three other liberal media folks on here today or these three magazines, none of whom supports me, OK? One issue.

Immigration, 95 percent of the American people think illegal immigration should be stopped cold if we have to use troops. Seventy- five percent want to control immigration. Neither of the other parties talked about it. We do. Therefore, I think because we have a different agenda and issues, bring those to the American people through our campaign.

KALB: Yeah, but you're getting lots of time. And Howie has itemized a list of broadcasts that you were on, or programs...

BUCHANAN: These are talk shows.

KALB: ... But by the same token, you've been around this area, this field that we're all talking about now long enough to know that editors make judgments. And the judgment that is made that at a certain point you simply don't qualify with the other two, and you are out...


KALB: ... And you have made judgments...

BUCHANAN: ... Bernie, Bernie, Bernie...

KALB: ... you've made judgments...

BUCHANAN: ... you've been around this field long enough to know that 90 percent of the journalists in Washington, DC, are liberal. You also, if you know the media in this town, even take "The Weekly Standard..."

KALB: But if they're liberal -- but wait a minute...

BUCHANAN: ... hold it, hold it -- "The Nation," "The Weekly Standard," "The New Republic," and you've got them coming on, all of them are opposed to my candidacy. Why couldn't you even have had on here the editor of "Human Events," who while he doesn't think I should run Reform does agree that we ought to get the kind of attention I believe we deserve?

So I mean, if you go show by show by show, I think you've got to make a conscientious effort this fall to realize not only Buchanan but Nader, they have different agendas, different ideas. The only way new parties come up is if they give them fair coverage. KURTZ: But if you're being excluded, you believe, or minimized on an ideological basis, Ralph Nader, who is certainly on the left side of the spectrum...


KURTZ: ... is probably getting less coverage than you are.

BUCHANAN: Well, right now, well, here's what you ought to look at...

KURTZ: You're not much of a story because there's no battle going on in the Reform Party right now.

BUCHANAN: ... You've got a very good point. I understand why they're not going out for example to cover me at some Reform Party convention where I'm going to win 10 to one.

But when we get that nomination, and if we're on the ballot in 50 states, see how many ballots Ralph is on, Howard Phillips, all of them. See which parties are recognized by the federal government. And then make an objective judgment.

But let me give you another one quick issue. All of Washington, DC -- neo-conservative, conservative, liberal press -- all of them were for this PNTR for China, all of them for NAFTA, for GATT, for the WTO. Two parties out there now are against it. But the majority of Americans agree with us.

And the whole nation frankly is on some issues agrees with us. And the folks that disagree dominate the media.

KURTZ: Well, I suspect you'll get at least a few cameras at the Reform Party Convention in August.

BUCHANAN: Yes. I think we will.

KURTZ: Pat Buchanan, thanks very much for joining us.

BUCHANAN: Thank you very much.

KURTZ: Coming up, we'll talk with three journalists about the media's coverage of third party candidates next.



Joining us now to talk more about the media's coverage of third party presidential candidates, Tucker Carlson, political writer for "The Weekly Standard," Michelle Cottle, senior editor for "The New Republic," and David Corn, Washington editor of "The Nation."


Tucker, you heard Pat Buchanan trying to guilt the media, get a little more coverage. Doesn't he have a legitimate beef that the press is kind of discarding him as old news?

TUCKER CARLSON, POLITICAL WRITER, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Pat is old news. But I don't think he has a legitimate beef.

I mean, the idea that Pat Buchanan is not being heard, that his voice is being squelched by the all-powerful media, a guy who's spent 20 years having his voice heard five nights a week on CNN, it's not plausible.

KURTZ: So you don't think he's getting too little coverage?

CARLSON: No, I think sometimes he gets inaccurate coverage. I mean, when he teamed up with Lenora Fulani, for instance, someone who's made a lot of anti-Semitic statements in the past, and their sort of political union was covered as just another news event rather than Pat Buchanan teams up with discredited whacko, which is much more accurate I think, yeah, that's incomplete news coverage.

KALB: David, let me put more apocalyptically...


KALB: ... democracy snuffing out the voice of Pat Buchanan. Isn't that unfair to the American voter?

CORN: Well, I don't worry so much about Pat because I do think he's been able to get on the shows. And I think a lot of the in- fighting in the Reform Party has gotten some attention.

I look at him, though, and Ralph Nader and others, as being sort of seen as a sideshow by the rest of the media. I was talking -- Ralph has gotten some attention. He was on "Meet the Press" when he announced his candidacy. And he'll get some attention this weekend because he's being nominated by the Green Party.

But he complains and his campaign complains that it's sort of sporadic spasms of coverage. And usually, it's within the context of whether this is good or bad for Al Gore, not what he has to offer.

KALB: But how do you know when enough is enough, for example...

CORN: Well...

KALB: ... in terms of coverage, if you're bringing in just a few percent and we've got two heavyweight candidates representing the two big parties, and you have heavy percentages of those people who support either of those two candidates, it's tough if you own a network and rationing your time to give equal time to all four.

CORN: I'm not saying they should get equal time. But I do think like the "New York Times" has this little box, it's a small point, about what the candidates are doing each day. They only list Bush and Gore. They never list Nader or Buchanan so you think they're doing nothing.

I mean, it's inaccurate to have a box like that and not give a full picture. So I think there are some complaints. Although, I think Pat is probably least able to make the case.

KURTZ: Michelle, I wonder if there's a bit of a chicken and egg argument here. In other words, there is this 15 percent threshold to get into the presidential debates in the fall. And yet, the media, you really can't reach that 15 percent unless you get some share of media attention from the media establishment which in sort of a circular way disdains candidates that are way down in the polls. Problem?

MICHELLE COTTLE, SENIOR EDITOR, "THE NEW REPUBLIC": Well, I think certainly you can make that argument. That's certainly what Pat Buchanan is arguing.

Fundamentally what he's upset about is he can't get into the debates. This isn't about press coverage about at all. This is what he's upset about is the debate issue.

KURTZ: That's a straw man in your view.

COTTLE: Yeah. I mean, he gets a lot of press coverage. I mean, sometimes as Tucker points out it's odd press coverage. But I think that's just his way of making enough noise that he can get invited to these debates.

KURTZ: But isn't it also true that Ross Perot in '92 initially was kind of viewed as a fringe character, almost a whacko, by the press before he surged in the polls? And Jesse Ventura in Minnesota a couple of years ago was way down in the polls, got into the debates, got himself elected governor. So the media do play a role here in whether somebody can emerge as a serious contender.

COTTLE: Well, certainly. But there again, they got that surge. And they got attention on the ground.

I mean, part of Pat Buchanan's problem is Pat Buchanan. He's raging about cultural wars and making lots of unusual statements that do not, that put him on the fringe. So what's the media supposed to do?

KALB: He's got -- Pat has years of practice sharpening his debating skills right here at CNN on "Crossfire" and so forth. And I suppose the ultimate platform he is seeking is to launch his attacks right there in a national debate if he gets invited.

CORN: As much as I hate to agree with Pat Buchanan, I do think he's right in his criticisms against the way the debates are rigged. CNN is not deciding who to have for a debate.

It's put together by a commission that's controlled by Republicans and Democrats who have a vested interest in not letting Pat or Ralph Nader or anybody else, or Tucker if he wants to run on a dog catching party. And I think that in itself is wrong.

And I do think that he has a large complaint against the major daily TV news shows, not cable, but broadcast news shows that give very little coverage to the presidential campaign to begin with. And since they start at a small level, they don't get around to the not major candidates.

KURTZ: I wonder if that's part of what's going on here, Tucker Carlson, which is that the big news organizations, particularly television, seem to be maybe a little bored with this presidential campaign. And so if they're sort of barely forcing themselves to cover Gore and Bush, then that would leave people like Buchanan and Nader pretty much out in the cold.

CARLSON: Well, two things, A, that the large news organizations are no longer large. You don't watch the broadcast networks if you're interested in politics. You watch cable. And so while it has a smaller viewing audience, you can always get politics on cable.

And I think that the sort of boredom that people talk about that surrounds the major parties' race for the presidency makes reporters more likely to write about Ralph Nader. I mean, if you don't want to follow Bush around, you go to the Green Party convention.

KURTZ: Just to follow up on your point, you're suggesting that NBC, ABC, and CBS have essentially defaulted on the political coverage business? And they are after all only going to devote a couple of nights to the elections this summer.

CARLSON: Sure. I mean, they're ceding it to the niche. I mean, that makes total sense. If you want to watch sports 24 hours a day, you turn on ESPN. I don't see anything wrong about the three cable networks taking the place of the broadcast networks to cover politics.

KALB: But how can you not have a major editorial decisions when you recall that the people who are running the convention, the two big parties, have created four days of acute orchestration designed to get maximum response? And it is a bore. And it raises the question at times it is so boring, it is so vanishing the process, that due to a lack of interest this election will be canceled.

But I want to come back to one point for you. You heard that Pat Buchanan said 90 percent of the reporters in this town are liberal. How do you feel under that indictment, Tucker, no liberal you?

CARLSON: Well, I think that sort of accusation is a pretty clumsy weapon. It doesn't mean Pat doesn't use it a lot. He does. There's -- every study shows that reporters are more liberal than the population.

KALB: Yeah, but you can be a liberal and be a journalist and be objective, and be both...

CARLSON: And you can be conservative, as I am, and still find Pat Buchanan appalling and kind of ludicrous. Sure.

CORN: I don't think Ralph Nader feels that he gets an extra bump in coverage because reporters and editors or bookers are more liberal if indeed that's the case.

KURTZ: I'm sure he would agree with that. Michelle, what are -- leaving Buchanan and Nader and so forth aside for a moment -- what do you think of the notion that the big media organizations are maybe pretty comfortable with the two-party system and don't want outsiders coming in and screwing it up because it's an easier plot line.

If you're on "Crossfire," you've got a Democrat on one side. You've got a Republican on the other side. And it works better that way.

COTTLE: Well, I think at this stage of the game though, a lot of what it has to do with is the media organizations are looking mostly at the horse race elements. Even when they're talking about -- the start out as a policy story, but down toward paragraph four they get into the horse race elements of it. And Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader and a lot of -- you know, Howard Phillips, they are not part of the horse race.

KURTZ: They're not important enough.

COTTLE: David has a better chance of being president.

KURTZ: But what about the notion then...

CORN: I'm announcing tomorrow.

KURTZ: ... What about Buchanan's argument, which we just heard a few minutes ago, that he's not being heard on issues like immigration or trade with China where he has a different voice from the Democratic and Republican Party establishment?

COTTLE: But he is being heard though. He's on the talk shows. His complaint is he's not on page one of the "New York Times."

KURTZ: Well...

COTTLE: But you know, that's -- he's not a big element in this race. But then you get into the chicken and egg argument. I mean, if he was on page one of the "New York Times," would he be a big element? I don't think so.

CARLSON: You have a good point, Michelle, though, it is the horse race though rather than the competition of ideas that drives most political coverage. And thus, that's the case. Ralph and Pat Buchanan are at the back of the pack.

If you're talking about competition of ideas, Pat has a point in that he does represent, as does Ralph Nader, views that are widely held by a lot of people that are not widely held by Bush and Gore. And they don't get represented.


CARLSON: You know, tough luck for them. I mean, I have to say, there is so much whining, "Oh, the press isn't allowing me..."

CORN: You are not a compassionate conservative.

CARLSON: ... I am definitely not. And I don't think that the press has enough power or say in all of this. I mean, if you want to see a group of people who really knows politicians, what they're like personally and has a pretty good handle on what they believe, I don't know, the press does.

And I don't think there's anything wrong with giving the press a lot of power to choose the president. I'm for it.

KALB: Is it...

KURTZ: Go ahead.

KALB: ... just quickly, there is a price for familiarity. And the stasinization (ph) of Pat Buchanan does elicit a price. Is he much too familiar...

CARLSON: Hardly a fresh face.

KALB: ... hardly a fresh face. Thank you, sir.

KURTZ: For these faces -- Tucker Carlson, David Corn, Michelle Cottle -- thanks very much for joining us.

Coming up, a birthday in England's royal family makes a new subject fair game for the paparazzi.


KURTZ: Time now for the "Back Page." Bernie.

KALB: There is nothing like a birthday to make an ocean disappear.


KALB (voice-over): I'm talking about the Atlantic and a new 18- year-old named William. The U.S. media have gone slightly gaga about what's happening over there in Buckingham Palace.


PETER JENNINGS, NEWS ANCHOR: In Britain today, Prince William came of age...


KALB: On the nightly news, the magazines, the newspapers, all about a young man who's wrapped himself in the flag of England. Now you would think that we once fought a war of independence against that crowd in London. And yet you get the feeling that the media have never stopped surrendering, giving endless coverage to the descendants of the redcoats, both in triumph and tragedy.

And yes, it is true that we have our own parliament and our own prime minister. But when it comes to the royal family, the media carry on as though the American Revolution was a flop and we were still subject to the queen. But hey, none of this is anything for the FBI to investigate. The simple fact is it's impossible to escape the reality that our two countries, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, are not separated by a common language. We both inhabit the world of English -- laws, culture, Shakespeare.

And right now on his eighteenth birthday, His Royal Highness symbolizes all that's English. And there's this extra dividend. The world's most eligible bachelor, as he's described, is great for boosting TV ratings and newsstand sales.

Britannia may no longer rule the waves. But the media have turned him into William the Conqueror on both sides of the big pond.


KALB: But you ain't seen nothing yet, as the saying goes. The William we have seen so far has been carefully packaged by the palace. But now that he's 18, the wraps are off and the paparazzi are ready to strike. A great picture could be worth a fortune.

It's going to be quite a spectacle, the upcoming journalistic wars between the prince and the press.

KURTZ: Bernard Kalb, thanks. When we come back, did the British press get a big scoop about the American president?


KURTZ: Before we go, a couple of items from the world of media news.

Four staffers at the "Arizona Republic" have been suspended and six other reprimanded for buying stock in the paper's parent company. They bought the stock while "Republic" reporters were digging into a story that the company might put itself up for sale, this before central newspapers made that announcement.

Editor Pam Johnson said the issue was one of trust, telling readers, "Would you believe the "Arizona Republic" was telling you the truth if you thought our journalists were gathering information for their personal benefit?"

And London's "Evening Standard" reported this week that Bill Clinton is house hunting in the British countryside and hopes to become a visiting professor at Oxford. True story, or tabloid fiction?

White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart offered this tongue-in- cheek comment. He said the president would go to Oxford, quote, "only after he finishes his term as president of the intergalactic federation from his home base on Mars."

Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us again next time for another critical look at the media. "CAPITAL GANG" is up next. Mark Shields has a preview.

MARK SHIELDS, HOST, "CAPITAL GANG": Howie, we'll talk about campaign scandal trouble for Al Gore and the politics of $2.00 a gallon gasoline. Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota joins the gang for that and much more right here next on CNN.



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