COVERING THIRD-PARTY CANDIDATES

Recently some listeners have expressed concerns that NPR is overlooking third-party presidential candidates Bob Barr (Libertarian), Cynthia McKinney (Green Party) and Ralph Nader (Independent).

They argue that NPR's focus on Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama prevents alternative presidential contender views from being heard.

For example, listener Stephanie Bowman writes: "It is NOT NPR's job to filter what the public should and should not hear," she wrote. "NPR, as well as all media outlets, has an obligation to provide the American people ALL of the information available regarding their options in the 2008 election.

"I feel that there is a media blackout regarding these candidates. Their polling and platforms must be presented alongside Obama and McCain. If NPR does not have the integrity to present the facts in an unbiased way and allow the American people to make their own decisions, who will?"

But Bowman's claim that there is a "media blackout" at NPR on third-party candidates isn't quite correct.

On July 28, Day to Day did a story asking if Barr is the new Nader? On July 13, Cheryl Corley in NPR's Chicago bureau covered the weekend Green Party Convention that nominated Cynthia McKinney for president. The Green Party has also appeared in a score of other pieces going back over this presidential cycle.

Morning Edition featured the Libertarian Party Convention on May 26, and Day to Day covered Barr's decision to run for president on May 12. Other Libertarian Party-related news has been mentioned over 20 times while Barr mulled, then announced his candidacy and again when he won the party endorsement. These mentions, most of them brief, appeared on all six NPR shows.

Nader, and his running mate Matt Gonzalez, have had 48 mentions during this political cycle, mostly after Nader declared his candidacy in February. He was also a featured guest on Talk of the Nation (30 minutes) and Tell Me More (12 minutes).

In addition, NPR's political editor Ken Rudin has covered the Libertarian nomination and the Nader campaign in Political Junkie, his weekly politics column available online.

Nor has NPR ignored the presidential candidacy of Ron Paul. It was discussed more than 400 times since January 2007.

NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving explained that as these candidates make news or participate in debates, NPR will report it.

"Of course, this coverage will not amount to much more than a small fraction of the coverage devoted to the two major parties' nominees," said Elving in an email. "This is in keeping with what we believe to be the level of interest in these candidates on the part of our listeners. It is also in keeping with the fact that the two major parties have nominated every one of our presidents since before the Civil War."

Some listeners argue that by not reporting on third-party candidates, they will never get a chance to be heard and elected.

Elving disagrees.

"In cases where a third option emerged — Teddy Roosevelt in 1912 or John Anderson in 1980 or Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996 — those men received tremendous amounts of media coverage after they had shown some appeal to the voters on their own," he said.

Currently the election guide on NPR's Election 2008 webpage features only presidential candidates McCain and Obama. In the interest of fairness, however, Rudin is working on getting the other candidates represented before the end of summer. Rudin would also like to see a third-party debate and is working on getting it off the ground.

Holley Simmons
Office of the Ombudsman

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Comments

 

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John Anderson had a lot of media and insider support, so why is he offered as an example? Roosevelt and Perot both had a lot of money behind them. That helped them get their message out. What is the threshold that a candidate needs to pass in order for NPR to take them seriously? How do Elving & NPR keep his point from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy and gate keeping?

Sent by andrew hennessy | 8:07 AM | 7-30-2008

NPR insists on using "number of mentions" as adequate coverage. Frankly, this is totally inadequate in assessing any service to listeners, since non-Dem/Repub candidates are routinely cast with the politically-bigoted smear "spoiler." NPR needs to treat millions of its listeners' concerns more seriously.

As an aside, Ken Rudin wants a third-party debate, without McCain/Obama present? If this isn't political bigotry, what is?

Sent by Dick Kaiser | 1:25 PM | 7-31-2008

When it comes to democracy, I am at the forefront of its support. Having said that, I also believe democracy should be practiced reasonably and practically.

I personally chose my presidential candidate and don't need to learn more about the other candidates because I know something about what they stand for. Some have good ideas, some are flaky.

In order to appease supporters of the lesser known candidates, I suggest NPR creates a separate section in political news to include coverage of their activities.

Sent by aTypicalProgressive | 9:44 AM | 8-1-2008

Obviously she is correct. No one of any intelligence could argue her point. I had not considered 3rd party candidates views, but it is certaink]ly because UI did not know what they were. I think third parties are not viable in the final winner, but they are important to consider other aspects in the decision process.
RLB

Sent by Robert Buchanan | 7:46 PM | 8-1-2008

the reason why the two major parties are "newsworthy" is because the are constantly in the news. If NPR is going to cover any candidate then cover them all equally or get out of the "public" media business

Sent by Richard Flansburg | 8:47 PM | 8-1-2008

When did America stop being a Republic?

Sent by David Kimball | 5:53 PM | 8-24-2008

I agree you guys are doing a media black out on third party candidates. You can't do one story on Bob Barr and then claim you guys are doing fair and balanced coverage.

Every day, over and over it's the same thing . . . stories on Barack Obama, some stories on McCain. Can you guys even name all of the other candidates running? I bet you can't

The way I found out who all is actually running was from Digg.com if you need help. http://digg.com/elections Chuck Baldwin is missing from this page.

Sent by Poppy Moreno | 9:26 AM | 9-2-2008

"NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving explained that as these candidates make news or participate in debates, NPR will report it."
Well, these candidates make news everyday, but they go unreported by NPR! Or what's the definition of news you are using, anything in which the two main parties are involved?
Also, how can the candidates participate in the debates when there's a 15% polling minimum to get into the debates, and the media (including NPR) provides them with no coverage (oh, excuse me, they are mentioned once)?
Ron Elving's statement just confirms NPR's bias towards the two main candidates.
It seems absolutely clear to me that NPR is failing to fulfill its mission:

1) NPR is committed to the presentation of fair, accurate and comprehensive information ... (yeah, right)

2. NPR is committed to providing diverse and balanced viewpoints through the entirety of its programming. (yeah, right)

Sent by Juan Alvarez | 10:06 AM | 9-2-2008

"Of course, this coverage will not amount to much more than a small fraction of the coverage devoted to the two major parties' nominees," said Elving in an email. "This is in keeping with what we believe to be the level of interest in these candidates on the part of our listeners."

So, in reality, the part of NPR's mission on "committed to providing diverse and balanced viewpoints through the entirety of its programming" is not really a commitment, or not really diverse? It's the same news about less than a third of the presidential candidates that you get in every other media outlet.

Maybe NPR's mission should be updated to "committed to providing the viewpoint favored by some (the majority?) of our listeners"

Sent by Juan Alvarez | 9:57 AM | 9-4-2008

"Of course, this coverage will not amount to much more than a small fraction of the coverage devoted to the two major parties' nominees," said Elving in an email. "This is in keeping with what we believe to be the level of interest in these candidates on the part of our listeners."
So, in reality, the part of NPR's mission on "committed to providing diverse and balanced viewpoints through the entirety of its programming" is not really a commitment, or not really diverse? It's the same news about less than a third of the presidential candidates that you get in every other media outlet.
Maybe NPR's mission should be updated to "committed to providing the viewpoint favored by some (the majority?) of our listeners"

Sent by Juan | 12:17 AM | 9-6-2008

I have not heard any third-party candidate mentioned on NPR and I listen to NPR often. NPR is behaving no better than the corporate-owned media. They are doing the public a disservice by being so biased.

Sent by Carolyn | 12:31 AM | 9-6-2008

Ken Rudin is one of the good guys. He'll try to make this fair.

Sent by Karen Kilroy | 12:56 AM | 9-6-2008

Well thanks for this PR control article Alicia. Big thanks to also Ron Elving who seems to be the authority in npr on third parties.

Ron who says Nader and Barr are "problems" and that unless they get more visibility in the big corporate media they shouldn't be covered any more than they are, which obviously they won't, problem solved on your end.

Sent by Shame | 2:34 AM | 9-6-2008

Sorry, but your coverage is inadequate. Nowhere on the election 2008 front page can I find a link to any information about alternatives to the two major candidates. "Mentions" are not sufficent.

Sent by Alan Jensen-Sellers | 8:44 AM | 9-6-2008

Previously, I believe it has been stated that NPR uses polling numbers to decide which candidates are popular enough for coverage.

Firstly, this is backwards thinking, because the media has an important effect on WHO and WHAT citizens know about.

Secondly, I have posed the question previously, inquiring on what standards and practices NPR employs to evaluate statistical data, in order to determine candidate coverage. I have yet to see any examination of this topic, which should be of great importance to your readers and listeners.

Finally,you defend NPR's coverage here, by stating that you have covered 3rd party candidates hundreds of times. But the reason your readers are registering complaints, is because the RATIO of coverage is way off. There are dozens of mccain/obama stories, to every one third party story.

Also, just because your COVER third party candidates, does not mean you treat them objectively and fairly. I believe Vox Politics blogger Evie Stone was called out for insulting statements she made about Kucinich a short while ago. And in general third party candidates are disparaged by NPR.

This is, on the whole, a great disservice that you should remedy, if you truly RESPECT your readers.

Sent by Jody Sol | 3:57 PM | 9-9-2008

Is it really a democracy when two parties have so much focus from the media that they can ignore the fact that alternatives are out there? When most people don't know there are alternatives? And if they do, it's through the lens of the two main party's message?

Is it really a democracy when more than 35% of the voting age population doesn't vote? Are these people waiting for an alternative that is possibly out there already but they don't know about it?

Sent by Juan Alvarez | 12:32 AM | 9-10-2008

This is not a two-choice election. Obviously, a large number of people vote for third parties: I would expect that NPR would be more professional and cover all candidates, not just the ones making the most noise. In 2004, independent voters made up 30% of all voters. I can only imagine that this number has grown in the last four years.

Sent by Rachel | 1:16 PM | 9-10-2008

"This is in keeping with what we believe to be the level of interest in these candidates on the part of our listeners." Deciding upon coverage based upon a subjective belief is part of the problem. Only using polling figures as an objective measure of interest is inadequate. This is a catch 22 situation for third party candidates. People are not aware of them since they do not get coverage, resulting in low polling numbers. Low polling numbers means they get less coverage.

This was very well expressed by former MN governor Jesse Ventura at Ralph Nader's rally during the RNC which can be seen in this "Invisible Man" clip - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TsAKXeyvxzU

Campaign dollars raised roughly correlates to how much media exposure candidates can buy. Accordingly the ratio of polling percentage to campaign dollars raised provides an indicator of how interested people are once exposed to a candidates platform. Comparing the candidates using this ratio shows that there is more interest in third parties than the two mainstream parties.

Sent by Rich Petersen | 2:17 PM | 9-10-2008

I enjoy a listen to NPR quite often, however I do feel that I hear far too little regarding any candidate other than those of the 2 parties that are covered "ad nauseum", by the choosing of NPR.

Please NPR, offer a coverage worthy of the public funding you receive. Please broaden the minds of the listeners, as that is usually what those I know that listen to NPR are looking for, and are not getting this political season; seemingly more than the previous political seasons.

Sent by D | 2:04 AM | 9-13-2008

In Canada, this month, the main parties tried to exclude the Green Party candidate from the debates. The people and the MEDIA were outraged, so they pressured the organizers and the main parties, and got her in the debates. "The Broadcast consortium has reversed their decision and allowed Elizabeth May to take part in the nationally televised leaders debates ". The US people and the MEDIA should follow this REAL DEMOCRATIC example. See www.greenparty.ca/en/releases/09.08.2008b

Sent by Juan Alvarez | 7:21 PM | 9-14-2008

You state: "Currently the election guide on NPR's Election 2008 webpage features only presidential candidates McCain and Obama. In the interest of fairness, however, Rudin is working on getting the other candidates represented before the end of summer."

Well, the end of the summer is near, and i don't see any representation of the other candidates yet.

Sent by Juan Alvarez | 11:34 AM | 9-15-2008

Every day, NPR sounds more and more like the spokespeople for Obama and McCain instead of a real fair, balanced, comprehensive, and diverse journalistic outlet.

Sent by Juan Alvarez | 12:00 PM | 9-16-2008

FEBRUARY? You handled Nader in FEBRUARY? You gotta be kidding me. Please, be real.

Don't tell me he doesn't have a chance to win, OR "HE is irrelevant". Don't tell me that. YOU'RE EITHER PART OF THE SOLUTION, OR YOU'RE PART OF THE PROBLEM!

Sent by mike | 7:44 PM | 9-16-2008

The information given by Holley regarding the limited coverage given third party candidates does absolutely nothing to support a position that NPR has been fair in election coverage. NPR has been totally mainstream in its coverage, boring in the extreme, constantly reporting on the "He said, She said" of the Democratic and Republican parties. NPR's coverage of the Republican and Democratic parties dwarfs the minuscule coverage they now and then give to the other political parties.

They know this because they do it on purpose, and to argue their coverage has been fair is ludicrous. We need new and fresh ideas and should be talking about what the other parties have to offer. Instead NPR is stuck, like most Americans, on the extremely narrow paradigm of the two major political parties who, of course, got us into the tragic mess we are in today. Why should we have to beg NPR to cover the other political parties? It seems like it should be their job.

Sent by Richard | 6:54 PM | 9-17-2008

Add me to the list of people eager to hear more "third Party" info - how much money are they fundraising? Who are each candidates VP picks? Are their other mothers in pants suits? Or other politicians who became senators with less votes than a PTA meeting? (Biden-Delaware).

Start reporting, stop repeating.

Sent by Nichole | 9:56 PM | 9-17-2008

"...Rudin is working on getting the other candidates represented before the end of summer"!?
Burning the midnight oil huh?

How hard is it? Just contact your webmaster and have him start by posting their names! Here is a little clue on how to do that, Ken. Check out what the CBC did on their web-site. They have a bio for all the candidates up for PM. It's not rocket science:
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canadavotes/leadersparties/

Sent by Jordan Jancz | 9:08 PM | 9-19-2008

NPR's discrimination towards the third-party and independent candidates in this elections is completely outrageous.
I seriously question now how fair, balanced, diverse, and comprehensive your coverage is regarding other topics.
It would be a shame to stop listening to NPR, but maybe it's time to wake up and realize that you're not as fair, balanced, diverse, and comprehensive in your coverage as I thought you were.

Sent by Juan Alvarez | 2:38 PM | 9-20-2008

You state: "Currently the election guide on NPR's Election 2008 webpage features only presidential candidates McCain and Obama. In the interest of fairness, however, Rudin is working on getting the other candidates represented before the end of summer."

Well, the summer is over and there is no representation of the other candidates yet.
So, you are either not interested in fairness or not trustworthy, either way you should be ashamed.
I seriously question now how fair, balanced, diverse, and comprehensive your coverage is regarding other topics.
It would be a shame to stop listening to NPR, but maybe it's time to wake up and realize that you're not as fair, balanced, diverse, and comprehensive in your coverage as I thought you were.

Sent by Juan Alvarez | 9:08 AM | 9-23-2008

Ok, so you've mentioned Nader/Gonzalez 48 times -- how many times have you mentioned Obama or McCain? Make a fair comparison with percentages, please.

You covered the Ron Paul-backed third-party gathering in D.C. by mentioning that Bob Barr was not a part of it. You said nothing at all about the candidates that WERE involved, nor did you explain *WHY* they were having it in the first place!

Jesse Ventura, former governor of MN, was at ~4% in the polls before the debates -- when they finally let him in, he ended up WINNING the election. So before anyone goes passing judgement about who is or is not electable, let's see how they fair in the debates. Similarly, Matt Gonzalez, Nader's running mate, was at ~4-5% in the polls for mayor of San Fran. - when he was allowed into the debates, his numbers skyrocketed.

If you want to cover a story with good underdog appeal, a story of true patriotism, then cover the travesty that is the American debate system and how some candidates (the ones not on your election page) are fighting tooth and nail to be included in those corporate-run debates.

We want more third-party coverage!

Sent by Aaron Hill | 1:13 PM | 9-23-2008

Here's an idea. NPR could sponsor a real Presidential debate or series of debates. Instead of using the flawed metric of poll percentages, invite all Presidential candidates that are on the ballot in enough states that would get them elected if they won those states.

Sent by Richard Petersen | 9:27 PM | 9-23-2008

I sent this to NPR a couple days ago after hearing Steve Inskeep's comments to the Iranian president:

"Steve Inskeeps interview revealed how dumbed down American elections have become. NPR has ignored Nader, Barr and McKinney and others for 2 years, then Steve has a throw-away line like "anyone can put their name on the ballot". No - other parties have to address a patchwork of restrictive state laws, gather hundreds of thousands of signatures to be on ballots, fight in the courts, only to have their message stifled and ignored - even by a national tax-payer assisted news service. The Iranian president is correct - they have more candidates. And I think we have a dimes worth of difference between the Dems and Republicans as witnessed lately by the current Wall Street bailout - caused by their bipartisan deregulation in 1999. So, will NPR be regularly covering Nader, Barr, etc. each week, extensively, until the elections? Or are you guys running National Two-Party Radio?

Sent by Gordon | 9:05 PM | 9-25-2008

You state "Rudin would also like to see a third-party debate and is working on getting it off the ground."

There is finally a group that's really working on getting it off the ground. Visit http://www.thirdpartyticket.com/ for information.

Will NPR cover this effort? Will it sponsor it? Or was that another of your promises never meant to be kept?

Sent by Juan Alvarez | 6:37 PM | 9-29-2008

So when is this going to happen, we are nearing the election:

"Currently the election guide on NPR's Election 2008 webpage features only presidential candidates McCain and Obama. In the interest of fairness, however, Rudin is working on getting the other candidates represented before the end of summer. Rudin would also like to see a third-party debate and is working on getting it off the ground."

In the meantime, I will shift my contributions to www.thirdpartyticket.com.

Sent by JP | 11:10 PM | 9-30-2008

I just noticed that you state "Nor has NPR ignored the presidential candidacy of Ron Paul. It was discussed more than 400 times since January 2007."

Well, of course you did not ignore him, he was a republican candidate during the primaries. He is not running on a third-party nor independent ticket. This just goes to show how little NPR knows about the election. And you're supposed to inform the rest of us?

Sent by Juan Alvarez | 8:40 PM | 10-1-2008