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


3:13 - July 29, 2008