UPDATE: Click here for the most recent coverage of Ron Paul, including relevant facts and campaign strategies. Paul has since decided to leave the presidential race, but his informational page will remain online for a while longer.
UPDATE: Story aired on All Things Considered Feb 18, 2008
PRIMARY CHALLENGE TO RON PAUL IN TEXAS — To say that Ron Paul, the Republican congressman who is running for president, marches to his own drum is fair statement. He opposes the war in Iraq (he was one of six House Republicans to vote against it), and has broken with his party on an assortment of issues. While this has brought him fame, and money, from Internet donors, not everyone back home in his Texas congressional district is happy with him. And in the March primary, he faces an opponent who is far closer to the Bush administration than Paul is. David Davies reports.
--Chantal de la Rionda, Office of the Ombdusman
It's easy for the media to dismiss Republican presidential aspirant Ron Paul.
Political journalists know that candidates with Paul's iconoclastic ideas — ending federal income tax, abolishing government departments and withdrawing from the United Nations --seldom get far at the ballot box.
But the mainstream media dismissal overlooks the phenomenon of public interest in the libertarian doctor and congressman from Texas:
*Last week, he raised $1.85 million in a 24-hour period.
*He's a superstar on YouTube with over 7 million viewers clicking on his offerings.
*Until Tuesday's Florida primary, Paul had beaten former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in Iowa, Michigan, Nevada and South Carolina. Giuliani bested Paul in New Hampshire by 2,092 votes. (Paul campaigned in some of these states, while Giuliani focused mainly on Florida).
* Paul had captured 106,414 votes to Giuliani's 60,220 — even though the press touted Giuliani as a frontrunner. (See NPR primary map)
*Paul came in second, albeit a distant second, in a field of seven Republicans in Nevada.
Despite these accomplishments, NPR (along with most national news outlets) has treated Paul as a "minor" candidate.
In the last four months, the Ombudsman's office has received more than 200 individually written emails complaining about NPR's Paul coverage — more emails than all the complaints combined about NPR coverage of all other Republican and Democratic presidential candidates.
Corey Salomon of San Antonio, Texas has listened to NPR for 10 years. "I'm 22 now and I am very ashamed of the way NPR has handled the coverage of this year's presidential election," said Salomon in an email. "A second place finish for the Republican nomination in Nevada should be enough for you to see that Dr. Paul is a very viable candidate that is worthy of as much coverage as you have given to the other candidates."
An example of what Salomon means was Weekend Edition Sunday coverage of the Jan. 19 Nevada caucuses. Reporter Ina Jaffe devoted one line to Paul in a four-minute story. NPR tried to get Paul on air after Nevada but he couldn't do it. His staff offered him for the next day, but by then the story had moved on.
While NPR has included Paul in wide-ranging election stories, the last time he appeared on air (aside from NPR running the Republican debates) was in a seven-minute interview in July 2007 with All Things Considered's (ATC) host Robert Siegel.
"Ron Paul has not been absent from NPR's coverage of the presidential campaign to date," said NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving. "A quick glance at the transcript file for the past six months turns up 160 mentions on air during that period. But there have also been feature pieces on most all NPR shows, including Morning Edition and ATC, looking at his fundraising success, appeal to young voters and intensity of support on the Internet."
Paul has been included in passing far more than he's been featured on NPR. So far, NPR has carried 13 stories on Paul, most on its new show The Bryant Park Project, which is aimed at a younger demographic. Day to Day also ran a segment in January and a follow-up. Before that, the last story primarily on Paul was in December when he won a spot in the political record books by earning more money (over $6 million) on the Internet in one day than any other candidate.
Paul is included on NPR's web site of presidential profiles, along with story links about him.
The first confirmation that Paul's successful fund-raising on the Internet would translate into votes came in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, when he won 10 percent of the vote — ahead of Giuliani.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, who teaches in the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, said after the Iowa caucuses that it was an "injustice" for the media not to give more coverage to Paul.
Paul "gets largely ignored for a very fine 10 percent showing last night, which should have been regarded as remarkable, given where he is placed within the Republican field and how little time he's gotten in the debates," Jamieson told PBS' Bill Moyers.
"But we forget in the press, that people who vote and the people who are governed, are not only Democrats and Republicans. There are libertarians there. There are undecideds there," she continued. "There are people who legitimately say, 'I don't identify with any of this. I'll call myself independent. I don't have a name yet.' "
All media outlets are stretched in covering this year's presidential campaign with multiple candidates, and must make daily decisions on allocating resources. NPR is no exception. Even so, I think the Paul phenomenon of youth and Internet support is worth more than a handful of stories.
"Yes, Paul has raised lots of money and has many dedicated supporters," said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "That's all good, but even Ron Paul realizes he is not going to be the GOP presidential nominee. There is a happy golden mean of major and minor candidates somewhere. No one ever finds it's to everyone's satisfaction. The good news is that news organizations don't conspire."
NPR's Elving, a seasoned veteran of eight presidential races, said he is prepared to give Paul greater coverage when he is no longer an 'also-ran' in Republican primaries. "When and if he becomes an independent or third party candidate," said Elving, "he may become a far larger factor in the eventual general election outcome. At that point, news coverage will increase appropriately."