Thursday, December 11, 2003

ABC Narrows the Field:
Did Kucinich's criticism of Koppel influence decision?

December 11, 2003

A day after ABC's Ted Koppel moderated a debate between the Democratic
presidential contenders, the network decided to withdraw three off-air
producers from the campaigns of Dennis Kucinich, Carol Moseley Braun and
Rev. Al Sharpton.

ABC's decision was attributed to the fact that these candidates are
perceived to have a slim chance of winning the Democratic nomination. An
ABC spokesperson explained (Boston Globe, 12/11/03) that "as we prepare
for Iowa and New Hampshire, we are putting more resources toward covering
those events." Appearing on CNBC with Kucinich (12/10/03), Time reporter
Jay Carney suggested that the decision could be due to the fact that "all
of the media organizations have limited resources. It's actually, I think,
pretty impressive that they had somebody on your campaign day by day by

Somehow it's hard to believe that the "limited resources" of the Disney
corporation (2003 revenues: $27 billion) explains ABC's call. ABC's
decision does seem to mirror the opinions of Koppel, who seemed frustrated
that these candidates were included in the debate at all. According to
the New York Times (12/7/03), Koppel "said he would have preferred a
slugfest among the six leading candidates." Koppel was quoted: "You can't
have a debate among nine people.... There is no such thing. It's called a
food fight."

"How did Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton and Carol Moseley Braun get into
this thing?" Koppel was quoted in the Washington Post (12/10/03). "Nobody
seems to know. Some candidates who are perceived as serious are gasping
for air, and what little oxygen there is on the stage will be taken up by
one-third of the people who do not have a snowball's chance in hell of
winning the nomination."

Koppel's dismissive attitude towards those three candidates carried over
into the debate itself, as evidenced by this question:

"This is question to Ambassador Braun, Rev. Sharpton, Congressman
Kucinich. You don't have any money, at least not much. Rev. Sharpton has
almost none. You don't have very much, Ambassador Braun. The question is,
will there come a point when polls, money and then ultimately the actual
votes that will take place here, in places like New Hampshire, the
caucuses in Iowa, will there come a point when we can expect one or more
of the three of you to drop out? Or are you in this as sort of a vanity

Kucinich's response to that question generated perhaps the most media
coverage his campaign has received so far:

"Ted, you know, we started at the beginning of this evening talking about
an endorsement. Well, I want the American people to see where the media
takes politics in this country. To start with endorsements, to start
talking about endorsements. Now we're talking about polls. And then we're
talking about money. Well, you know, when you do that, you don't have to
talk about what's important to the American people.

"Ted, I'm the only one up here that actually, on the stage, that actually
voted against the Patriot Act. And voted against the war. The only one on
this stage. I'm also one of the few candidates up here who's talking about
taking our healthcare system from this for-profit system to a
not-for-profit, single-payer, universal health care for all. I'm also the
only one who has talked about getting out of NAFTA and the WTO and going
back to bilateral trade conditioned on workers rights, human rights and
the environment. Now, I may be inconvenient for some of those in the
media, but I'm, you know, sorry about that."

One has to wonder whether Kucinich's rebuke of Koppel, and his criticism
of the priorities of the media, had something to do with ABC's decision to
limit coverage of these candidates. No matter what the rationale, this
does raise a concern that ABC is making an early call on the election of
2004-- weeks before any votes have been cast.

For the record, before ABC's decision to cut back coverage, Kucinich,
Sharpton and Moseley Braun had been mentioned a combined total of ten
times this year on ABC's World News Tonight, according to a search of the
Nexis database. Only one of those mentions referred to the candidate's
position on a policy.

ACTION: Contact ABC and ask them why they have decided to limit their
coverage of Kucinich, Sharpton and Moseley Braun. Encourage ABC to let
voters, not pundits, decide who they want to select as a presidential

ABC News
World News Tonight
Phone: 212-456-4040


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