One of the things I learned in campaigning for Ralph Nader was that the media has its stories, for the most part, before it even gets to the scene.
I got involved in the Nader campaign in mid-September. From then until mid-October, there were almost no stories on Ralph or at most one a day from all the newspapers across the country. There was no TV coverage at all.
I attended speeches at Harvard and at Brown and saw no reporters, no TV, nada. Two weeks before the election, Nader announced that he knew that he wouldn't win. From that point on, newspaper coverage grew exponentially. From no stories to one a day, two a day, five and then ten a day, it was exciting. Ralph even got interviewed by David Letterman.
Almost all of the coverage focused on Ralph's potential role as a spoiler, even as his campaign press room continued to put out position papers on various issues. At one point Nader even put out a press release: "Ralph Nader hands the election to John Kerry on a Silver Platter: 10 Ways to Beat George Bush". Didn't see it mentioned once in the news.
The weekend before the election, I finally saw my first television cameras trained on Ralph. Making a brief appearance in Providence, Rhode Island at AS220, a local arts mecca, Ralph gave a nice 20 minute speech. He talked about why he was running, what was wrong with the Democratic Party, what sorts of things people should demand from their government, and why there was no real difference between Kerry and Bush.
The TV reporter from ABC then asked her question: 1) Ralph, do you care that you might wreck everything? I don't remember if the reporter from NBC said anything. I don't think so.
To be fair, CBS wasn't there. They didn't even bother to show up. They left it to NBC and ABC and the Providence Journal that night. They were probably too busy covering 'real' news. It was as if he hadn't even given his speech. I was so frustrated.
After the reporters had finished their one minute of questions, Ralph was about to leave (he was making stops all over New England that day). He waved to his army (very small but nevertheless formidable) of supporters. I asked him, "The Red Sox did it. Why not you? Do you want to be President?" He said that he did want to be President and that "the Red Sox had had the benefit of a level playing field." It was as if "he had to pitch from 500 feet off home base."
Both the NBC and ABC stations ran stories that night on their 11:00 news. It was actually the lead story on ABC-6 and they both used clips from the speech and questions.
Both also gave time to a Kerry employee from the naderfactor.org who had been following Ralph around from town to town across the country and giving interviews to all the press. They did not know that he was an employee. They did not know that he was not local. He got his 30 seconds of air time to decry Ralph's negative impact. But this time at least, I got mine too.
- Real journalists know the answers to the questions before they ask them. They only ask as a courtesy.
- Real journalists know what the real stories are. There was little except pictures of John Kerry waving at crowd in the last weeks of the campaign. This represented reality.
- Letters to the editors at the newspapers that do not fit the mold are not used. Even Slashdot rejected every single posting I made about Ralph Nader. (I think that I made 18 submissions.) I can't quite recall where the editors announced their support for either Kerry or Bush but they surely weren't open to third party candidates.
- Americans themselves have to take the blame for the lack of issue discussion in this campaign. They didn't demand it. It didn't happen. There was little difference between the two major parties on the most significant issue of the campaign-- the war.
There was a lot of discussion about heroism or the lack thereof and cronyism, and there was a lot of hand wringing about some actual journalism that actually got done by CBS. Dan Rather ran a story based on his gut instinct as a journalist. He didn't check it enough. He didn't get it vetted by the White House. He has since apologized and has learned-- Never run a story unless it comes directly from one of the major party press rooms. You can't take risks. You can't afford to be wrong.
(This was originally written as a comment to a posting of a news article on Slashdot where someone at CBS said that there was no evidence of "journalism" being done by bloggers/