Dennis Kucinich vs. ABC News

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Should the networks and interest groups that have been sponsoring the seemingly endless series of debates and candidate forums start limiting their invitations to those contenders who seem, by whatever definition, “viable”? Having so many candidates onstage fighting for air time does make it harder to come up with any format that goes beyond gotcha moments and sound bites. With a smaller group, we might actually learn something about the people who have the best chance of becoming the next President of the United States.

But I have generally liked the idea of including candidates from the second tier–and beyond–in these settings. You never know when lightning may strike, and how is an underfinanced long-shot going to get a breakout moment otherwise? Just as importantly, candidates such as Dennis Kucinich often are the only ones giving voice to ideas–like single-payer health care and a quick withdrawal from Iraq–that have not been embraced by the leading candidates, despite having significant support among the party rank and file.

Still, having decided to include them, should they be given the same amount of time and attention as the leaders in the race? At his blog Newpairodimes, frequent Swampland commenter Trifecta argues that Democrat Dennis Kucinich and Republican Ron Paul “are getting hosed” by the networks:

The media has decided that the choice shouldn’t be mine. They don’t like either man, so they go out of their way to give them the shaft. This is the same media who continually tells us that they are the impartial arbitrators of society and they have no dog in the fight.

Now Kucinich joins the argument with a list of particulars from last Sunday’s ABC News debate:

Among the “outrages” that have energized tens of thousands of Kucinich supporters – and even non-supporters – thousands of whom have flooded the ABC News website and other online news sites with comments of protest:

* Congressman Kucinich was apparently deliberately cropped out of a “Politics Page” photo of the candidates.

* Sometime Monday afternoon, after Congressman Kucinich took a commanding lead in ABC’s own on-line “Who won the Democratic debate” survey, the survey was dropped from prominence on the website.

* ABC News has not officially reported the results of its online survey.

* After the results of that survey showed Congressman Kucinich winning handily, ABC News, sometime Monday afternoon, replaced the original survey with a second survey asking “Who is winning the Democratic debate?”

* During the early voting Monday afternoon and evening, U.S. Senator Barack Obama was in the lead. By sometime late Monday or early Tuesday morning, Congressman Kucinich regained the lead by a wide margin in this second survey.

* Sometime Tuesday morning, ABC News apparently dropped the second survey from prominence or killed it entirely.

* AND, as every viewer of the nationally televised Sunday Presidential forum is aware, Congressman Kucinich was not given an opportunity to answer a question from moderator George Stephanopoulos until 28 minutes into the program.

The campaign submitted objections and inquiries to ABC News representatives on Monday and Tuesday. ABC News representatives have failed to respond – or even acknowledge – those objections and inquiries.

Stayed tuned for further details.

These all seemed like fair complaints to me, so I asked ABC News to respond. In an e-mail, Executive Director Andrea Jones answered him point by point. You can see the full response here.

This gist of her answer is this: She denies that Kucinich was cropped out of any photo, noting that “there are 20 photos live on the ABC News website, Mr. Kucinich is in a number of them and there is even one of him and his wife. He is one of 6 candidates who got his own photo in the slide show. As for the images, clearly nothing was cropped, the image in question was shot by Charlie Neibergall of the AP not ABC.” She notes that the poll was and is live on ABC’s website. (When I checked it, Kucinich was still winning, with Barack Obama a distant second.) She also notes the poll’s disclaimer that it is “not a scientific survey,” which seems like a decent reason for ABC not to treat it as a news story.

As for Kucinich’s complaint that he was not given a question in the first 28 minutes of the debate, Jones notes: “He may not have been addressed in the first 28 minutes, but he was the only candidate questioned in his own segment on This Week with George Stephanopoulos , two weeks in a row, that appearance is posted online as well. Also. Mr. Kucinich was the only candidate to address healthcare in Sunday’s debate, and that response was immediately clipped and posted on the ABC News website.” Her bottom line: “After back to back appearances on ABC News’ This Week with George Stephanopoulos, clearly their claim is not substantiated by the facts nor by the extensive coverage of his candidacy on the website.”

I honestly don’t know what the right balance is here when you are dealing with such a large field of candidates, most of whom don’t have a prayer of winning. What do you think? Was Kucinich treated unfairly? Or should he be included at all?*

*Not a scientific survey.

UPDATE: Over at Pinkraygun, they take a look at the photos from the debate and discover that there does in fact appear to have been some cropping.