The New York Times ran a front-page story (1/11/10) on the race for the Senate seat held by New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand that omits mention of the sole Democratic candidate running a serious campaign against her. Jonathan Tasini (who garnered 125,000 votes in a bid for the seat against Hillary Clinton in 2006) declared in June of last year.
But while the paper of record has logged numerous stories on the race–including several, like todayÃƒÆ’Â¢ÃƒÂ¢”Å¡Â¬ÃƒÂ¢”Å¾Â¢s, focusing on people who are “thinking about” challenging Gillibrand (e.g., “Thompson Won’t Rule Out Pursuing U.S. Senate Seat,” 12/19/09)–they have so far completely ignored someone whoÃƒÆ’Â¢ÃƒÂ¢”Å¡Â¬ÃƒÂ¢”Å¾Â¢s actually doing so. Yesterday’s piece, on the possible candidacy of former Tennessee congressmember Harold Ford, begins by stating that Gillibrand’s “allies have elbowed out her would-be Democratic challengers one by one.”
In contrast, Long Island’s Newsday (1/11/10) deems Tasini newsworthy; the paperÃƒÆ’Â¢ÃƒÂ¢”Å¡Â¬ÃƒÂ¢”Å¾Â¢s Dan Janison notes: “Quite a list of supposed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand ‘rivals’ in both parties soaked up attention only to punt: Reps. Carolyn McCarthy, Peter King, Steve Israel and Carolyn Maloney; Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer; Suffolk Legis. Jon Cooper; Rudy Giuliani; and Caroline Kennedy. So far, only Manhattan labor activist Jonathan Tasini, who declared last June, bothers to run.”
Tasini was lead plaintiff against the New York Times in a lawsuit over writers’ electronic rights that went to the Supreme Court in 2001. But Tasini doesn’t think thatÃƒÆ’Â¢ÃƒÂ¢”Å¡Â¬ÃƒÂ¢”Å¾Â¢s the behind the paper’s avoidance. He even said as much in a letter to Times columnist Clyde Haberman:
We have received scores of complaints from our supporters who are angry about the Times‘ refusal to write about our campaign. A number of them believe that refusal is precisely because I was thelead plaintiff against the New York Times in the landmark electronic rights lawsuit decided by the Supreme Court in 2001 in our favor. Frankly, I doubtthat the lawsuit has much to do with the blackout.
Sadly, it has moreto do with a narrow view of what should be used as a measuring stick byjournalists to bestow on a candidate the blessing of coverage. And, so, while you should be applauded for taking on the Democratic PartyÃƒÆ’Â¢ÃƒÂ¢”Å¡Â¬ÃƒÂ¢”Å¾Â¢s power brokers, I think it is simply a truth that, while complaining about elites and the lack of democracy, the Times is itself closing down the democratic debate.
Haberman’s response was defensive and off-point:
Suggestions from within your political camp that I am affected by your having been the lead plaintiff in that suit against the Times couldn’t be wider of the mark. Until you just mentioned it, I had completely forgotten about that lawsuit. You might want to work harder to hold the conspiracy theorists at bay, at least in regard to me.
But he never addressed Tasini’s actual point: that by deciding to exclude candidates from coverage, the Times is forcing an undemocratic “winnowing” of the field before voters have an opportunity to inform themselves. Such gatekeeping runs counter to the goal of journalism to inform and encourage debate, and is surely part of the reason for the ever-increasing public cynicism about the electoral process.