Corporate Media Love a Horserace–but They Love Gatekeeping Even More

One of the frustrating things about corporate media coverage is that it’s so focused on horserace coverage–who’s likely to win or lose in voting that might be months or years away–and yet they’re so bad at it.

Take the matter of Jonathan Tasini, running in the Democratic senatorial primary in New York against incumbent Kirsten Gillibrand–and an apparent nonperson to the state’s most powerful newspaper, the New York Times.

The Times has lately run two extensive stories (1/11/11, 1/13/10) on whether Harold Ford, a former representative from Tennessee, would also run against Gillibrand–both of which ignored the fact that it was already a two-person race. Tasini, a writer and labor organizer, ran once before for the same seat, and got 17 percent of the vote against Hillary Clinton–a politician with greater name recognition than either Gillibrand or Ford.

You don’t have to be Nate Silver to realize that a candidate who has the possibility to get 17 percent of the vote could have a major impact in a three-person race; even if you have a crystal ball that tells you that Tasini won’t get more than that this time, it’s impossible to handicap the primary without having some sense of who those voters are and what they are likely to do faced with three choices.

But the Times, playing the traditional role of gatekeeper that powerful media outlets assign themselves in covering elections, evidently views Tasini as a gatecrasher and seems determined to ignore him–even if it means giving readers an incomplete and misleading view of the electoral landscape.

(I should note that I know Tasini, who wrote a report on media coverage of labor for Extra! back in 1990.)

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.