H. Ross Perot’s drive for the presidency has, up until press time, largely been given a free ride by the mainstream media. Uncritical interviews on Larry King Live (3/16/92) and 60 Minutes (3/29/92) have resulted in multitudes of volunteers joining the Texas billionaire’s effort.
An informal survey, using the Nexis computer database, of more than 175 recent stories on Perot in major daily newspapers turned up two that examined his record in critical depth (Christian Science Monitor, 4/7/92; Newsday, 4/12/92). Few independent or third-party candidates in history have ever received such a media boost.
The New York Times (4/13/92) reported that “Perot’s independent pre-campaign campaign has been buoyed by…a largely uncritical press that has helped inflate his achievements to near mythic proportions. But that may be ending.” Not in the Times, however; the 50-paragraph story perpetuated the myth by ignoring Perot’s past outrageous proposals.
For example, there was no mention of Perot’s call, on the Today show in 1989, for a declaration of martial law and a suspension of civil rights to fight the drug trade:
While the Christian Science Monitor (4/7/92) recalled these suggestions, the New York Times merely quoted Perot’s vague intention to “build a consensus with the American people” about drugs.
The Times also muted Perot’s stand on gun control, noting only that he said he wants to “get the guns out of the hands of violent people.” Newsday (4/12/92) was more specific, reporting that Perot has suggested “cordoning off minority neighborhoods and conducting a house-to-house search” for narcotics and weapons.
Even after polls predicted that Perot could receive as much as 24 percent of the vote in a three-person race, he was still treated by much of the media as an amusing spectacle.