Jan 1 2001

Nader the Nightmare

Media come to the aid of the two-party system

The pain establishment media felt over Ralph Nader’s challenge to the two-party system was evident in CBS‘s election night coverage. When reporter Ed Bradley commented that Ralph Nader might approach the 5 percent threshold for receiving federal matching funds, Dan Rather interrupted: “About $12 million, $13 million of your money and mine.” As Bradley pointed out that Nader was “hurting” Al Gore in several states. Rather added: “And every taxpayer.”

After a prolonged period of media indifference, the campaign by Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader began to receive sustained media attention in the final weeks of the campaign season—once it became clear that Nader’s candidacy might actually make a difference in the election.

After that, it was hard to miss the prominent voices in the media defending the two-party system, questioning everything from Nader’s “intellectual honesty” (Newsweek, 11/6/00) to his right to run at all: The New York Times (10/26/00) editorialized that America “deserves a clear up-or-down vote between Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore, who have waged a hard, substantive and clean campaign.”

Liberal columnists and commentators were eager to trash Nader: Bill Press, Crossfire‘s voice “from the left,” wondered (10/31/00) “what could be scarier, movie fans, than Freddie Krueger meets The Blair Witch 2 in The House on the Haunted Hill? Two words–Ralph Nader.”

Los Angeles Times columnist Robert Scheer (10/26/00) declared that “Nader supporters have an obligation to vote for Gore,” while Nation columnist Eric Alterman (11/13/00) insisted: “Ralph Nader’s campaign does not deserve a single progressive vote. Not one.”

When tens of thousands paid to attend enthusiastic “super rallies” for appearances of Nader supporters, reporting (10/2/00) that the Madison Square Garden event was “less a political happening than a body piercing convention, with earrings sprouting from noses, eyebrows, tongues, lips and sometimes even ears.”

Reporters struggled to explain how the system could allow Nader’s campaign to happen. “Nader Defies Democrats,” blared a USA Today headline (10/30/00), while the subhead for a report on Time‘s website (10/24/00) asked: “Can Gore Appeal to Nader Voters’ Sensible Side?” (Nader “doesn’t give a crap if he spoils the election for one of the main combatants,” the author of that piece, reporter Frank Pellegrini, complained.)

The New York Times editorial page spent much of the campaign unleashing a torrent of often hysterical anti-Nader rants. In just one piece (10/26/00), the paper called Nader’s campaign “a very real danger,” “willful prankishness,” a “wrecking-ball candidacy” and the work of “an ego run amok.” Another editorial (11/5/00) declared, “Ralph Nader seems at this point to be beyond the reach of reason, but there is still time for his voters to consider whether they want to be enablers for a political narcissist.”

In a November 3 editorial, the New York Times wrote that “it is past time for everyone, including Mr. Gore, to get tougher on Mr. Nader.” It would be hard to be tougher than the paper’s own columnist Thomas Friedman, who urged (11/10/00) that Nader be named ambassador to North Korea:

Ralph can spend his days with another egomaniacal narcissist, Dear Leader Kim Jong II, and get a real taste of what a country that actually follows Mr. Nader’s insane economic philosophy—high protectionism, economic autarky, anti-markets, anti-globalization, anti-multinationals—is like for the people who live there.