Dec 11 2003

ABC Narrows the Field

NOTE: Please see the update to this action alert: ABC Responds to Critics of Campaign Coverage” (12/12/03)


A day after ABC‘s Ted Koppel moderated a debate between the Democratic presidential contenders, the network decided to withdraw three off-air producers from the campaigns of Dennis Kucinich, Carol Moseley Braun and Rev. Al Sharpton.

ABC‘s decision was attributed to the fact that these candidates are perceived to have a slim chance of winning the Democratic nomination. An ABC spokesperson explained (Boston Globe, 12/11/03) that “as we prepare for Iowa and New Hampshire, we are putting more resources toward covering those events.” Appearing on CNBC with Kucinich (12/10/03), Time reporter Jay Carney suggested that the decision could be due to the fact that “all of the media organizations have limited resources. It’s actually, I think, pretty impressive that they had somebody on your campaign day by day by day.”

Somehow it’s hard to believe that the “limited resources” of the Disney corporation (2003 revenues: $27 billion) explains ABC‘s call. ABC‘s decision does seem to mirror the opinions of Koppel, who seemed frustrated that these candidates were included in the debate at all. According to the New York Times (12/7/03), Koppel “said he would have preferred a slugfest among the six leading candidates.” Koppel was quoted: “You can’t have a debate among nine people…. There is no such thing. It’s called a food fight.”

“How did Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton and Carol Moseley Braun get into this thing?” Koppel was quoted in the Washington Post (12/10/03). “Nobody seems to know. Some candidates who are perceived as serious are gasping for air, and what little oxygen there is on the stage will be taken up by one-third of the people who do not have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning the nomination.”

Koppel’s dismissive attitude towards those three candidates carried over into the debate itself, as evidenced by this question:

This is question to Ambassador Braun, Rev. Sharpton, Congressman Kucinich. You don’t have any money, at least not much. Rev. Sharpton has almost none. You don’t have very much, Ambassador Braun. The question is, will there come a point when polls, money and then ultimately the actual votes that will take place here, in places like New Hampshire, the caucuses in Iowa, will there come a point when we can expect one or more of the three of you to drop out? Or are you in this as sort of a vanity candidacy?

Kucinich’s response to that question generated perhaps the most media coverage his campaign has received so far:

Ted, you know, we started at the beginning of this evening talking about an endorsement. Well, I want the American people to see where the media takes politics in this country. To start with endorsements, to start talking about endorsements. Now we’re talking about polls. And then we’re talking about money. Well, you know, when you do that, you don’t have to talk about what’s important to the American people.Ted, I’m the only one up here that actually, on the stage, that actually voted against the Patriot Act. And voted against the war. The only one on this stage. I’m also one of the few candidates up here who’s talking about taking our healthcare system from this for-profit system to a not-for-profit, single-payer, universal healthcare for all. I’m also the only one who has talked about getting out of NAFTA and the WTO and going back to bilateral trade conditioned on workers rights, human rights and the environment. Now, I may be inconvenient for some of those in the media, but I’m, you know, sorry about that.

One has to wonder whether Kucinich’s rebuke of Koppel, and his criticism of the priorities of the media, had something to do with ABC‘s decision to limit coverage of these candidates. No matter what the rationale, this does raise a concern that ABC is making an early call on the election of 2004–weeks before any votes have been cast.

For the record, before ABC‘s decision to cut back coverage, Kucinich, Sharpton and Moseley Braun had been mentioned a combined total of 10 times this year on ABC‘s World News Tonight, according to a search of the Nexis database. Only one of those mentions referred to the candidate’s position on a policy.

ACTION: Contact ABC and ask them why they have decided to limit their coverage of Kucinich, Sharpton and Moseley Braun. Encourage ABC to let voters, not pundits, decide who they want to select as a presidential nominee.


ABC News

World News Tonight

Phone: 212-456-4040


Phone: 202-222-7000