(NOTE: Please see the Activism Update regarding this alert.)
There is a heated debate among Democrats about the direction of the party, with centrist party stalwarts facing challenges from the left on issues like the Iraq War. But New York City voters will have a more difficult time seeing this debate play out, as New York City cable news channel NY1 (which is owned by Time Warner) has blocked the anti-war Democratic challenger Jonathan Tasini from a primary race debate against incumbent Sen. Hillary Clinton.
In a statement (Village Voice, 8/2/06), the channel said it had "established criteria to identify which candidates would be invited to participate" in the debates: poll at least 5 percent and have spent and/or raised $500,000.
In a recent Marist poll (7/19/06), Tasini stood at 13 percent, but his campaign has only raised $150,000.
By contrast, Tom Suozzi, seeking the Democratic nomination for governor of New York, is less popular with voters—at only 9 percent in a recent poll (NY1.com, 7/24/06)—but he was included in NY1's July 25 gubernatorial debate, having spent over $6 million on his campaign (Ithaca Journal, 6/26/06).
NY1's criteria reflect the undemocratic way in which media outlets measure the seriousness of a candidacy. By the station's rules, a candidate's popularity with the public is meaningless without hundreds of thousands of dollars of campaign funding. But without the exposure that debates provide, grassroots candidates running on a shoestring budget have little chance of communicating their positions to the majority of voters—people whom deep-pocketed rivals can reach easily through advertising campaigns and media coverage from mainstream media gatekeepers who have sanctioned those candidates as legitimate.
As writer/activist Barbara Ehrenreich said at a Tasini campaign forum protesting the exclusion (Village Voice, 8/2/06), "When you have to have half a million dollars to tell people what you stand for, then we're not talking about democracy anymore, we're talking about plutocracy."
The League of Women Voters, which for many years served as the main sponsor of national and local debates, requires only that a candidate has met the legal standard for getting on the ballot—in this case, 15,000 signatures. Tasini received 40,000 signatures, placing him well over that mark.
Tasini is Clinton's only primary opponent and has been outspoken in his opposition to the Iraq War, which Clinton has consistently supported. By shutting Tasini out of the debate, NY1 is limiting the discussion of important viewpoints and ultimately limiting voter choice.
ACTION: Call NY1 and demand that they remove their requirement that candidates raise or spend a large amount of money in order to participate in televised debates.
NY1, Director of Politics