(NOTE: Please see the related further Activism Update.)
On August 4, FAIR issued an action alert calling for New York cable news channel NY1 to allow Democratic antiwar candidate Jonathan Tasini to debate incumbent Sen. Hillary Clinton as part of its series of televised primary debates. NY1, which is owned by Time Warner, had created rules for participation that required candidates to not only stand at 5 percent in polls (Tasini has reached 13 percent) but to have raised or spent at least $500,000.
NY1 senior vice president Steve Paulus has responded (Associated Press, 8/15/06) that while $500,000 “seems like a lot of money” to many, “there are 5.5 million registered Democrats in New York. All Tasini would need is for each one to send him a dollar. Right now, with the money he’s raised, he does not represent the party he claims to represent.”
Paulus’ suggestion that the amount of money a candidate raises defines whether he or she represents the party is absurd and dangerous; much of Clinton’s campaign chest has come not from one dollar donations from registered New York Democrats but from wealthy corporate employees and their employers—like Time Warner, which according to FEC.gov has donated thousands of dollars to Clinton’s campaign through its Political Action Committee. Clinton also received money from a July 16 fundraiser held for her by Rupert Murdoch, a conservative media mogul not known for supporting the Democratic Party or its interests. It would seem that voter signatures to put a candidate on the ballot (Tasini collected 40,000, well above the required 15,000) would be a better measure of that candidate’s legitimacy within the party than an arbitrary amount of funds raised from such sources—or from any source.
Moreover, as an antiwar candidate challenging Clinton’s pro-war record, Tasini would appear to represent the Democratic Party even better than Clinton on that central issue: A recent poll showed that 78 percent of Democrats want candidates who oppose the Iraq War (Zogby, 8/9/06).
According to the AP report, Paulus argued that NY1‘s coverage of Tasini far exceeded that from other media outlets. But debates among all candidates are valued in democratic elections for good reasons: They bring out discussions on issues that often get short-changed in mainstream media interviews and carefully planned campaign speeches; they increase public interest in elections; and they increase voter turnout. NY1 should stop playing gatekeeper and let the public decide if Tasini represents them or not.
NY1, Director of Politics
NY1, Senior Vice President