NY1 general manager Steve Paulus has responded to FAIR activists challenging the New York cable news station's decision to exclude Jonathan Tasini from a debate with New York Sen. Hillary Clinton (FAIR Action Alert, 8/4/06; Activism Update, 8/18/06). Tasini is running against Clinton for the Democratic senatorial nomination, and has 13 percent support in the latest Marist poll (7/11-14/06). While that amount of public support is more than enough for NY1 to consider him a viable candidate, Tasini apparently lacks a more important type of support: money. NY1 has determined that Tasini should not be allowed to participate in a debate because he hasn’t raised half a million dollars.
The letter below has been sent by Paulus to FAIR activists; FAIR's response follows.
NY1 has not disqualified Jonathan Tasini from any debate because there is no debate. Hillary Clinton will not agree to a debate with anyone so there is no debate to be held. We have featured Mr. Tasini in several stories and he has been a guest on "Inside City Hall." We are planning to invite him back at least once more before the primary.
Regarding Mr. Tasini's financial status...although he has gotten enough signatures and is polling at about 13%, he has still raised less than $150,000. That is not enough to run a statewide campaign...for example, he doesn’t have any kind of organization outside of NYC (no field offices anywhere in the State). We originally set the $500,000 criteria this way. There are 5.5 million registered democrats in NYS. If one tenth of them (one out of ten registered democrats) sent him $1 he would have raised $550,000.
In the 2005 Mayoral Campaign, the NYC Campaign Finance Board set a financial target of $50,000 in order to participate in their debates. To run for Mayor you need to buy television time in one market. To run a statewide campaign you need to buy television time in seven Nielsen markets. Multiply the $50,000 by seven and you get $350,000, a total the Tasini campaign hasn't come close to raising.
NY1 has given more coverage to Mr. Tasini's campaign than ANY other television station. We are seen across NYS so he has gotten enormous exposure from his appearances on NY1. It isn't fair to blame NY1 for "disqualifying" a candidate when we are the only organization putting the resources into holding these kinds of debates. When an editorial in the NY Post chides NY1 I have to ask what about Fox 5 and the Post? Both are owned by News Corporation. Can't THEY make the effort to hold a debate in this race. If you Nexis or Google the NY Post and Tasini, they have mentioned him TWICE since his campaign began.
We've taken a lot of heat, unfairly, and I hope that the facts make some sense.
Thanks for the feedback and please keep watching.
General Manager, NY1
FAIR appreciates Paulus' response—but it fails to challenge the main point FAIR made, that the station's rules for the debate are far too restrictive. Setting any sort of fundraising requirement for participation in a debate is anti-democratic, akin to a poll tax or a property qualification for voting.
While NY1 may believe that it's highly unlikely that a candidate can get elected without spending large amounts of money, it's not impossible; Sen. William Proxmire of Wisconsin is one candidate in modern times who repeatedly won re-election while limiting his campaign spending to $200. It’s certainly (and unfortunately) true that it’s difficult for a candidate without a lot of money to get elected, but there are any number of things that might greatly reduce candidates’ electability that one hopes would not get them barred from a debate; it’s unlikely that NY1 would exclude a candidate who is an atheist, even though many political observers would think it nearly impossible for such a candidate to be elected to major office.
Paulus places the blame for Tasini's exclusion on Clinton and her presumed refusal to debate, but Clinton cannot accept or reject a debate she has not been invited to. Moreover, one candidate's refusal to participate in a debate in no way prevents NY1 from holding the event anyway, giving the other candidate or candidates the opportunity to field questions and make their positions—and their opponent's refusal to debate them—known to the public.
Paulus is correct, of course, when he writes that other outlets should also host candidate debates. But their failure to do so does not absolve NY1 of its decision to exclude candidates based on the amount of money they've raised; in fact, it makes it all the more important that NY1's debates be inclusive.