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They Report, They Decide?

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Should Big Media decide for the rest of us who is — and more importantly who is not — a viable candidate for president? It’s bad enough that thus far the reporting of this year’s quadrennial presidential pursuit has been even more insubstantial than ever, focused on the horse race, the fundraising, the polls, the pundits, the haircuts and assorted other bits of silliness –- anything other than actual issues of concern to voters and importance to the world. Now we find Big Media, (specifically its Fox/ABC News wing,) determined to narrow the field of presidential candidates before any of us, other than a handful of white people in Iowa, even get a chance to vote!

Both television networks plan to winnow out presidential candidates they deem unacceptable and prevent them from participating in important debates to be held this weekend — just before the crucial New Hampshire primary. Fox has invited just five of the seven remaining Republican candidates to a forum with Chris Wallace scheduled for Sunday in the Granite State –- only two days before the nation’s first presidential primary. Although Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, John McCain, Mitt Romney and even the barely breathing Fred Thompson were all invited, two current candidates, both current Members of Congress, were not — Duncan Hunter and Ron Paul.

The Fox excuse? “Space is limited” in the “souped-up bus” that is serving as a mobile studio. As a result, Fox executives say that, for space reasons, they decided only to invite those candidates who had received double-digit support in recent polls. Forget the fact that Ron Paul actually is ahead of Thompson (6 percent to 4 percent) among all New Hampshire voters in the most recent Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll, or that the two were tied with the support of 4 percent of likely voters… Forget as well the fact that Paul recently shattered the record for online fundraising in a single day, raising nearly $6 million in 24 hours – a little more than a month after he amazed the pollsters, pundits and political professionals by hauling in $4.3 million during the same time span. (Not bad considering that on the day that John Kerry accepted the 2004 Democratic nomination, he raised $5.7 million on the Internet — the biggest online fundraising day on record until the supposedly non-viable Ron Paul surpassed it.) But consider at least these facts: in just the last three months, Paul collected more than $19.5 million, bringing his total for the year to more than $25 million. More than 130,000 contributors gave to Paul during the fourth quarter, including more than 107,000 new donors.

“This is exciting. It’s crazy. I can’t imagine any other Republican raising this kind of money this quarter. This means Ron Paul’s message is really resonating with people,” Jim Forsythe, who leads Paul’s New Hampshire MeetUp group, told the Washington Post.

But Big Media doesn’t seem as impressed – at least now. Remember just a few months ago, however, when how much money a candidate was able to raise was the Big Media imprimatur of viability? Now that Ron Paul has vaulted near the top of the fundraisers, it seems the bar is being moved, and is set a little higher for him. Could it be instead that his stance on the issues is the real barrier to letting American voters see and hear him debate on Fox News just before the crucial first presidential primary takes place? After all, it’s no secret that Paul’s outspoken opposition to the Iraq war, to mention just one ‘deviant’ policy position, is what really sets him apart from all the other Republican candidates.

Paul’s spokesman Jesse Benton says the campaign has been trying to reach Fox News representatives to get an explanation for the decision, but calls have not been returned. (Meanwhile Rudy Guiliani has appeared so often on the Fox News channel – run by his close friend Roger Ailes – that it’s rumored he’s having a private line installed in the Control Room there.) Is Fox prejudiced against Paul because of his perceived lack of viability – or his policy stances? “There very well might be some bias,” Benton told the AP. “Ron brings up some topics that aren’t very popular with Fox News, as in fiscal responsibility and withdrawing from the war in Iraq… that does leave us scratching our heads a little bit about whether it was deliberate. Based on metrics, I don’t see how you can possibly exclude Dr. Paul.”

Based on metrics, you can’t… And if the small size of the mobile studio is really the issue, I’ll gladly chip in to help rent a larger space if necessary. But if Ron Paul isn’t added back into the debate, I’ll also gladly join his supporters, who have begun calling for a boycott of Fox advertisers. After all, whatever happened to “We Report, You Decide?”

For their part, ABC executives say they will decide who gets to show up for their back-to-back, primetime Republican and Democratic debates Saturday in New Hampshire – but only after the results of Thursday’s Iowa caucus are known. To participate in the ABC debates, Republican and Democratic candidates must either place first through fourth in Iowa, poll 5 percent or higher in one of the last four major New Hampshire surveys, or poll 5 percent or higher in one of the last four major national surveys.

ABC News anchorman Charles Gibson defended the network’s decision to determine who was a viable candidate before any actual voters — except for Iowa caucus-goers — even had a chance to cast a ballot, and contended that the new ‘viability’ criteria were still inclusive. “You will have had a year’s politicking,” Gibson told the Associated Press. “You will have had, I think by count, about 641 debates. You will have had national polls and state polls and one state’s vote. I think that’s pretty indicative.”

Sorry, Charlie – but nobody asked what you think. Once every four years, you’re supposed to ask us what we think. You report, remember. We decide, right? Right??
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Filmmaker and journalist Rory O'Connor writes the 'Media Is A Plural' blog, accessible at
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