Will Debates Exclude Democracy?
New Chance for Democracy in America -- If You Act Today
Here is a news update from Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting.
FAIR recently called on citizens to urge the Commission on Presidential Debates to include viable third-party presidential candidates. Now, media activists and pro-democracy advocates need to speak out promptly in the wake of George W. Bush's recent offer to debate Al Gore three times:
-- on an NBC "Meet the Press" primetime special (Sept. 12 in D.C.)
-- on CNN's "Larry King Live" (Oct. 3 in L.A.)
-- at an Anheuser-Busch/Commission on Presidential Debates-sponsored event (Oct. 17 in St. Louis).
At present, the Bush proposal -- like that of the major party-dominated Commission -- would exclude top third-party candidates, despite polls showing most Americans want candidates such as Ralph Nader included in the debates.
"Although the Bush arrangement with NBC and CNN envisions an exclusive two-party deal," says FAIR's Jeff Cohen, "the good news is that it could move the exclusionary Commission on Presidential Debates to the sidelines. Now NBC and CNN need to hear how the public feels about debates restricted to just the two major-party candidates."
Inclusive Debates are Good for Democracy
Recent history shows that participation by third-party candidates raises interest, debate viewership and voter turnout. The 1992 presidential debates included Ross Perot and were watched by record-breaking TV audiences, averaging 90 million viewers, with a larger audience for each successive debate. Presidential voter turnout went up in '92, reversing a 20-year downward trend. In 1996, with Perot excluded, the debates had shrinking viewership that averaged only 41 million viewers -- and voter turnout nosedived. In 1998 Minnesota, participation by third-party candidate Jesse Ventura in the gubernatorial debates stirred interest in the campaign and generated massive turnout.
Inclusive Debates Add Fresh Viewpoints and Issues
Third-party candidates bring up topics that would otherwise be ignored. If debates are limited to Gore and Bush, discussion will be narrow or nonexistent on the many issues on which the two major-party candidates basically agree, including issues like trade, globalization, corporate welfare, military spending, Iraq, Colombia, the drug war and the death penalty.
Inclusive Debates Reflect Popular Will
National polls have shown majority support for the inclusion of Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan. Asked in a July Fox News poll, "Do you think Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan should be in the presidential debates or not?," respondents said yes by a 64 to 25 percent margin. That same poll found a 73 to 17 percent majority saying Nader and Buchanan would make the debates "more interesting."
Inclusive Debates Can Have Clear Standards
The independent Appleseed Citizens' Task Force on Fair Debates, convened by American University Law professor Jamin Raskin, recently proposed that invitations be extended to any electable presidential candidate who has either 5 percent support in national polls or at least 50 percent of the American people favoring his/her inclusion. Congress member Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL) has introduced a House Resolution (HR 373) proposing the "5 percent/50 percent" standards be instituted.
ACTION: Call on NBC/Meet the Press and CNN/Larry King Live to invite qualified third-party candidates to join Bush and Gore in the debates.
As always, please remember that your comments are taken more seriously if you maintain a polite tone. Please carbon copy to firstname.lastname@example.org with your correspondence.
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For more information, visit http://www.fair.org/debates.html
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