The Great Browne-Out 

  The Great Browne-Out 

Posted by FoM on October 06, 2000 at 06:52:29 PT
By Alan Bock 
Source: WorldNetDaily 

The most striking aspect of the hoopla surrounding the excruciatingly sound bite-driven presidential debates this week was the continued media blackout of Libertarian Party presidential candidate Harry Browne. In the run-up to the cozy little Demopublican affair some of the media discovered minor-party candidacies and decided it was acceptable to entertain the possibility that Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan really should have been invited. But Harry Browne remains beyond the media pale. 
Are there objective reasons for this odd form of discrimination among those already victimized by the two-party oligopoly? Or have the media decisions been based on celebrity and familiarity with two inside-the-Beltway veterans known personally to many in the media? I fear it is the latter, and that this latest example of irresponsible use of their unofficial power as gatekeeper of political legitimacy will further undermine the credibility of what are commonly but not necessarily accurately called the mainstream media. Let's review possible criteria for coverage one by one, but first some evidence for my contention. Tim Russert of "Meet the Press" decided he would do a noble and inclusionary thing and put the minor-party candidates on his program last Sunday. But he included only Nader and Buchanan and when people suggested Browne ought to be there he stiffened his resolve and refused absolutely to put him on. He was well aware that Browne had supporters out there; in response to an e-mail appeal they swamped the "Meet the Press" phone lines and e-mail capacity. But he stuck to his guns. Likewise, Larry King decided to be magnanimous enough to include those excluded by the debate commission and put on Nader and Buchanan -- but quite pointedly not Browne. A couple of other CNN shows discussed minor-party candidates on the morning of the presidential food-fight, but none of them so much as breathed Harry Browne's name. Numerous news stories discussed the plight of the excluded minor-party candidates, but not one in 10 mentioned Harry Browne. Even the article on minor-party candidates pressing to get into the debates on managed to avoid mentioning Harry Browne or referring to him (although he gets reasonable treatment elsewhere on the website). Well, the LP is a decidedly minor party that hasn't managed to get more than 1 percent of the vote since its high-water mark in 1980. Does that justify freezing Harry Browne out of discussions concerning third-party candidates? Interestingly enough, the debate commission has the most intellectually defensible (if ultimately unreasonable) position on the issue. Its criteria are that a candidate must be constitutionally qualified, be on enough ballots to have a theoretical mathematical possibility of winning, and get 15 percent in five different polls during the week before the debate. The 15-percent requirement is an obvious Catch-22 that obviously works to firm up the control of the current duopoly; no minor-party candidate has a chance of getting to 15 percent without being in the debates. Whether the criteria are reasonable or not, however, at least the commission has stuck to them. The media decision to pay attention to Nader and Buchanan while ignoring Browne is less defensible. And there's little question it has occurred. As Bill Bonner, who writes an investment newsletter, put it recently, "a Lexis-Nexus search reveals that national media coverage of these three candidates is way out of balance. Buchanan is getting 60 times as much attention as Browne, and Nader is receiving even more coverage." Why? Well, Tim Russert waved a sheaf of papers at the camera and said there are some 286 people who have signed up to run for president and he certainly couldn't have all of them on, could he, now? That is disingenuous to the point of dishonesty. Sure, hundreds of people, including some first-class loonies, have said they're running for president. But how many could a voter actually cast a ballot for? That is, how many have achieved ballot status in even a single state? The answer, according to Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News, is 16. Of those, six are on the ballot in a single state (including science-fiction writer L. Neil Smith who because of an intra-party squabble is the official Libertarian Party candidate in Arizona). James Harris of the Socialist Workers Party is on the ballot in 12 states, David McReynolds (ah, nostalgia!) is on in seven, and Monica Moorehead, Workers World, is on in four states. That's nine who could be eliminated from Mr. Russert's vast universe of candidates. That leaves the major-party candidates and five who are on enough ballots to have a theoretical chance of winning. John Hagelin, formerly a Reform insurgent who has reverted to his natural home in the cosmic-levitating Natural Law Party, is on in 38 states and hasn't been agitating to be in the debates. Howard Philips of the Constitution Party is on in 42 states. Those two are on the cusp debate-inclusion-wise. Theoretically possible but without a real organization. The others? Well, Ralph Nader is on in 42 states plus D.C. and is suing to get on a couple more. Pat Buchanan is on in 48 states and could add another. Harry Browne is on the ballot in 49 states plus the District of Columbia -- and there's a Libertarian Party candidate on in the state where Browne is not on the ballot. In terms of ballot access, then, Browne and the Libertarian Party are the clear winners. Yet they are excluded from the ranks of those serious enough to merit media attention. What about the polls? Surely Harry Browne must be running way behind the other two candidates in the polls? That would be a weak reason in terms of supporting democracy and lively debate, but at least a valid one to those obsessed with the horse-race aspect of politics. In most of the polls Harry Browne doesn't show up because most pollsters have made the same decision as most of the media - that it's acceptable to talk about Nader and Buchanan but not about Browne -- and he isn't offered as an alternative. But two polling organizations, Zogby and Rasmussen, have included Browne, along with Philips and Hagelin. The story those polls show is not so clear-cut as you might think. Nader gets a better percentage in the Zogby and Rasmussen polls than either Buchanan or Browne, and in some states, like California, he has gotten as high as 7 to 9 percent, giving Gore partisans some nervous moments. But he hovers at around 4 percent, which is frankly not all that impressive for somebody who has been an American icon and hero of the chattering classes for almost 40 years. Overall, Browne and Buchanan hover at about 1 percent each, with Buchanan usually a few tenths ahead but Browne actually ahead for a few weeks. And a few states hold surprises. In Georgia Harry Browne leads the minor-party pack with 4 percent, with Buchanan trailing at 1 percent and Nader not on the ballot. In Illinois Browne has usually been tied with Nader at 3 percent, leading Buchanan by 2 points. In Colorado, Nader leads, but Buchanan is close behind at 3 percent, with Buchanan trailing badly at 1 percent. In Kansas, Nader and Browne are tied, leading Buchanan 2-to-1. So on the polling data (in the few polls where he's offered as an alternative) Browne is at least a respectable competitor with Pat Buchanan and a worthy challenger to Ralph Nader. One wonders what the situation would be if he had a tenth the media coverage the other two have received. If the evidence were clear that Browne doesn't even show up in the polls while Nader and Buchanan cleaned his clock, that might be a journalistically respectable reason for ignoring him. But the polling data don't show this. What other indicators might indicate a serious political movement that has earned coverage (if not necessarily respectful coverage)? Well, the Libertarian Party boasts 170 elected officials in the United States. Reform has 7, the Greens have 72, Natural Law has none and Constitution has 1. Advantage to the uncovered. The Libertarian Party is running a total of 1,420 candidates for various offices, from president to sewer commissioner, in the U.S. this year. Reform has 151 candidates, the Greens have 244, Natural Law has 165, and Constitution has less than 100. The Libertarian Party has 244 candidates for the House of Representatives, theoretically enough to elect a majority (however unlikely the possibility is), the first time a minor party has achieved this milestone since the Socialist Party in the 1920s. Reform is running 43 House candidates, the Greens have 43, Natural Law has 86, and Constitution has 15. Clearly the Libertarian Party is organized in greater depth than any of the others. Pat Buchanan will get $12.6 million of the taxpayers money, making him the third Welfare Candidate. But how much did the respective parties raise from the actual voters in 1999? According to FEC reports, the Libertarians raised $2.7 million, Reform raised about $250,000. The Greens raised $136,285 before they knew Nader would be the candidate, Natural Law raised $713,000 and Constitution pulled in $406,000. The Libertarians also lead in the number of registered voters who have officially affiliated with the party, with 205,029, to 152,507 for Reform, 136,285 for Green, 64,789 for Natural Law and 29,457 for Constitution (as of April 1, 2000). All of those numbers are pitifully low in my view, but the Libertarians are ahead. By any reasonably objective criterion, then, the Libertarian Party is a minor party but the most successful and best-organized of the minor parties. Furthermore, its survival, even as a minor sideshow, is a fascinating political phenomenon. It has never had a candidate well known to many media people, let alone most of the voters. Most third-party movements in American history have been personality-driven, spurred by well-known figures. The LP has been ideology-driven, with never a celebrity candidate since it was formed in 1972, yet it has stayed around and increased its still-modest presence steadily. So on the basis of political importance and staying power, the Libertarian Party has earned coverage. But the coverage is going to two minor-party candidates who may have earned it through their long careers as effective inside-the-Beltway operators, but represent parties with much less in the way of infrastructure. And even with the enormous advantages in coverage and publicity Nader and Buchanan have benefited from, they hardly run away from Browne in the polls that deign to mention his name. Now some have theorized that some people in the media recognize that Nader and Buchanan, however colorful and contentious they have been, are basically establishment players. Nader wants to increase the power of the government over almost every aspect of our lives (except, commendably, in the area of the drug war). Buchanan was a Republican candidate twice and was more than eager to get his mitts on the taxpayers' money through the FEC and the corrupt campaign-finance system. No real danger to the status quo from either of these guys. But Browne wants to bring the whole system down -- or, as he more modestly puts it, return government to the size and scope envisioned under the U.S. Constitution. He wants to reduce the number of areas of life controlled by politics and increase the number subject to discipline only from the voluntary sector. Foreign policy wouldn't be a rich lode for professional chin-rubbers because Browne would bring the troops home and tell the rest of the world to get on as best it could, so long as it didn't directly threaten the United States. The anti-trust division would be eliminated. With political control drastically reduced, what would political writers find to cover, let alone wax eloquent about? No wonder they don't want this Lenin in a well tailored suit to catch the ears of too many voters. Their entire way of life -- and political beliefs many actually hold fairly seriously -- would be under threat from a successful Harry Browne campaign. Hmmmm. It might even be heartening to think my journalistic brethren have pondered the potential impact of a libertarian candidacy and decided that it must be stopped by the most powerful weapon they have at their disposal -- ignoring it. Libertarian Party founder Dave Nolan has a theory that the media just don't like odd numbers because they confuse matters -- we can have two major-party candidates but not a serious third party, we can handle two minor-party candidates but not three. How can you expect the poor dears to deal with such complexity and still cover the gaffes and the horse-race aspects? I suspect that the real reason has almost nothing to do with political calculation or political analysis and almost everything to do with celebrity status and familiarity. Everybody in the national media already knows who Nader and Buchanan are and most of them like them personally even if they disagree with them substantially. So they get the coverage. Harry Browne, who unlike Al Gore has actually lived in Tennessee for the last decade -- plus has the good taste not to love spending time in the Imperial City, gets squat. That's not even close to a journalistically respectable reason for such a decision, a decision I suspect has been made more by pack mores and osmosis than by anything resembling a conscious weighing of the valid political factors. In fact, it's lousy journalism.Alan Bock is senior editorial writer and columnist at the Orange County Register, Senior Contributing Editor at the National Educator, a contributing editor at Liberty magazine and author of "Ambush at Ruby Ridge." Source: WorldNetDaily (US Web)Author: Alan BockPublished: October 6, 2000Copyright: 2000,, Inc.Contact: letters worldnetdaily.comAddress: PO Box 409, Cave Junction, OR 97523-0409Fax: (541) 597-1700Website: Articles & Web Sites:The Libertarian Party Browne For President Makes Harry--and Others--Run Articles - Harry Browne:

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