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North County Public Radio: Covering Libertarians and other alternative party candidates

Brian Mann writes,

A couple of posters have begun zinging me pretty hard about NCPR’s lack of coverage of the Libertarian candidate in the 20th CD race.

Here’s John Warren’s take on my decision to not include Eric Sundwall in my opening piece about the special election.

That’s a disgrace, it’s un-American and anti-Democratic. The Republican candidate doesn’t even live in the district and you give him more credit then a candidate that does? There is no excuse for this. You owe us serious coverage of all the candidates, not just your hand-picked ones.

It’s a legitimate criticism — worth airing and discussing.

My job is to reflect reality in my stories. So I will be covering Mr. Sundwall, though I’ll generally treat him as an “issue” or a “protest” candidate.

How much coverage he receives will depend on a) how interesting, thoughtful and compelling he turns out to be; and b) the degree to which his ideas influence the campaign debate.

(Obviously, if Mr. Sundwall demonstrates somehow that he has a reasonable chance of winning, I’d certainly change my tune. THAT would be a great story…)

Third party candidates — and their supporters — typically want the media to treat them as equals with their Republican and Democratic opponents.

But in most instances, they haven’t done the work to establish their parties as viable political choices.

Not because their ideas are bad, necessarily — sometimes their ideas are fascinating or compelling.

But because they haven’t organized, built a party apparatus, raised enough money to campaign, etc.

(Some choose not to do so for ideological reasons, but the result is the same; they can’t win.)

Critics like to suggest that reporters create a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy by making judgments of this sort.

By not covering alternative candidates, we make it impossible for them to compete.

But the vast majority of grassroots organizing in politics goes on with absolutely no media coverage whatsoever.

A lot of unpaid Democrats and Republicans have been volunteering for months (and years), raising money and building networks to prepare for this election.

Aggressive and well-organized third parties can do the same — I lived in Germany when the Green Party elected its first members to Parliament.

It just takes work.

If third parties want more coverage, they might begin by electing members to local government. (Often this only requires a few hundred votes.)

They could build a track record of shaping public policy and develop a level of institutional credibility.

So there’s a peek behind the curtain, an honest look at how I make this kind of editorial decision. Let me know what you think.

In the comments, Eric Sundwall says


As I am quite busy ‘organizing’ as you might imagine, a supporter forwarded this piece to me. I’ll respond briefly as I am also quite fond of blogging, but have much less time to do so lately. You bring up excellent points and ones that often confront third party candidacies.

I find your first criteria problematic.

“How much coverage he receives will depend on a) how interesting, thoughtful and compelling he turns out to be; and b) the degree to which his ideas influence the campaign debate.”

As a hardened third party activist for many years, I can assure you that coverage is not dependent on charm or worthiness. If you break that mold I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Gauging the degree which my ideas influence the debate seems dependent on the first, which I’m already claiming a foul about.

You follow with an additional sub-text criteria that extends the idea that making a reasonable case for victory would be worthwhile. This after already marginalizing the campaign as a protest or issue candidacy.

That being said, here’s my best shot . . .

This special election is in a short condensed period which is unique. As party chairman of the LPNY and a former National Committee member, we have the potential to focus the entire libertarian party on this race. It is simply not a matter of winning local elections or an earnest effort to organize better. I’ll spare you the inherent systematic biases rant.

Thirty thousand votes could win this in a tight three way race. Granted the D’s and R’s can expect 30% automatically (even if they were to run Abbot & Costello), it might certainly be a stretch for a Libertarian to claim the other. You got us there.

People are torched at what’s happening. In any longer protracted effort, I would certainly concede the small percentage that any third party is fated with.

In short special election with a third alternative and ribald discontent, who knows ?

There certainly isn’t a precedent in this type of case, or the idea that ‘historic inevitability’ will rule the day.

Your best case not to cover us would be actual ballot qualification. I make no claim for equality in coverage, although many supporters will feel that way. I do intend to earn it. Stay tuned.


Eric Sundwall

Several others people commented on Brian Mann’s article, including Eric Dondero, who believes that Republican candidate Tedisco is libertarian on many issues and that most libertarians will vote for the Republican, with or without Sundwall in the race.

On Sundwall’s blog, Jim Ostrowski writes about Tedisco:

The guy will not give a straight answer on anything.

Here’s the latest dodge on the stimulus bill, only the biggest spending bill of all time and he has no position.


On the economic stimulus bill, Tedisco said he would have pushed for more money for infrastructure improvements and tax breaks. But when asked specifically if he would have voted in favor of the measure, he called the question “hypothetical.”

Ostrowski also points out that is at the top of Google rankings for “Sundwall” .

The front page says they expect the 12-day petition drive to start February 23.

Posted to IPR by Paulie. Thanks to pdsa for the link to NCPR.

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  1. paulie cannoli paulie cannoli Post author | February 18, 2009


    NEW YORK #3. Sources tell Politics1 that the NRCC is planning to spend at least $100,000 in support of State Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco (R) in the CD-20 special election next month. Meanwhile, wealthy venture capitalist Scott Murphy (D) began running his first TV spots this week.

  2. Trent Hill Trent Hill February 18, 2009

    Tedisco also has the Conservative Party line. I wonder if Scott Murphy will get the Working Families line.

  3. Trent Hill Trent Hill February 18, 2009

    I doubt he gets either the R or WF nominations. I’ll bet he gets the Independence, of course, because he has invested 1.2m.

    Paulie, if you get the chance can you make an original post on that material? I have about 6 posts to make, but cant do them til tomorrow.

  4. paulie cannoli paulie cannoli Post author | February 18, 2009

    I’m pretty much trashed out and crashed out at this point. I’m having to go back and fix typos like every other letter. So no posts right now.

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