Reporters favoring John McCain have been making fun of the New York Republican Party's very tough rules for getting on the New York primary ballot.
On Inside Politics January 21, CNN's Jeff Greenfield joked the state Republicans "have ballot access rules slightly harder than the pre-Glasnost Soviet Union." Later on The World Today, Greenfield added: "The Republican Party in particular has made it, to use an old phrase, slightly more difficult to be an opposition candidate than existed in the former German Democratic Republic."
But the media have little right to gulag humor when it comes to making the media ballot, especially when the candidate is conservative.
In the Iowa caucuses, Steve Forbes scored a surprising 31 percent finish in Iowa, and Alan Keyes stunned reporters with a strong 14 percent third-place showing. Both men were interviewed on cable outlets on caucus night. Both candidates appeared on MSNBC's The News with Brian Williams the next night. But neither of them appeared on a network morning show to discuss their momentum.
Forbes appeared on CBS's Early Show on the morning of the caucuses, where he was assessed as too conservative to have a chance [see box]. Gumbel's show never interviewed Keyes, and neither did Today. The last Today Forbes interview came after last August's Iowa straw poll.
What these men saw instead was Good Morning America interviewing John McCain on again, the 11th time for the McCain campaign in six months. The man skipped the caucuses and got five percent of the vote, but he scored the free air time. McCain was also back on Good Morning America after his win in New Hampshire, his 12th shot. Forbes and Keyes both drew one GMA nod: Forbes last June 1, and Keyes on Martin Luther King Day.
By comparison, Granny D, the 90-year-old publicity-stunt hiker for "campaign finance reform," beat them with two GMA appearances in the last year. Charles Gibson applauded Granny D for her "very worthy cause."
In previous campaign years, candidates given little chance of winning (ranging from Jesse Jackson to Pat Robertson) were handed some air time when they did well, but not this year. In this cycle, reporters noted a second Forbes run mostly by reminding voters of his "slashing" negative ads in 1996. Forbes made little attempt to run tough ads with conservative themes this time against either Bush or McCain. His civility was rewarded with media silence. Forbes tried to play by the media's rules, which resulted only in media control of the message. - Tim Graham