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2003-12-12

Kucinich & Braun Blast ABC For Reducing Campaign Coverage

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ABC News announced it will stop having producers travel full time with the presidential campaigns of Carol Moseley Braun, Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton a day after ABC News’ Ted Koppel hosted the democratic presidential debate in New Hampshire.

The network says it’s a routine coverage decision, but the move has angered Braun and Kucinich — particularly after the Ohio congressman had a testy exchange with Koppel during Tuesday’s debate. Kucinich criticized Koppel for beginning with a question about Al Gore’s endorsement of Howard Dean. Later, he was angered when Koppel asked whether he, Braun or Sharpton are "in this as sort of a vanity candidacy."

We speak with Kucinich and Moseley-Braun and we hear from ABC News. [Includes transcript]

  • Excerpt from Democratic Presidential Debate in New Hampshire, December 9, 2003.
  • * Rep. Dennis Kucinich*, Ohio Congressman and one of the nine Democratic presidential candidates.
  • * Carol Moseley-Braun*, Democratic presidential candidate. She is a former senator for Illinois (1992-98) and Ambassador to New Zealand (1999-2001).
  • Jeffrey Schneider, Vice President and spokesman for ABC News.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: And that was congressman Dennis Kucinich, following Reverend Al Sharpton. the response that Kucinich got was the biggest response, brought down the house of the entire evening. The day afterwards, on Wednesday the reporter in — embedded in Kucinich’s campaign was pulled, and as well, the reporter that was covering Cheryl Moseley-Braun and Al Sharpton. We got responses from Ambassador Carol Moseley-Braun, but first last night, I reached Dennis Kucinich. This is what he had to say

DENNIS KUCINICH: I have always had a great deal of respect for ABC news, but I think that the coincidence of the challenge that I made to Mr. Koppel and the actions by ABC News, and taking someone oust campaign is —- essentially out of the campaign is noteworthy, and it certainly requires further explanation to the public. You know, I think that the attempt by the media to determine who people should vote for and who they shouldn’t vote for to determine who the candidates are, and who are not acceptable as candidates is something that raises real questions about the nature of the media’s role in our society, and about what right they have to be able to engage in a process of pre-selection. When you understand the corporate nature of the media, it further troubles one who is concerned about the nature of democracy itself. So, I’ll tell you, Amy, I apparently struck a nerve when I spoke about the ex—- expressed concerns about the real role of the media in trying to direct the political process and the election in a certain way. I have been hearing from the last two days from people all over the united states and the response in New Hampshire has been notable because the two days that I have spent campaigning since then, I would just walk into a room — before I may not even be noticed. Suddenly people are applauding. I think that is because they recognize that I was willing to stand up and speak out, and talk — and ask — you know, openly ask, you know, why don’t we talk about things that really concern the people of this country, not about polls and endorsements and who has raised much money.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that Ted Koppel was retaliating against your response to his question? I mean, your response got the loudest applause of the entire night when you said you get guess you’re inconvenient to the media?

DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, I hope no, because I admire Ted Koppel. I believe he’s one of the great American journalists. But I also think that the media has a blind spot about the role that they have in the democratic society. It’s not their position to create the news. It’s not their position to try to determine who the candidates should be before an election. It’s really their job to report the news. I think that "Nightline" always has done well in reporting things and interpreting them with people who are representing diverse viewpoints. As a matter of fact their success has been in showing diversity of viewpoints. Yet, it’s very interesting that the — that "Nightline," their representative, Mr. Koppel, would speak to squelch the individual and individuals, because it’s not just myself it’s about Reverend Sharpton and ambassador Moseley-Braun and try to stop the truly alternative viewpoints from coming into the debate. In way, it’s not even about us. it’s a much larger question. the real question is here is — is who rules. It’s that an unelected media handing to the people the candidates of their — of the media’s choice, or dot people actually have the opportunity to make their choices at the ballot box without the kind of overt and heavy-handed approach that the media right use. This strikes at the heart of not only our democracy, but when you think of the many serious matters that are confronting this country, there’s so much more the media could do to elevate public discourse and create conditions where we feel there’s a free exchange of ideas. You know, so, this perhaps can start a whole new discussion in the political debate. If it does that, then it’s — it’s served a very private purpose.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Kucinich. what did the reporter who was embedded in your campaign tell you?

Were there plans before the debate for her to stay with you, and what happened after?

DENNIS KUCINICH: The information that was provided to campaign was that she was going to be continuing with the campaign and — as she had been for months. So, suddenly, they made a decision after the debate that she wouldn’t be traveling with us anymore, although they is said that she may provide some kind of coverage in the future, but it’s very clear that ABC made a rather untimely decision to remove coverage from a campaign that by all accounts on the night of the debate suddenly broke into public awareness and a way that was somewhat dramatic. So, it is more than passing strange that ABC chose to catch here the embedded reporter, but — and as I said, it didn’t affect only my campaign, they decided to for good measure to affect the campaigns of reverent Sharpton and Ambassador Moseley-Braun, but when you think about the implications of this, it’s very disturbing, because the people of this country are really entitled to the broadest debate. Reverend Sharpton and I were the only ones who were calling for the United States to get out of Iraq. I’m alone among candidates and actually offering a plan to do so. Again, I want to stress that is on my website for people that want to go over all of the details. That’s at kucinich.us. since we are offering these viewpoints with Ambassador Moseley-Braun. The three of us advocate a single payer health care. What purpose does it serve to limit our participation? What it does is actually — it’s actually a way of trying to smother the debate. And when you consider the very corporate nature of the media, it does raise questions as to whether or not the role of the media in the democratic society is being fulfilled to its highest purpose and whether in fact the requirement of the federal communications act of 1934, that the media serve in the public interest, convenience and necessity is actually being fulfilled?

AMY GOODMAN: We spoke to Jeffrey Schneider our producer, Sharif Abdel Kouddous. He says he have two things going for you, a level of integrity and truthfulness, and throwing meat to the dogs in this way, he said it’s outrageous and they had made this decision before the New Hampshire campaign, and he said that they will continue to cover your campaigns. A.P. says that they will do it by phone, but he said they will do it as extensively, although they did pull the reporters from your campaign.

DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, let me say that they could always change their mind and certainly, they would be welcome to return to cover the campaign, but to say they have made the decision before the debate, if they watched the debate, it would follow that since there was such broad public interest in what I had to say at the debate, it would only follow and make sense that they continue the coverage. So, apparently something happened at the debate that was not particularly pleasing to their approach. I’m grateful to have them acknowledge that the level of impact that I achieved in the debate was sufficient that they felt that they had to withdraw the coverage of their reporter.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Kucinich, the ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said it was a mundane decision that was made to bring producers back to New York so they could concentrate on the upcoming New Hampshire and Iowa primary caucus. He also said that ABC news has covered your campaign more than any other network, in fact, more than all of them combined.

DENNIS KUCINICH: I don’t know that they have. I mean, I cannot tell you that, because I haven’t — I don’t spend that much time watching TV. I’m usually trying to make the news as opposed to being a spectator. So, I cannot challenge that, but I will say that I’m not aware that could be so. But let’s for the moment take that to be true. What would justify stopping the coverage of a campaign when the candidate in this case, me, made what has been generally agreed upon as the most powerful impression at a presidential debate.

Why would — why would the coverage cease after that moment?

You would think that people would want to cover the campaign after that moment? So, this shows you — if this is indicative of the executive level decision-making at ABC, it may be that what has been one of the most exalted news operations might be head for trouble.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Dennis Kucinich responding to ABC pulling their embedded reporter from his campaign.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman here with Juan Gonzales as we continue on the story that ABC News says it will stop having producers travel full-time with the presidential campaigns of Dennis Kucinich, Al Sharpton and Carol Moseley-Braun.

Yesterday we reached Ambassador Moseley-Braun at the airport in New Hampshire and asked her her response.

CAROL MOSELEY-BRAUN: I think ABC has clearly voted in favor of the best democracies that money can buy. The fact of the matter is that — or the best government that money can buy.

This decision relates solely to money, as far as I can tell, because it is clearly not just a matter of standing in the polls, for example, because certainly, all three of us are doing better poll-wise than some of the candidates who they did not pull their reporters from.

And frankly, I think it’s such a perversion of the process because for this — for the corporate leadership of this station to make a decision to marginalize the only woman, the only minorities, and the only voice of the Left in this race — is essentially to attempt to foreclose voters’ decision-making.

I mean, until such time as citizens are given an opportunity to vote, I think that it is, again, perverse, for ABC to try to narrow their options like this.

AMY GOODMAN: Was there a full-time reporter on your campaign?

CAROL MOSELEY-BRAUN: Yes. Yes. She didn’t know she was being pulled, either.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us exactly what happened, how you learned of this?

CAROL MOSELEY-BRAUN: I learned of it when I was asked by a reporter here in New Hampshire.

I was — it was be a absolute surprise to me.

AMY GOODMAN: How long has that reporter been with you, and what is her name?

CAROL MOSELEY-BRAUN: She has been with us since the beginning of the campaign. Monica is her first name. Her last name just changed because she just got married a month ago.

I don’t know how she — I don’t think she’s still working under her maiden name.

AMY GOODMAN: So, she is not — she is not with you today?

CAROL MOSELEY-BRAUN:That is correct.

AMY GOODMAN: Is this the first day?

CAROL MOSELEY-BRAUN: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: What was your response, now, in hindsight, but also at the time, for viewers who didn’t get a chance to see the democratic debate, to Ted Koppel’s question to you, Reverend Sharpton and Congress Member Kucinich saying — asking about your candidacies whether you will — whether you’re really serious about this?

CAROL MOSELEY-BRAUN: That’s why I think it’s about money. Because quite frankly, and I will just use the name, John Edwards is not polling as well as I am or Al Sharpton or Dennis Kucinich, depending on which polls you look at in what part of the country. He is below all of us. Still his name, you know, is never mentioned.

I just think that ABC made a decision against — again — of giving voice to women, giving voice to minorities and giving voice to someone who represents the Left in this race.

I would really think it’s ideological and not personal, and has to do with money.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the other networks? How are they covering you? NBC, CBS, CNN, Fox?

CAROL MOSELEY-BRAUN: Well, as far as I know, the other embed that we have has not been pulled. And while the — while they have all marginalized our campaigns to one extent or another, at the same time I think that this — this is the most egregious example of the kind of corporate decision-making that frankly — wants to give the voters George Bush and more of the same.

Strike that. Strike that. I don’t want to say that. The other democratic candidates are not more of the same. It’s — It really is a function of their attempting to narrow the voters’ options based on how much fund raising is taking place.

AMY GOODMAN: Ambassador Carol Moseley-Braun, you mentioned at the beginning, you said they’re taking the reporters off of the three of your campaigns — Sharpton, Kucinich, as well as your own, but not off of other candidates who are — what did you say?

CAROL MOSELEY-BRAUN: Who are not doing as well in the polls as we are.

AMY GOODMAN: Like who?

CAROL MOSELEY-BRAUN:Well, I mentioned to you — I mean, specifically John Edwards has not polled as well. In some places, Dick Gephardt does not poll as well.

And yet they have not pulled from — those campaigns are considered, I guess, to be — I don’t know. I don’t know how — I don’t know how they see this, but it — it certainly doesn’t have anything to do with the voters’ interests and what has really been expressed by voters as their concern.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you made any official response to the pulling of the ABC reporter? Are you making any official demand?

CAROL MOSELEY-BRAUN: Yes. Yes.

Yes. I have made an official response. I don’t know if it’s out yet. I just found out not an hour ago. I mean, I found out on my way from — in the middle of my last engagement. So, I immediately fired off a response to my — to my press secretary and she’s getting it out.

AMY GOODMAN: What is that demand?

CAROL MOSELEY-BRAUN: Well, I have not made a specific demand of ABC.

My demand or what I have said is — I just hope the voters will reject and resist this attempt to — you know, to define our democracy in terms of "he who has the gold makes the rules".

AMY GOODMAN: Ambassador Carol Moseley-Braun, democratic presidential candidate speaking to us in New Hampshire about the ABC decision to pull the producer covering her campaign directly.

I’m Amy Goodman here with Juan Gonzalez. I reached Carol Moseley-Braun yesterday.

Jeffrey Schneider now joins us on the phone, Vice President and spokesperson for ABC news.

JEFFREY SCHNEIDER: Good morning, Amy. Good morning, Juan.

JUAN GONZALEZ: You have heard the rather lengthy comments of both Congressman Kucinich and Ambassador Moseley-Braun, and your response?

JEFFREY SCHNEIDER: I did. I think the charges, the allegations are pretty unfair to us. No news organization has covered this election, these campaigns more vigorously than ABC news. We are the only news organization to have full-time producers assigned to all of the candidates.

We continue to have full-time producers assigned to all of the candidates. The idea that somehow these producers have been, quote, pulled, is simply false, Okay?

That they won’t be traveling on the road day in and day out with the candidates is true, but they will be covering these campaigns as I’m sure, Juan, you know, the "Daily News" is probably covering these campaigns from New York, on the phone, covering the major issues.

When there’s news, they’ll be back out on the road with these candidates to cover those events. But we have in no way backed off of our coverage. The candidates know that. Their press secretaries know that. Yet, everybody keeps voicing, you know, that particular allegation. It’s pretty unfair and kind of unfortunate.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But what about when Ambassador Moseley-Braun says that for instance in many polls, she’s doing better than John Edwards. Have you reduced the coverage of John Edwards similarly?

JEFFREY SCHNEIDER: We’re assessing our coverage options day-to-day. We’ll make decisions as a news organization that, you know, fit our needs, as I’m sure the news organization that you work for, Juan, does and I’m sure as Democracy Now! does. I’m sure that Democracy Now!, for example, does not have reporters covering all of these campaigns as we do. In fact, I don’t think there’s any other news organization that has the level of coverage that we do. So, it really is one of the most unfair raps I can imagine.

We have been on those campaigns day in and day out. Our producers now have better and closer relations and contacts with all of those campaigns, giving us, frankly, I think, a leg up on our competition in covering those campaigns. And we will continue to cover them.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But, Jeff, granted, ABC probably had more producers out there on the road with all of these other candidates than anyone else, but you do have to admit that the day after the debate where clearly, Ted Koppel seemed a little bit embarrassed after basically asking these three, "When are you going to throw it in?", that suddenly, they learn — or they all claim — I don’t know if they’re all deciding to put out the same story together, but I doubt that — but they’re all claiming that suddenly the folks assigned to them were told they’re no longer going to be doing so on a daily basis.

JEFFREY SCHNEIDER: Juan, simply because B follows A, it doesn’t mean that A caused B.

I can tell that you I am certain that the decision was made by our news desk in the days leading up to the New Hampshire debate, it was actually communicated to those producers that we needed them to come back to New York, and to continue to cover those campaigns — but the idea that a journalist with the integrity of Ted Koppel — that we would in some way retaliate — is simply — it’s beneath contempt. It’s just an outrageous charge and it’s just not true.

AMY GOODMAN: After he asked each of them, singling them out, "Is this a sort of vanity candidacy?", and then Dennis Kucinich’s response brought down the house, and was a bit embarrassing to Ted Koppel.

JEFFREY SCHNEIDER: Amy, I can assure that you Ted Koppel is a very big boy and that he is hardly embarrassed by anybody’s response to his questions.

AMY GOODMAN: Well whatever the motive —

JEFFREY SCHNEIDER: Let me just finish just for one second. I would say coming from two people in the business of asking questions, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking questions. That’s our job in the media is to pose questions and to try to elicit answers.

AMY GOODMAN: Have the —

JEFFREY SCHNEIDER: I’m not going to Monday morning quarterback the questions that Ted Koppel asked during the debate. I think that, you know, it is his prerogative as a journalist to ask the questions that he thinks are important and the ones that he wants to hear answers to.

AMY GOODMAN: Have producers been pulled from the other campaigns?

JEFFREY SCHNEIDER: No producers. Just to be fair to us, I think you have to stop saying that producers been pulled. No producers have been pulled from any campaigns.

What has happened is — instead of traveling day-to-day around the country — by the way, at extremely high expense — with these candidates, we are reallocating some of our resources, so that we can continue to cover the New Hampshire and Iowa caucuses in the way that we need to. No producer has been pulled off of any campaign.

Our producers are still covering the campaigns, and frankly, our producers are covering them in the way that every other news organization in America has been covering these campaigns, which is — not on the road, but, you know, from their main offices and things like that.

I think that it is grossly unfair to keep saying that we, quote, pulled our producers. It is simply untrue.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, just a final note on Kucinich’s campaign.

They said that the reporter or producer had just gone through the whole schedule of the Kucinich campaign and was herself surprised on Wednesday when —

JEFFREY SCHNEIDER: That may be true. As I told you, I know that the decision was made back here prior to the New Hampshire campaign, and it was made clear to her on the day after. You know, in a perfect world, if I could go back and look at how this would roll out, obviously the timing was bad, but just because, you know, B followed A, it does not mean that one caused the other. And it is grossly unfair and outrageous, I think, to make that charge.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeffrey Schneider, while we have you on the line, as Vice President of ABC news, Juan, your organization that you are President of, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists just came out with your annual brown-out report. Can you talk about it?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes. Jeffrey is very familiar with it because we have actually talked personally about it in the past, but our new brown-out report just came out, and it showed that we still have a continuing problem in terms of the NAHJ researchers — they have done a look at the 16,000 news stories put out by the evening broadcasts of ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN in 2002, and this is showing that during that time, out of the 16,000 stories, only 120, or less than 1%, had — were directly focused on either Latinos or Latino individuals in the country.

Less than 1% is a slight increase over the previous year, but still rather dismal, as far as the NAHJ is concerned, in terms of the kind of coverage the Latino community should be receiving. We have had discussions in the past. You have had a chance to look at the report. And admittedly, I will be the first to say that ABC, within that overall dismal showing, ABC definitely was ahead of the other networks in a variety of areas, including more balanced stories, of the few that were aired. And also more interviewing — actually of Latinos and dealing with Latino subject matters.

Your response to the report and how ABC sees its continuing coverage of the Latino community?

JEFFREY SCHNEIDER: Juan, you’re right. We have spoken about this extensively through the years. I think it’s an important report.

It points out something that we know, that diversity is extremely important — in front of the camera, behind the camera, and in the stories that we put on the air.

Obviously, I think that every news organization feels that it can do a lot better, and we want to do better. I was heartened to see that ABC news was singled out for a considerable amount of praise, I thought, in that report. We have certainly made substantial efforts to be more diverse and more inclusive.

A few years ago we realized that we were often putting on the same experts time and again to talk on any number of subjects, and that they did not reflect our audience.

We made a year-long effort to put together a diversity database with thousands of names of experts from every ethnic background and socio-economic background so that we would have the ability to go to differing voices, and I think that you see — you know, the results of that in this study. I think you see that we have actually made improvement in that area.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan, we have to wrap up.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We have to wrap it up, Jeff, but thank you for the comments and thank you for coming on.

JEFFREY SCHNEIDER: Anytime, Juan.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Thank you for your viewpoints.

JEFFREY SCHNEIDER: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: That does it for the show. If you want a copy, call 1-800-881-2359. Our website is democracynow.org.

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