How the Media Killed the Kucinich Campaign

by Laura Snedeker

What does it say about American politics when the people with the most integrity flop fantastically? Ohio Congressman and two-time presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich reduced the number of palatable Democrats when he officially dropped out of the race last week after predictably poor primary results and low poll numbers.*

“There is a point at which you just realize that you, look, you accept it, that it isn’t going to happen and you move on,” Kucinich said.

Amidst the orgy of fundraising and childish sniping between the two media-appointed front-runners, Kucinich’s long-shot campaign provided an alternative voice in a country overrun by national security hawks whose plan for change encompasses only the oval office.

It is sign of how conditioned Americans have become to destructive and deceptive politics when the candidate with the boldest vision of change is marginalized by the mainstream media and treated as an object of curiosity and scorn: “In this cage we have the pinko-feathered peacenik….”

The lack of initial media coverage predetermined Kucinich's eventual exclusion as commentators lined up behind the three least radical Democrats. The Des Moines Register excluded Kucinich and former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel from the debate before the Iowa caucuses because neither had a campaign office in the state before the deadline. ABC News excluded both candidates, as well as Republican presidential candidate Duncan Hunter from the debate hosted by St. Anselm College in New Hampshire; the candidates were excluded for not meeting arbitrary polling benchmarks. The Nevada Supreme Court upheld CNN’s right to exclude Kucinich from the Nevada caucuses debate.

In early debates, Kucinich’s only widely-reported statements were also widely ridiculed in the mainstream media. In a debate hosted by NBC News in October, moderator Tim Russert was compelled to ask the candidate to respond to a claim that he had once seen a UFO in the skies over Washington State.

“I did. And the rest of the account — I didn’t — I — it was unidentified flying object, okay. It’s like — it’s unidentified. I saw something,” Kucinich replied, undoubtedly well aware of the intent behind Russert’s obnoxious question.

Kucinich’s subsequent shunning may have had as much to do with his irreverent observations about the mainstream media as with his unsettling political views. After slamming the Democrats for their willingness to go along with the war in Iraq and urging people to “adamantly reject any kind of a move towards war with Iran,” he took a shot at Tim Russert and his cohorts.

“The media did play a role in taking us into war in Iraq, and I’m urging the members of the media to urge restraint upon you and our president, whose rhetoric is out of control,” Kucinich said.

The media have been painfully slow to acknowledge their role in cheerleading for the Iraq War. They displayed almost criminal negligence in failing to examine the so-called facts presented by the Bush administration, for fear of being called unpatriotic and un-American. They beat the drums hard and fast, abandoning notions of objectivity to become the president’s personal propaganda machine. That a politician should have to lecture the media on self-restraint and accountability is shameful.

Those who criticized Kucinich and his supporters for being too idealistic, while embracing empty rhetoric about change, miss the point. Change is about being idealistic and angry enough to go against the prevailing political wisdom; cynicism is the bastard child of idealism denied in favor of limited possibilities.

*Kucinich was attracting support from about one percent of the electorate in many polls.

For those who want more background on the campaign, please check these archival posts:

(The photo of Congressman Dennis Kucinich at a candidates' forum for the Service Employees International Union in Washington, D.C. in 2007 is from SEIU International via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License. On a national level, SEIU did not endorse a presidential candidate, although state chapters of the union have endorsed various candidates. However, the union had no presence in South Carolina where Democrats voted on Saturday in a primary.)

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Anonymous said...

Good blog. I think Kucinich is a great foundation from which to start a discussion about our selection process.

Why does America weigh so heavily the persons charisma and likeability even if it goes counter to their interests. Europe votes much more on a straight position point of view and they have national health care and many other supports from the government.

I have to personally admit, I heard an interview with Kucinich once and walked away saying this guy feels the same way as I do about almost everything, yet at the same time, I was like, how could I vote for a twerp like that.

That kind of thinking gave us George Bush, a guy most men would love to golf with and drink a beer with but a man who is completely unqualified to be President, as time has proven.

I guess we all get what we deserve.

Jeff Siegel said...

Laura's points are terrific, and show just how little interest the media has in doing its job. Kucinich is the perfect example.

In fact, Kucinich was a flawed candidate not because he had low polling numbers and, as the last commenter noted, looked like a twerp. But voters never got a chance to find out what those flaws were (mostly relating to his days as the infamous boy-mayor of Cleveland in the late 1970s).

That is irresponsible and inexcusable. Do not criticize Kucinich because he saw a UFO, but because he has a track record that can be criticized.

Anonymous said...

Kucinich would probably counter that he ran Cleveland into the ground a long time ago....

David Gruder said...

What does it say about American politics when the people with the most integrity flop fantastically?

What I believe it says is that far too many people are unclear about what integrity really is. For most people, integrity is a vague and abstract philosophical concept rather than the concrete and actionable way of life that it can become once we understand just a little bit about our three core drives for personal authenticity, connection with others and having positive impact in the world.

3D Integrity lives at the intersection of these three core drives. The more the American people understand this, the more easily they will be able to spot true integrity in their political candidates and other leaders.

A highly acclaimed new book called The New IQ: How Integrity Intelligence Serves You, Your Relationships and Our World provides this clarity that is especially important during a presidential election year.

The book makes a perfect bookend with Kucinich's forthcoming website, www.IntegrityNow.org.

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