Kucinich and the Media

By David Swanson

When I worked for Dennis Kucinich’s presidential campaign in 2003, he routinely won the most applause at debates but was minimized or entirely left out of the next day’s stories in the corporate media. This meant that peace, and fair trade, and single-payer healthcare were left out too. At one debate at the University of New Hampshire, Kucinich pushed back.

Ted Koppel of ABC opened the debate with questions about endorsements. The second round of questions was about standing in the polls. The third was about the campaigns’ bank accounts. One had to wonder when, if ever, the debate would touch on, you know, what the candidates intended to do if elected. Kucinich cut Koppel off, saying:

“I want the American people to see where media takes politics in this country. We start talking about endorsements, now we’re talking about polls and then talking about money. When you do that you don’t have to talk about what’s important to the American people.”

The applause for this was so intense that the other candidates on the stage started joining in the media bashing. Kucinich had briefly changed the narrative from a horse race to a demand for decent political reporting.

That’s what he should have done on Wednesday when he flipped to support a disastrous health insurance bill. Rather than talking about the legitimacy of the presidency, Kucinich should have talked about the illegitimacy of the current narrative in the corporate media.

The major corporate news outlets, and all the smaller outlets that follow their lead, and all the partisan outlets that obey the White House, have created a false story that was clearly turning Kucinich’s own constituents against him. According to this story, of the dozens of Democrats and over a hundred Republicans not committed to voting for the insurance corporation bailout bill, only Kucinich’s vote mattered, so the blame would go to him if it failed, just as Ralph Nader alone was blamed for Al Gore losing the election that Gore won in Florida in 2000.

Kucinich was to be blamed for denying people healthcare by opposing a bill that makes the healthcare system worse. Now he’ll be credited with helping to provide people with healthcare, even though he’s done the opposite. I think he gave in to the power of a false narrative, and that he ought to have said so. When Kucinich fought with us for impeachment, and John Conyers refused to act, Conyers admitted that his greatest fear was of media hostility. When Kucinich pushes to end wars, other congress members tell us they cannot afford to challenge media nonsense about “supporting the troops.” The corporate media now run our government, and need to be called out.

I don’t think Kucinich flipped because of money, either direct “contributions” or money through the Democratic Party. I think, on the contrary, he hurt himself financially by letting down his supporters across the country. I don’t think he caved into the power of party or presidency directly. I don’t think they threatened to back a challenger or strip his subcommittee chair or block his bills, although all of that might have followed. I think the corporate media has instilled in people the idea that presidents should make laws and that the current president is trying to make a law that can reasonably be called “healthcare reform” or at least “health insurance reform.”

I don’t excuse Kucinich flipping his vote. I just want to find the right explanation for it. There may be many factors I’m unaware of. But I have no doubt that with real freedom of the press in this country it wouldn’t have happened. This sad incident is not an argument for ending the two-party system. That argument has been made overwhelmingly for many years. We must end that system. Nor is this an argument for campaign finance reform, although we won’t survive long without that either. Nor is this an argument to give up on Dennis Kucinich, since we would clearly have a dramatically better Congress if we had 10 others as good as him. Kucinich’s cave in is most clearly an argument for media reform and for progressive investment in truly independent media.

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