Thursday, December 11, 2003

Koppel's disgraceful performance. Ted Koppel decided that Tuesday night's Democratic presidential debate was about him and his fellow members of the elite media. I've got a piece in today's Boston Phoenix about Koppel's sneering, dismissive focus on the Al Gore endorsement, polls, and fundraising.

Koppel bloviated for a half-hour asking every candidate but Howard Dean questions that were variations on the same theme: Why don't you get out of the race right now?

You should read William Saletan's analysis in Slate. Here's his best line:

These were the last 90 debating minutes of the year - a crucial opportunity for every candidate other than Dean - and Koppel wasted 30 of those minutes on questions barely worthy of aides in bars.

Bob Somerby at the Daily Howler promises to weigh in on Koppel's disgraceful performance later today.

Incredibly, there is at least one reporter out there who thinks the real problem was that the candidates were rude to Koppel. You can't make this stuff up. Sam Pfeifle, the managing editor of the Portland Phoenix, directed me to this exchange at yesterday's White House press briefing, conducted by press secretary Scott McClellan:

Q: Do you remember any incident where the President has ever treated any member of the media as insultingly as those Democrat presidential candidates did to Ted Koppel last night?

McClellan: Didn't see the debate, Les, so -

Q: You didn't see the debate? You read about it. You certainly saw what those people did to Ted Koppel. Now, has the President ever done anything -

McClellan: I'm focused on our business here at the White House at the direction of the President.

Dear Les: Koppel is seriously lucky that none of the candidates walked over and pinched off his inflated head.

Other than Dennis Kucinich's excellent eruption (read the Phoenix piece for details), perhaps the most telling exchange was between Koppel and John Kerry. Remember, I'm not making this up.

Koppel: Senator Kerry, at the risk of exposing myself to yet another lecture - not from you, from Congressman Kucinich and the others down here ...


... what is it that Governor Dean has done right? Whether or not people want to acknowledge it, he does have more money than anybody else in this campaign; he is doing better in the polls than any of the rest of you. He's got to be doing something right. Is there anything to be learned from his campaign?

Kerry: Well, Ted, I'll tell you, there's something to be learned from your question. And if I were an impolite person, I'd tell you where you could take your polls.



You know, this has got to stop.

Kerry then went on to talk about a New Hampshire family whose water supply has been ruined by corporate polluters.

Afterward, as the C-SPAN camera panned the spin room, it caught Kerry schmoozing up CNN's Tucker Carlson and another guy. Kerry was telling them that the most important difference between him and Dean is that Dean wants to repeal the middle-class tax cuts of the Bush years.

Why didn't you talk about that? chirped Carlson.

"We spent all our time talking about polls," Kerry responded with a weary smile. He gave the other guy a playful pat on the cheek and walked away.

And now we learn that ABC News - Koppel's network, if you'd forgotten - has decided to stop having producers (off-camera reporters) travel with Kucinich, Al Sharpton, and Carol Moseley Braun.

Kucinich is outraged, of course. I'm put off more by the timing than by the decision itself. The media have a right to make some judgments; they are not obligated to spend money to cover every candidate. And the next president is not going to be Kucinich, Moseley Braun, or Sharpton.

But for ABC to do this the day after Kucinich's one shining moment in the campaign shows a sickening disregard for appearances and propriety. Besides, having covered the three for this long, why not just keep doing it for a few more weeks, until the New Hampshire primary is over and a few actual people have had a chance to vote?

This has been a depressing week for anyone who worries about the media's willingness to play their crucial role in a democratic society.

New in this week's Phoenix. In addition to the debate piece, I take a look at the prospects for a liberal radio network to compete with the likes of Rush Limbaugh.

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