Candidates Get Uppity With Media Royal Family

The headline about Sunday's CBS debate on the CBS website is, "Dems Get Feisty In NYC Debate." This is followed by an absurd article suggesting that the four remaining Democratic candidates for president engaged in unusually spirited disagreement with each other over what they would each do if elected president. (Fortunately, the website includes a link to a transcript of the debate, so curious readers can find out what actually took place.)

Anyone who had the misfortune to watch the "debate" knows that the candidates mostly "got feisty" toward his Royal Highness Dan Rather, the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Bumiller of the New York Times and Sir Andrew Kirtzman of Channel 2 in New York. I thought that all four candidates came off looking admirable by comparison to the media royalty's arrogant abusiveness.

I hadn't thought it possible that anyone could top Larry "I really am a king" King's performance earlier this week in the CNN debate, during which he referred to two candidates by their first names and addressed the other two as senators, denounced one as a socialist, interrupted the same repeatedly, and tried to interrupt another.

Sunday's debate was one of the very few opportunities that people who do not subscribe to cable television had to view the part of our political process that is of primary importance -- the primaries. This is the part of the process in which the significant alternatives are removed in order to keep everyone uninterested and half the country unwilling to vote during the later general election contest between two relatively similar candidates.

There was an earlier broadcast television debate on ABC months ago, during which Cardinal Ted Koppel wasted a great deal of time on nonsubstantive nonsense and Congressman Dennis Kucinich received thunderous applause for pointing that out. But Dan Rather must have missed the ABC debate.

Here was Rather's first question to open the debate:

"I want each one of you in turn, in one sentence, in terms of your own spirituality, if you prefer religiosity to complete the sentence, 'This I believe...' Senator Kerry?" The responses were all heartwarming.

King Dan then asked John Kerry about Haiti. Kerry's reply was not exactly passionate, but he came off as very reasonable because he was interrupted twice by Bumiller. The Grand Duchess then asked John Edwards the same question, and he gave basically the same response as Kerry but at greater length.

Rev. Sharpton tried to jump in, but Bumiller pretended he wasn't there and kept questioning Edwards, who went on so long that even Kerry tried unsuccessfully to jump in. Meanwhile Kucinich and Sharpton had yet to speak.

Next, Kirtzman asked Edwards a follow-up: "Why are you blaming Bush, when you could be blaming Clinton?" Kirtzman only interrupted Edwards once during his answer.

Once most people had switched channels, Kirtzman let Sharpton speak. But first Rather interrupted him, and then Bumiller tried to change the subject, ignoring the fact that Sharpton was just getting started and that no one had yet acknowledged Kucinich's presence at the table.

At that point, Sharpton said: "If you don't want us to participate, say that, ma'am. I listened to them go back and forth." But the Grand Duchess only let him get another sentence out and then turned to Kucinich, who was permitted to speak briefly and who is usually too damn polite to insist on speaking longer.

So much for round one, and that was just about too much substance for poor Rather to bear, so he asked Edwards (who just hadn't gotten to talk enough) whether he wanted to be president or vice-president. As America perched on the edge of its collective seat, Edwards revealed that he would prefer to be president.

Rather demanded that Edwards at least ask Kerry a challenging question so that CBS would be able to later use the headline, "Dems Get Feisty In NYC Debate." So, Edwards -- intent on offering specific policy differences making clear what it would mean for him to be president -- asked Kerry if he thought we would be better off with a Washington insider or someone from the outside whose daddy had worked in a mill. Bordering on substance, Edwards did ridicule Kerry's plan to review our trade agreements for 120 days as if it were unclear that those agreements were destroying jobs.

Kerry replied at length that Edwards was a senator working in Washington and that he, Kerry, was tough on trade. Edwards then replied at length to Kerry's reply, including some actual substantive comments on past performance (though still nothing on plans for a presidency). Edwards persisted through interruptions and accused Kerry of not planning to balance the budget. Perhaps he had learned from the CNN debate that despite the fact that it is always the Republicans who put the nation into debt it is the media's pleasure to have the Democrats blame each other for it.

When King Dan tried to send it back to Kerry, something stunning happened. Kucinich insisted on speaking up, addressing Edwards: "We could talk about the same old Washington talk, but with all due respect, John, you told the New York Times that NAFTA should exist. And I think that NAFTA should not exist. Now, when we're going back to what both, you know, Senator Kerry and you are -- and we've been back on it a lot. Senator Kerry, you knew full well that when NAFTA was passed, and when the WTO passed, that it was written specifically so as not to provide for workers' rights, human rights and environmental quality principles. It's kind of like crying crocodile tears for workers, after millions of jobs have been lost in this country, to say, 'Well, we're going to fix it.' The fact of the matter is, the WTO does not permit any modification. It was written that way. And so I've said as president I will cancel NAFTA and the WTO, and go back to bilateral trade, which will save those jobs in Ohio."

Surprisingly, Rather failed to explicitly change the subject in order to officially decree that Kucinich be ignored. Instead, he just said: "Let's give Senator Kerry a chance to respond."

But Kerry handled this fine, saying: "Well, yes, we need to go on, but these are central issues. And John has just made some very important statements, and I want to respond to them." Kerry then claimed, through interruptions from Bumiller, that his books would balance.

Sharpton could stand it no longer: "If we're going to have a discussion just between two -- in your arrogance, you can try that, but that's one of the reasons we're going to have delegates, so that you can't just limit the discussion. And I think that your attempt to do this is blatant, and I'm going to call you out on it, because I'm not going to sit here and be window dressing."

Bumiller huffed: "Well, I'm not going to be addressed like this."

"Well, then, let all of us speak," Sharpton said. "I want us to be able to respond, or then tell us you want a two-way debate."

Dan Rather then tried to declare the election over: "Here's where the thing is. We certainly want to hear, I think you will agree, the voters have spoken."

Sharpton: "No, the voters have not spoken. We've only had -- he's won one primary. He's come in fourth seven times."

Bumiller: "How many delegates..."

Sharpton: "What you're trying to do is trying to decide for the voters how we go forward. The voters need to hear this morning from four candidates, or say the media now is going to select candidates."

Rather: "Reverend, we've heard from you, we're going to hear from you. I don't understand what the argument is."

Sharpton: "I had to fight to speak on Haiti, I had to fight to speak on trade. You got a guy with one primary that you're pretending he's -- Gary Hart won more primaries than Mondale. Let's have an open debate and go into Super Tuesday, or say that you guys want to decide the nominee."

Rather: "Reverend, debate them, not me."

Sharpton: "If I get time, I would love to do that."

Rather: "You've been on, but the clock's been running on you. I wanted to hear what you had to say...."

Kerry: "Can I just finish?"

Rather: "Finish what you have to say, Senator, then we're going to go to Reverend Sharpton."

Kerry: "On trade, there is no difference between what John Edwards would do today and what I would do today."

Entire U.S. Media Nobility: Collective sigh of relief.

And so it went. Sharpton and Kucinich opposed NAFTA and the WTO and the war on Iraq and the PATRIOT Act. Edwards and Kerry didn't, but did at least oppose, at least for the moment, the media's representatives. All four candidates had to demand to be heard and to be allowed to speak for more than a few uninterrupted seconds. Two of them already oppose the current media structure. We can hope that the other two will be moved in that direction. We need a regime change, America. But not just in the White House.

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