Thursday, May 22, 2008


FAIR In a March 6 editorial, "What We'd Like to Hear," the Times editorial writers spoke poignantly about the need for serious candidate discussion of topics that go to the heart of our democracy. "After eight damaging and divisive years, there is certainly a lot that needs to be debated," the editorial said, and listed six pressing concerns, ending with "unrelenting assaults on civil rights, civil liberties and the balance of powers in government."

Apparently no one else at the Times was listening. The thumbnail sketches of candidates prepared by the Times campaign team for the "New York Times Election Guide 2008" do not mention civil liberties, civil rights or the balance of powers among the seven issues meriting analysis of candidate positions-healthcare, abortion, climate change, immigration, Iraq, Iran, the economy.

Nor is the New York Times alone. The next president will have a critical role in creating a balance between security and liberty, a central theme of democracy and something that has shifted dramatically under this presidency. But the Washington Post and Fox News also fail to include civil liberties in their issue tracking, and CNN addresses them only in terms of how the candidates will "conduct the war on terror.". . .

In segmented coverage, journalists covering such issues rarely report on the positions of candidates, and when they do, those positions are rarely examined.

Worse, the news personnel guiding presidential debates simply ignore the subject altogether. An army of television personalities have moderated debates: CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper and Suzanne Malveaux; NBC's Brian Williams and Tim Russert; MSNBC's Chris Wallace; ABC's Charles Gibson, Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos. No question has been asked about FISA of candidates of either party, and only a single question about warrantless spying on Americans in a year of debates-more than 30-according to a Media Matters analysis. The sole question was directed to Republican candidate Mitt Romney by Fox News correspondent Wendell Goler, who asked whether he would approve of eavesdropping on mosques.

Journalists serving as debate moderators have asked few questions about torture. . . Why doesn't the rest of the press use its 1st Amendment powers to call attention to threats to other civil liberties?

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