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Turning a Blind Eye: Why Reporters Ignore Third-Party Candidates
Unformatted Document Text:  Turning a Blind Eye: Why reporters ignore third-party candidates It is no secret that third-party political candidates receive scant coverage in the American news media (Joslyn, 1984; Rosenstone, Behr, and Lazarus 1984; Sifry 2003; Stempel 1969; Stempel and Windhauser 1984; Stovall 1985; Zaller and Hunt 1994; Zaller 1999). In the 2008 presidential election, for example, the New York Times and Washington Post combined to publish 6,781 news stories, photographs, editorials, op-ed pieces and letters to the editor during the fall campaign about Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain. By contrast, there were only 36 mentions of independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader, 22 for Libertarian Bob Barr, five for Green Cynthia McKinney, and three for Constitution Party candidate Chuck Baldwin during the same period (Baltimore Sun, Nov. 20, 2008). When minor-party candidates do get exposure, the news media usually portrays them as inconsequential players who have little chance of winning. Instead of treating them as legitimate voices of dissent, reporters often approach the campaign as if the third-party contender’s only possible role is that of a spoiler who tips an election in favor of a major-party candidate (Herrnson and Faucheux 1999). This creates a chicken-and- egg situation in which minor-party candidates are not covered by the news media because reporters believe they cannot win the election, but the candidates cannot win the election because they are not covered by the news media (Zaller and Hunt 1994 and 1995). When asked about such practices, reporters say it is their job to weed out likely losers from a presidential campaign (Hellinger 2000; Zaller and Hunt 1994). 2

Authors: Kirch, John.
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Turning a Blind Eye:
Why reporters ignore third-party candidates
It is no secret that third-party political candidates receive scant coverage in the American 
news media (Joslyn, 1984; Rosenstone, Behr, and Lazarus 1984; Sifry 2003; Stempel 
1969; Stempel and Windhauser 1984; Stovall 1985; Zaller and Hunt 1994; Zaller 1999). 
In the 2008 presidential election, for example, the New York Times and Washington Post 
combined to publish 6,781 news stories, photographs, editorials, op-ed pieces and letters 
to the editor during the fall campaign about Democrat Barack Obama and Republican 
John McCain.  By contrast, there were only 36 mentions of independent presidential 
candidate Ralph Nader, 22 for Libertarian Bob Barr, five for Green Cynthia McKinney, 
and three for Constitution Party candidate Chuck Baldwin during the same period 
(Baltimore Sun, Nov. 20, 2008).
When minor-party candidates do get exposure, the news media usually portrays 
them as inconsequential players who have little chance of winning.  Instead of treating 
them as legitimate voices of dissent, reporters often approach the campaign as if the 
third-party contender’s only possible role is that of a spoiler who tips an election in favor 
of a major-party candidate (Herrnson and Faucheux 1999).  This creates a chicken-and-
egg situation in which minor-party candidates are not covered by the news media because 
reporters believe they cannot win the election, but the candidates cannot win the election 
because they are not covered by the news media (Zaller and Hunt 1994 and 1995).  When 
asked about such practices, reporters say it is their job to weed out likely losers from a 
presidential campaign (Hellinger 2000; Zaller and Hunt 1994).
2


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