Bill Willers 1/27/08

“Representative Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio was prevented from participating in the Democratic presidential debate Tuesday night after the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that MSNBC was not required to include him; … MSNBC had no immediate comment. It is likely to be described as a First Amendment victory by the news organization, as its lawyers had argued that it had a right, as a privately owned network, to determine who to invite.” Brian Stelter, New York Times, January 16, 2008.

Somewhere, one hopes, there is a graduate student in political science looking for a dissertation topic. The strategic exclusion of Dennis Kucinich from as much public view as a “privately-owned media” could possibly engineer has been breathtaking, and a full analysis, including ramifications regarding corporate ownership of networks, is in order. One certainly would not expect an honest evaluation from a network would one? What is left but academic analysis?

Two things stand out. One is the argument employed by General Electric’s lawyers, as noted in the above quote from the Times (Aside: GE owns NBC, and any attorney for NBC will argue the interests of the owner, naturally). The “airways” are ours (so we’re told), and We the People let such as GE and Disney use those airways only to the extent that they will serve the public interest (so we’re told). When corporate “persons” – “private citizens” in the above NBC/GE legal position – can literally throw a candidate out on his ear, they have created a powerful argument against their continued control of the public’s airways. This is not as complex as GE’s lawyers would make it but simply a gross misuse of what belongs to the people. Why aren’t our legislators looking after our interests here?

Dennis Kucinich, like no other candidate, threatened the death grip that the corporate sector has on American political dialogue through its concentrated ownership of media. ABC (Disney) and NBC (GE) were literally forced to prove him correct. They needed to neutralize this man who was intent on spotlighting corporate control during a debate watched by millions. For months, already, their attention had been on his height (He would have towered over James Madison and Napoleon), and on his wife’s looks and pierced tongue. NBC’s Jay Leno called him an “elf”.

As ominous, though, was the silence of Kucinich’s own Party in response to this treatment. And why be surprised? It was, after all, the Republican and Democratic parties that, in collaboration, took control of the presidential debates only to dumb them down to the sideshows we now have and to make impossible any visibility by “alternate” parties or of any values not corporate friendly. At their website, they state their mission to ensure that debates “provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners”. Nonsense. The Democratic Party’s silence to the indefensible treatment of Kucinich by corporate owned networks was “non-support” amounting to intra-party assassination and yet another indicator of the Democratic Party’s solid dedication to corporate interests.

Bill Willers is emeritus professor of biology, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh now living in Middleton, WI. He is founder of Superior Wilderness Action Network (SWAN) and editor of Learning to Listen to the Land and Unmanaged Landscapes, both from Island Press. He is a sculptor and painter some of whose work can be seen at