On the Fringe: Third-Party Gubernatorial Candidates and the Press
Kirch, John F
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This dissertation is a study of how the news media cover the campaigns of third-party gubernatorial candidates. The study has two parts: a content analysis that examines press coverage of the 2002 gubernatorial campaigns in California, Oregon, Wisconsin, and Maine, and a series of in-depth interviews with eight political reporters who covered two of those races. The content analysis shows that newspaper coverage of Greens and Libertarians is significantly different from the major parties. Third-party candidates are featured less prominently than are Democrats and Republicans; sources from within minor parties are quoted less frequently than are officials from the major parties; the news frames adopted by reporters often come from a two-party perspective; and third-party candidates are separated from their major-party rivals. The exception to this coverage was found in the Maine press, which provided the 2002 Green gubernatorial candidate with almost equal coverage to the Democrats and Republicans. The long interviews suggest that reporters view campaigns almost exclusively as a contest between people and believe they have an economic incentive to narrow the field of candidates to make campaign coverage more manageable. The interviews also identified five criteria reporters use to determine each candidate's newsworthiness. To get on the media agenda, the reporters said, candidates must (1) demonstrate a high degree of public support; (2) show that their issues resonate strongly with the voters; (3) have strong name recognition; (4) run a serious campaign; and (5) raise enough money to be competitive in the general election. Such criteria work to the strengths of the major parties and the weaknesses of minor-party candidates. In short, reporters accept the hegemony of the two-party system without question and have, in many ways, been co-opted by the Democrats and Republicans. Rather than encouraging free flowing debate during an election campaign, the news media act as barriers to American political discourse, excluding marginalized voices from the discussion and failing to challenge the dominate narratives established by political elites.