Exclusion from Presidential Debates: Kucinich gets injunction (for a short while)

The Time’s The Caucus blog reports that Kucinich got an injunction against MSNBC excluding him from their debate airing now (which was a change from their initial position of including him), which was subsequently (of course) protested by MSNBC. I don’t know where things stand now except that the debate is happening now without Kucinich.

I don’t personally have an opinion about who should be included in debates at this point at this point (that is, at this point I don’t have a position about debates that occur at this point and forward), though I think it’s an important public policy question that doesn’t necessary deserve to be decided by corporations (owing to their use of public airwaves).

In the injunction request, Kucinich’s lawyers claim:

[This] undermines the purpose of the Federal Communications Act . . . and is a blatant violation of the Act because of the media’s obligation to operate in the public interest. . . . [It] is effectively an endorsement of the candidates selected by NBC. In addition, if NBC is given the liberty to designate every appearance of with two candidates as “news”, then no third candidate will have the ability to enforce the equal time requirement, which is inconsistent with the intent of Congress in enacting [whatever].

Kucinich also alleges breach of contract, but that’s less interesting.

The court’s initial ruling in favor of Kucinich agreed with Kucinich on both points, but did not provide any elaboration on why.

The injunction request included as an appendix in MBNBC’s appeal, available for download from the Times. The PDF includes the injunction request document twice: the second time, it is not cut off. The PDF also has some other interesting things: a photocopy of a check, the email addresses of campaign managers in some exhibits, and…

Among the materials included with the injunction request (I think- it’s hard to tell from my cursory reading what materials go with which documents) are emails from NBC executives to the candidates about their invitation to the debate, and, more interesting to me, to a telephone conference call about debate format. I wish someone would share or leak a recording of that conference call. That’s what I really want to see, and if you don’t know why….

Here’s a recap of where this post is coming from: I blogged previously on how I think there is an important story of corruption in how presidential candidates are included in televised debates, in that the big media corps do exercise control merely by limiting the playing field of candidates: the fewer candidates there are, the fewer they have to be in the pockets of. Not that I think every registered candidate in any state and his mother needs to be in every debate, but what I do believe strongly is that for those candidates that are included at all, they should get equal time to answer questions. Out of the last 8 debates in 2007 before the primaries (for both parties), MSNBC’s two Democratic debate most egregiously allocated time unevenly to the candidates, with the more popular candidates according to the polls getting much, much more time than the rest. The De Moines Register, on the other hand, ought to be applauded loudly for holding the only two debates in which time was allocated completely evenly.

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