Over the course of the past year, the New York Times has provided ample coverage to a series of potential U.S. Senate candidates from New York--none of whom are actually running for office. Meanwhile, a candidate who is in fact challenging incumbent Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand in the September 2010 primary has been all but erased from the picture.
That progressive activist Jonathan Tasini is running against Gillibrand, who was appointed to the seat in 2009, is known to Times readers who happened to catch a single January 27, 2010, story by N.R. Kleinfeld, headlined "An Underdog Who Isn't Daunted by a New Try for the Senate"--the only mention to date in the paper of record of Tasini's candidacy, which was launched in June 2009.
Meanwhile, the Times has treated possible high-profile candidacies as if they were real news. Former Democratic Rep. Harold Ford from Tennessee, for example, contemplated a run, which elicited substantial coverage (1/6/10, 2/15/10, 2/19/10, 2/24/10) before Ford decided against the idea. His formal decision to not run garnered him a news story and an op-ed piece on the same day (3/2/10), with a piece the next day (3/3/10) that re-capped the non-campaign. The Times has devoted at least nine articles to other Democrats who thought about but in the end decided not to run against Gillibrand.
On the Republican side, real estate investor and Daily News publisher Mort Zuckerman was a possible challenger, resulting in a series of articles (2/13/10, 2/24/10, 3/25/10). Dan Senor, a military adviser to George W. Bush best known for conducting press relations during the early part of the Iraq War, also considered running, and was also treated seriously by the Times (3/11/10, 3/25/10).
This pattern was taken to the absurd extreme with an April 3 piece headlined, "As Rivals Flee, Others Ask, What's to Fear In Gillibrand?" The article claimed that while "her poll numbers are unimpressive," Gillibrand "has only token Republican opposition" because no one is challenging her for the Democratic nomination:
Ms. Gillibrand has been under siege almost from the moment Gov. David A. Paterson appointed her to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton in January 2009. Initially, she faced the possibility of challenges from members of her own party, including the Manhattan borough president, Scott M. Stringer; Rep. Steve Israel of Long Island; and Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney of Manhattan. They all opted out.
Given that Tasini is in fact running against Gillibrand, the Times is simply wrong. But why are they neglecting a candidate who, after all, garnered 17 percent of the primary vote in 2006 against Hillary Clinton--a much better known incumbent than Gillibrand?
It's worth noting that Tasini once successfully sued the Times (and other publications) as head of the National Writers Union to ensure that freelancers be paid for electronic rights to their work. That relationship ought to make the paper wary of appearing to hold a grudge. (We should note, on the topic of disclosure, that Tasini wrote for FAIR's magazine Extra! in the 1990s.) But a more potent factor in the Times' cold shoulder for Tasini is likely the candidate's political views. As the single Times article about him noted:
He is against the healthcare bill, and wants Medicare for all. He is against the dual wars. (''I will not vote for a single penny to continue either war.'') He wants to increase the minimum wage immediately to $10 an hour and see it quickly reach $15 to $20. He wants a stronger labor movement. (''People say you're antibusiness. I'm pro-business because I want jobs. What I'm against is foolishness.'') He wants a tax on every transaction on Wall Street. He supports gay marriage and gun control.
Such positions might be considered well outside the mainstream by outlets like the Times. But why not let the voters of New York state make that decision? Given its coverage of the race so far, perhaps Tasini would get more ink from the Times if he decided not to run. Non-candidates seem to be the only ones the paper is interested in covering.
Contact New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt and ask him to investigate why the Times is giving so little space to an actual candidate in this year's Senate race, while giving unusually broad coverage to non-candidates.
New York Times
Clark Hoyt, Public Editor
Phone: (212) 556-7652
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This story was published on April 7, 2010.