Outsider caucus candidates deserve coverage, too

BY ADAM B SULLIVAN | JUNE 29, 2011 7:20 AM

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Two presidential-nomination contenders held events in eastern Iowa this week: Republican Michele Bachmann and Democrat Harry Braun.

You almost definitely heard about the first, but unless you picked up The Daily Iowan on Monday, there’s almost no way you heard about the second.

Braun is one of the “other” candidates — he’s got no name recognition, no party backing, and basically no campaign cash. And while there are around a dozen news organizations that purportedly cover Riverside, Iowa, where Braun’s event was held, the DI was the only organization that showed up for his appearance. Instead, other eastern Iowa news operations saved their resources for Monday, when Bachmann visited Waterloo to announce her caucus candidacy — for the second time.

As they’ll likely do until November 2012, the mainstream media ignored a lesser-known candidate in order to give lavish coverage to a political insider. What’s most frustrating about that is that lesser-knowns are most likely to actually talk about issues, while the Bachmann-types are most likely to spew platitudes.

It’s intuitive to dismiss someone such as Braun as just a crazy guy looking for attention. After all, he’s an politically unknown engineer looking to challenge President Obama, an incumbent who’s quite popular in his own party. But here’s the shocker: He actually has a good idea. In fact, he probably talked more about issues at his little get-together in Riverside than Bachmann did at her big event in Waterloo.

Compare the DI’s Braun story with the Bachmann story that other news organizations came up with. Our story explored Braun’s plan to replace fossil fuels with energy generated by ocean-bound hydro-electric units, a plan that he’s packaged into a detailed academic-style report.

In contrast, the Bachmann coverage was mostly talking points. For instance, the Associated Press wondered “if the edgy side that turned [Bachmann] into a conservative star will be the one she shows on the presidential campaign trail” and the Des Moines Register noted early in its story that Bachmann is “not running for power, fortune, or vanity.”

The media also largely ignore 2012 such presidential hopefuls as California Republican Fred Karger — a former political strategist who happens to be gay. And there’s Republican prospect John Davis — a business owner from Colorado who wants to focus on immigration and implementing term limits.

One might defend those organizations by pointing out that Braun, Karger, and Davis have precisely zero chance of ever being elected anything except maybe county dog catcher. While that’s probably true, it’s no defense for poor news coverage. The point of outsider candidacies isn’t necessarily to win elections. The Socialist Party, for instance, has seldom won elections in the United States, but many of the party’s historic platforms have taken hold — child-labor restrictions, minimum wage, and unemployment benefits, for instance.

While Braun, Karger, and Davis probably won’t get many votes, Braun’s energy policy, Karger’s gay-rights agenda, and Davis’s immigration plan could see success — if news reporters can pull themselves away from Bachmann’s talking points for half an hour and do some meaningful reporting.

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