It's Their Party; They Can Do What They Want To
Greens make KY bid, despite media indifference
By Alex De Grand

The only bad press is no press, right? But, if you're a political candidate and the media have you pegged as a loser, does that still count as "good" publicity?

The Kentucky Green Party doesn't think so. But lackluster news coverage is one of the hurdles for the fledgling party.

Ralph Nader, the legendary consumer advocate and Green Party presidential candidate, visited the University of Kentucky's Singletary Center on April 20, filling about a third of the 1,500-seat auditorium.

For the Greens, Nader's visit was a shot in the arm for those drumming up signatures to put their candidate on the Kentucky ballot. Ned Meyer, the secretary of the Kentucky Green Party, said, "We easily got a couple hundred at the Nader visit."

By early May, the Greens reported about 2,000 signatures. They are seeking 8,000 by June 15 so they can announce Nader's placement on the ballot on June 20.

Beside signatures, the visit also fired up the crowds with enthusiasm rarely seen at the highly choreographed Democratic or Republican national conventions hogging summer's prime time TV. The crowd appeared to enjoy Nader one-liners like "If you don't turn on to politics, politics will turn on you."

He also urged the audience not to be daunted by the challenge of tackling the entrenched two-party system.

"I like big odds," Nader said, sharing stories of his early days as a successful crusader against the colossal General Motors. "They invigorate me. They should invigorate you."

But, to the Greens' chagrin, the following day's Herald Leader article presented a fatalistic Nader who doesn't expect to win.

"Nader will be happy if he takes 5 percent of vote," declared the headline of the April 21 article.

The article drew an indignant response in a letter from Green Party member Joseph Thompson.

"I heard Nader say that his idea of throwing your vote away was voting for a major party candidate who doesn't care about your interests," Thompson wrote in a letter published May 1 by the Herald Leader. "I heard him say he isn't worried about taking votes from Gore, but about Gore taking votes from him.

"I heard him point out that the Republicans were a third party in 1854 and captured the White House six years later. Does that sound like a candidate who'll be happy with 5 percent of the vote?"

But the Greens' frustration is typical for third parties, according to James Hertog, an associate professor who studies third parties at the University of Kentucky's Department of Journalism and Telecommunications.

"The media say they're against the status quo, but they're not," Hertog said. "They look at things as they are."

"Rather than provide the forum in which third parties can break in, the media continue the horse race coverage," he said. "The third parties are good for news oddities and feature stories."

Hertog noted some of the common ways reporters write dismissively of third parties.

"They'll write the third-party candidate is 'fighting the good fight' or start with 'even though he has no chance,'" Hertog said.

"It's not so much the negative coverage as the lack of it," he said.

Hertog said journalists he interviewed defend their treatment of third parties based on their perceptions of reader interest.

"They say if third parties want our attention, they need to win a primary," Hertog said. "They say third parties need to organize and brush off their own role in making that happen."

Hertog said "alternative" media (e.g., those such as ACE Weekly) are just as stuck on the "likely-winner" scenario as their mainstream counterparts.

"Even the alternative press in 1996 didn't cover the third parties very well," Hertog said. "Many outlets gave one story and then went back to covering the two major candidates."

Green Party member Ken Sain recalled the success of wrestler Jesse Ventura in the Minnesota gubernatorial race. Ventura's exposure in debates with the other two major candidates greatly boosted his chances, he said.

"Sometimes it's like a dream and you wonder, 'Can we really do this?'" Sain said at an April meeting of the Green Party at the Lexington Public Library on Main Street.

"But if we can really get 15 percent [in the public opinion polls] and get [Nader] into the debates, you have a shot at it," Sain said.

Organizers of the presidential debates stipulate a candidate needs to register at least 15 percent in public opinion polls before earning a place. One opinion poll released in mid-April reported Nader had 5.7 percent support.

The Kentucky Green Party webpage urges a boycott of Anheuser-Busch, the sponsor of this year's presidential debates, to push for inclusion of more candidates than just the two major parties.

"Nader could appeal to a large constituency if he could get his message out," said Donald Gross, a political science professor specializing in American politics at the University of Kentucky.

Gross suggested Nader could attract 15 or 20 percent of the vote with his anti-corporate power message.

Voters can more fully investigate Nader and the Green Party at their next meeting 7 p.m., May 25, fourth floor of the public library on Main Street.

Alex De Grand can be reached at 225-4889 or


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