Three - That's the magic number
Why can't news people count past two?
By Alex De Grand

Can the media count past two?

If reporters and editors can actually count to three - or four and five - they have a hard time demonstrating it during election years when the idea of a presidential candidate who is neither a Democrat nor a Republican seems to baffle them.

Critics charge part of the problem is the media's fixation on winners and losers - the political "horse race." Concepts broader than that -like building public consciousness for a program or issue - overwhelm the narrow construct of who finished first.

Receiving meaningful news coverage can be challenging for third parties.

"The media say they're against the status quo, but they're not," said James Hertog, a University of Kentucky associate professor who studies third parties, in an interview earlier this year. "They look at things as they are."

Green Party presidential hopeful Ralph Nader came to Kentucky in April and media coverage was preoccupied with whether he should even be in the race.

"Won't you just take votes away from Al Gore and give the election to George Bush?" was the largely rhetorical question most on the minds of wannabe pundits who obviously assumed the answer was "yes."

And even after many eventful months for the Greens since then - including record-setting attendance at a Boston rally in September and a sell-out crowd at Madison Square Garden last week - the song remains the same.

During an October 11 press conference in Louisville where Nader challenged his rivals to take a tougher stand on auto safety in the wake of Firestone's defective tires, one of the first questions was "Don't you take votes away from Gore?"

A Green Party activist said, "I thought we might get through this [press conference] without hearing that one again."

Asked if the question was getting old, Nader responded graciously.

"If it's on people's minds, you've got to answer it," Nader said.

Nader added there is an element of truth to the question.

"We are taking votes away [from the two other parties]," he said. "We're building a third party and that's what you do."

But this question seemingly asked during every encounter with the press demonstrates a gulf between the media and the rest of the public that some critics argue threatens to make "the news" increasingly irrelevant to regular people.

After Nader finished speaking to reporters, he ventured into a crowd of voters to field their questions and comments. The approximately 50 people gathered in the atrium of the Jefferson County Courthouse were markedly less concerned about Nader's election strategy and more interested in his thoughts on urban gentrification and black lung.

After covering so many pre-packaged presidential campaigns, it might be hard for the press to recognize an honest connection between candidates and voters.

During an August visit to Anderson County High School, Republican vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney followed standard operating procedure, dispensing empty pleasantries like "this must be the home of the Bearcats" as an attempt to connect with the locals.

In contrast, the Nader campaign distributed a statement detailing their candidate's opposition to a proposed merger of Jefferson County and Louisville governments.

Some reporters snickered, insinuating an out-of-town presidential candidate wasn't knowledgeable enough to hold an opinion on a local controversy.

"I'm gonna ask him about KERA," one reporter joked.

"He'll say 'She's a nice girl,'" another said.

But when asked about the merger, Nader reminded the reporters that consolidating political jurisdictions isn't an idea exclusive to Kentucky. He said mergers have been tried in other parts of the country and they raise problems of diluting minority representation.

In his statement, Nader noted the merger plan would replace a municipal government where African-Americans comprise 33 percent of the population with a merged government in which that would shrink to 18 percent.

With a shift away from minority-working class central city constituencies to the more affluent suburbs, Nader suggested the merger threatens collective bargaining rights for labor, local civil rights legislation, local environmental laws and other progressive legislation.

Local issues are important to a party that is appealing to a renewed sense of community. Nader said the Green Party will be an intensely grassroots undertaking.

"One million people giving $100 and 100 hours [of volunteer time] can build the party to majoritarian status," Nader told reporters.

Nader predicted the Greens will emerge from this election as the major alternative to the Republicans and Democrats.

"This political movement will be motivated by the millions of votes it gets in November," Nader said.

Alex De Grand can be reached at 225-4889 ext. 232 or


Now hear this

Following an admission by various city officials that garbage collection is "hazardous" work, Lexington's sanitation workers have a proposal to make their pay and benefits reflect that.

The proposal calls for setting the sanitation worker's minimum salary at $24, 229.57 and a sanitation equipment operator's minimum salary at $29,628.92. Last month, the city reported the current minimum salary for a sanitation worker is $17,201.60 and the current minimum salary for an equipment operator is $20,675.20.

Sanitation workers are also calling on the city to pass a resolution asking the General Assembly to qualify them for hazardous duty retirement benefits that allow an employee to retire after 20 years rather than 27, among other features.

The city should also push the state toward creating a fund that will provide training incentive pay to sanitation workers, according to the proposal.

Consideration of the proposal could begin with the next meeting of the subcommittee on solid waste salaries and benefits 5 p.m. October 25 in the fifth floor conference room of the Government Center. - ADG

Go Big Green!

As of press time, KET plans to broadcast at 10 p.m. October 20 the debate among candidates for the fourth congressional district seat, including Ken Sain, Kentucky's only Green Party candidate for Congress.

Sain, the first Green to run for Congress in the history of Kentucky, is challenging incumbent Democrat Ken Lucas from the left. Lucas is the starkly conservative Democrat who made national news when he denounced Al Gore as too liberal.

Sain argues he can win in this four-way race (a Democrat, a Republican, a Green and a Libertarian) if he musters enough support among progressives who have been ignored in the Northern Kentucky district for a long time.

Take a look at KET and make your own judgment if Sain has a shot. - ADG

Still waiting

Women sexually assaulted by former Franklin County Jailer Hunter Hay will have to wait a little longer to see if they'll receive the $5 million awarded to them in 1997 after suing Franklin County government for failing to protect them.

In September, the state Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 against Franklin County's appeal of the judgment. Earlier this month, the Franklin County Fiscal Court renewed its resolve to keep fighting the verdict, voting to continue all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary.

As for Hay who was sentenced to 10 years in 1995 for his crimes against the women who were his employees, the former jailer was recently denied parole despite pleas from family and friends, including Wayne Smith, the retired senior minister at Southland Christian Church in Lexington. - ADG