Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Coalition Pushes for No-Cost Air Time for Candidates Forum Would Be Journalist-Free

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Coalition Pushes for No-Cost Air Time for Candidates Forum Would Be Journalist-Free

Article excerpt

If Paul Taylor had his way, Americans would wash down dinner with a nightly dose of presidential politics.

No journalists to dull the image or question the content. No sitcoms for bored voters to switch to.

Just Bill Clinton and Bob Dole speaking in their own words about the burning issues of the day.

And ideally, newspaper readers across America would gulp down similar presidential pronouncements with their corn flakes the next morning - at least during election season.

"These campaigns only come around once every four years. It ought to be a time of national stock-taking," says Taylor, a former Washington Post political writer.

Taylor's vision is hardly about to come true. But his group, "Free TV for Straight Talk Coalition," has managed to cajole the networks into offering a limited amount of free time to presidential candidates this fall.

And two newspapers have joined the movement - offering unpaid space for candidates to state their views, unfettered by journalistic comment or analysis.

The question is whether all this free air and paper will translate into something meaningful for voters.

Will it, as supporters claim, force a more substantive national debate on issues?

Or will voters be even more turned off at being force-fed a dose of politics that disrupts their cozy nightly rituals and stalls "Seinfeld?"

`Hear Remotes Clicking'

NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw, for one, fears the latter.

"I can hear remotes clicking all over America," said Brokaw, who views Taylor's goal as "noble but impractical and unfair."

And, he added, it is insulting to brand journalists as bogeymen in the process.

"You can't have candidates saying, `I'm going on NBC tonight so I'm not going to talk to reporters today,' " Brokaw said.

Former network correspondent Marvin Kalb, director of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, is less concerned.

"It will make the newspapers and networks seem virtuous," Kalb said. "But by the time the candidates get all this free time, they will be so practiced at what they are saying that whether it is eight-minute statements or two-second sound bites, the American public is not going to be affected."

Nigel Wade, editor in chief of the Chicago Sun-Times, said reader interest - not virtue - prompted his offer to Clinton and Dole. The paper is donating two pages to each candidate to write essays on why they should be elected president. The equivalent in advertising space would cost $19,000.

"Readers have repeatedly told us that the media is getting in the way of the message," Wade said. …

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