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
`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. …