One of the important things that happened during this recent campaign season was the censoring by the Press of non democratic/republican candidates. This has been a nation-wide problem for a long time. The ‘Naderization’ of candidates is a growing threat to the electoral process.
Nowhere in the country has the problem with the Press been more serious than in the southern half of Vermont. Letters of support of non major Party candidates were not published. Campaign statements were not published. There was total news blackout in most of southern Vermont. Voters had almost no access to relevant candidate information.
This news blackout was so extreme that newspapers in the southern part of Vermont even refused to insert the Candidate Information Publication. This official, non-partisan publication had been authorized by the Vermont Legislature (17 V.S.A. 2810 b) and paid for by the taxpayers. As a contrast, newspapers in the central and northern parts of Vermont such as The Burlington Free Press, The Newport Daily News, The Rutland Herald, and The Times Argus inserted and distributed the publication. Those newspapers are to be commended for their public service.
The Office of Secretary of State is to be commended for sending more than a thousand copies of the publication to a private citizen in the southern part of the State. As a last resort, the citizen had volunteered to distribute the publication – a much less efficient system of distribution than insertion in the daily newspaper.
It is now necessary for the legislature to rewrite the law so that southern Vermont will have access to relevant information. Two amendments to the law (17 V.S.A. 2810b ) are recommended. First, set a publication date for the Candidate Information Publication that would precede the first day allowed for absentee voting. Becoming an informed voter after casting the ballot is not the proper sequence of events. Second, the law must provide for a plan of distribution in the southern part of the State.
In Vermont, and across the country, many have no access to the Internet. Some areas are not in a major media market; therefore, TV news is non existent. The newspaper is the only source of information – the lifeline of the community. It is that which transforms individuals into a community. In rural USA there is no voice that is more powerful than that of the local newspaper. When any newspaper fails in its sacred mission, the community is harmed.
The Vermont news blackout has had serious consequences. Not only were ordinary voters uninformed, but even campaign workers – usually a well-informed group of activists – were so lacking in information that it inspired an article, ‘Clueless at Campaign Headquarters’. It is available on the Internet. The article describes a phone call received from campaign headquarters in southern Vermont. The worker was not aware that there were any candidates on the ballot other than McCain and Obama. In Vermont there were eight candidates for president on the ballot. Many Vermonters were unprepared to see so many names on the ballot when they entered the voting booth.
Private companies that own newspapers have editorial rights. That right should be respected. Every newspaper has the right to print, or not print, anything it wants. That is not the issue. The issue is the lack of journalistic ethics. Ethics are not required by law – or are they? If any individual interfered with the electoral process in such an extreme way that it influenced the outcome of an election, would it be acceptable?
What occurred in Vermont was an extreme violation that resulted in many ripple effects on the outcome of the election. One such effect was that the Liberty Union/Socialist Party lost Major Party Status and all of the legal rights that accompany that status.
There can be no democracy where there is not a free-flow of political information.