Free the candidates from the media consortium

Jill Stein

The media consortium that is sponsoring two gubernatorial debates may exclude Green-Rainbow candidate Jill Stein because she hasn’t raised enough money, according to the Boston Globe, which is a member of the consortium, and the Boston Herald, which isn’t.

That raises a question: What are debates for?

Let’s start with the obvious. Only one of two things can plausibly occur on Election Day this November. Either Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick will be re-elected or his Republican opponent, Charlie Baker, will beat him. Neither Stein nor independent candidate Tim Cahill is going to win.

Given that, it’s ludicrous to believe that Cahill should be invited because he’s met the fundraising threshold while Stein should stay home. We should hear from both of them — or neither.

My own preference is that everyone be invited, at least when it’s early in the campaign. Give the longshots a chance to make their pitch and force the major-party candidates to react to their ideas. As we get closer to the wire, I think it’s legitimate to use polling in order to exclude candidates with no chance. I’d like to see Baker and Patrick debate one on one, but not yet.

Last Tuesday’s non-consortium debate, expertly moderated by WBZ-TV (Channel 4) political analyst and friend of Media Nation Jon Keller, showed it’s possible to let Baker and Patrick go at it while still giving Stein and Cahill a chance to have their say.

The biggest problem, I think, is the very existence of the consortium, which comprises the Globe, WCVB-TV (Channel 5), WHDH-TV (Channel 7), NECN, WGBH (Channel 2 and 89.7 FM) and WBUR Radio (90.9 FM).

The consortium was formed in 1994 to pressure U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy to debate his Republican rival, Mitt Romney. The gambit worked — and the fumble-mouthed Kennedy’s unexpectedly strong performances were a key to his re-election that year.

These days, though, there is never a shortage of debates. So, rather than a consortium, why not have media and civic organizations put together debates as they please, as Keller and WBZ did? You could have some debates featuring all four and others with just the two major-party candidates. You could even have a Cahill-Stein debate, which would be pretty interesting.

Let each group that wants to sponsor a debate set its own rules. The candidates can decide whether they want to participate, and the public can decide whether it wants to pay attention. But by all means, lets put an end to the media consortium and its attempts to control the political conversation.

Photo from JillStein.org.