Edwards choked for air

Airtime, that is—an inherent effect of bucking big-bucksters

About the author:
Writer/cartoonist Ted Rall is syndicated nationally. His most recent book is Wake Up, You’re Liberal! How We Can Take America Back From the Right.

In 2004, Democrats were determined to pick the presidential nominee who had the best chance of defeating George W. Bush in the general election. That man was the feisty former governor of Vermont, Howard Dean. One could easily imagine him mercilessly flaying Bush in debates before trouncing Yale’s least favorite son in November.

Primary voters, mistakenly betting that blandness and moderation would be a better sell, chose John Kerry instead.

The party of Hubert Humphrey and Michael Dukakis seems poised to err again, whether with Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. Polls show that two-thirds of Americans think the country is ready for a female or black president; when a third of the electorate tells you “we’re” not ready for a woman or a black commander-in-chief, they really mean that they won’t vote for one. So John Edwards is more likely to beat Mitt Romney or John McCain than either of his history-making rivals, just by showing up with pale skin and a Y chromosome.

But even aside from electability, Edwards ought to be the Democratic frontrunner. His populist campaign—bashing corporations and free-trade deals that have led to a decline in wages—seems perfectly timed for an economy everyone admits is in a recession. His platform offers more red meat for the party’s liberal base than Clinton or Obama: total withdrawal from Iraq in nine months, Euro-style health care, full financial aid for students admitted to public colleges and universities.

Photo By jason moore/zuma press

However, the media starved Edwards of the oxygen campaigns require in order to thrive: coverage.

Shortly after placing second in Iowa, the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that Edwards received a puny 7 percent of national media coverage. Clinton and Obama got between four and five times more—yet their poll numbers were nowhere close to that much higher than Edwards'.

‘The media goes to this very engaging story about a legitimate woman candidate and a legitimate candidate with an African-American heritage, and that drives up their fund-raising numbers,” Elizabeth Edwards told Time. ‘Then the media folks say, ‘See, that proves we were right to focus on these two candidates.’ … It’s enough to make you tear your hair out.”

But there’s more to the Edwards story (and nonstories) than reporters dazzled by Clinton and Obama. There is no precedent in memory of the news media freezing out a major presidential candidate to this extent.

Some point to early missteps—the $400 haircut, the big mansion, even his decision to keep running despite his wife’s cancer—as causes of Edwards’ electoral misfortune. But the truth is obvious: Major media outlets are owned by big corporations.

Greg Valliere, chief political strategist at the Stanford Group think tank, told Reuters: ‘My sense is that Obama would govern as a reasonably pragmatic Democrat…. I think Hillary is approachable. She knows where a lot of her funding has come from, to be blunt.” Edwards, on the other hand, is ‘an anti-business populist” and ‘a trade protectionist” who ‘would be viewed as a threat to business.”

No longer.