Last week there was some controversy regarding KVIA’s decision to limit their mayoral debates to the top three mayoral candidates that have raised the most money. It was a controversy about the news media’s responsibility to be fair. Let us put the KVIA mayoral candidate debate in context. It is nice to believe that the news media is supposed to be fair and equal during the election cycle. Much of this belief derives from the propaganda that the news media, itself, has created over the years – the fair and balance narrative. The other thing driving the issue is that when newspapers and televisions, especially televisions, came to be, they were fully dependent on the government’s airwaves to operate. The FCC mandated special rules in return for permission to transmit television signals over the air. Like all bureaucracies, some of the rules are still in place, although the airwaves have vastly expanded and the Internet and satellites have provided additional channels.
Candidate’s access to the electorate is no longer dependent on government access. This is because candidate’s have access to the electorate via the Internet and through other means. Is it fair? No, but it doesn’t matter because television stations, like KVIA are businesses.
That is the most important fact to keep in mind when discussing the news media and fairness – it is all about the money.
Jaime O. Perez, a candidate for mayor, mounted a grass roots effort, both in his candidacy and through his guerilla marketing of castigating KVIA for its decision to exclude him. Perez, may seem to many of you as complaining, when in fact, he took KVIA’s decision and turned into an attention getting gimmick to force you to pay attention to his candidacy.
That is the important lesson up-and-coming candidates for office should take to heart. The news media is neither fair nor must it provide you access to the electorate. The news media is a business. Proof of this lies in how the newspapers have been vanishing or getting smaller in the last few years.
The notion that news reporters are fair and balanced is archaic. Again, proof of this lies in the restructuring of the news media in recent years.
But what are challengers to entrenched politics supposed to do?
That is the answer, either to be independently wealthy, as in Donald Trump, or mount an aggressive grassroots effort over the long term.
But, but the news media must provide me access to the electorate, if not how are they going to know about me?
Television and other debates are not mechanisms for the electorate to get to know you in local elections. They are mechanisms to provide fodder for opposition gimmicks and for the news media to use. They do not sway a local election.
A grassroots effort requires months, if not years, of creating the narrative that a challenger needs to unseat the incumbent. A blog, ongoing public speaking engagements and in-your-face politics is what is necessary to overcome the entrenched bureaucracy.
Jim Tolbert is the perfect example of this.
Tolbert used his environmental advocacy to bring attention to himself. That, in itself, was not enough, although Tolbert spent countless hours on that endeavor. That effort put his name on the electorate’s consciousness. But he kept at it over the years, offering blog commentary to build a grassroots base and offering news appearances for name recognition. Tolbert also had the benefit of his friendship with the Karlsruher family, who used their business network and their son’s blog to create support for Tolbert.
But none of that is sufficient.
Jim Tolbert needed to overcome the electorate’s reluctance to go to the polls and vote against the entrenched bureaucracy that signs their paychecks. Remember, that in places like El Paso, the general electorate is indifferent and does not vote while the voting electorate votes for candidates that promise government spending to keep the money flowing to them.
What Jim Tolbert needed to do was carve out a place for himself.
He did that by attacking Larry Romero, the incumbent, via ethics complaints to force an off-schedule election.
But even that wasn’t enough because the key for Tolbert was the political agenda of removing Larry Romero, as the lynchpin to force the city manager out. Tolbert benefited from an entrenched political establishment that needed to put the city manager back in his place.
Jim Tolbert had just enough name recognition, through his blog and advocacy, to be palatable enough to sneak into office by making promises that he did not keep. Susie Byrd was the face of the entrenched bureaucracy that wanted to put the city manager back in his place, via Larry Romero.
By forcing Larry Romero out, Jim Tolbert’s team carved out a place for Jim Tolbert to sneak into office.
Things didn’t work out for Susie Byrd and her team, but that does not negate how Tolbert made it into office.
There are many contenders for office each election cycle and they mostly lose to the establishment champions. For those that get into office, it comes down to who is sneaky enough to overcome the entrenched political system.
It is extremely difficult and time consuming.
The important lesson to learn is that the news media isn’t going to give the challengers access to their audiences. It doesn’t make financial sense to do so. And, most importantly, it is not required.
Is it fair? No, but politics has never been about fairness.
Those thinking about a political future and who want to start building a grassroots network can avail themselves of Newsies, a free blogging platform that gives authors access to my audience.