WOSU’s Debate Guidelines Aim To Inform, Not Exclude

You may have read that the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) recently ruled in WOSU’s favor regarding our 2008 Congressional Debates – namely the 15th Congressional Debate. The FEC agreed with WOSU’s stance – we aim to serve the public’s interest by presenting the fairest, most informative debates we can.

Allow me to give you an inside look at our thinking.  In March of 2008, WOSU developed guidelines (full text provided underneath this post) for debates we planned to host during the upcoming election. Our experiences producing debates in 2006 prompted the creation of these guidelines. We felt that in 2006 we made too many concessions to the candidates’ campaigns.  The guidelines were instrumental in helping us present fair options to the candidates while maintaining the journalistic integrity of the events and broadcasts.

Fully anticipating the possible entry of independent or “alternate” party candidates, WOSU included a section detailing how we would decide which candidates to include in our debates. We used a variety of sources and came up with the following:

  • WOSU will include in debates all qualified candidates who have demonstrated a measurable chance of election to the office they seek.  However, the mere presence of a candidate’s name on the ballot is not enough.  To be included, a candidate has to demonstrate that he/she satisfies the following two objective criteria:
  • He/She is a legally qualified candidate under rules established by the Federal Communications Commission (based on one of the following):(A) has publicly announced his/her intention to run for the office, is qualified under applicable law to hold the office, and has qualified for a place on the ballot; or (B) has publicly committed to seeking election by the write-in method and documents that he/she is conducting an active campaign, including having a staffed campaign headquarters and receiving press coverage; and Has received five percent (5%) or more of support in a professionally conducted public opinion survey by an independent pollster.
  • If a candidate has not met the above criteria, she/he will not be included in a WOSU produced debate because such participation will hinder the audience’s understanding of the positions held by candidates who have a legitimate chance of winning election. The final decision concerning a candidate’s satisfaction of the criteria rests with the management of WOSU Public Media.

As WOSU and our co-sponsor, The Columbus Metropolitan Club,prepared for the 15th District Debate the obvious invitees were the democratic candidate, Mary Jo Kilroy  and republican candidate, Steve Stivers.

Then, we looked at independent candidate, Don Elijah Eckhart and libertarian candidate, Mark Nobel.  Both men were on the ballot.  Both were running formal campaigns.   So then we looked at whether they had a “legitimate chance” of winning.  Our cut-off was 5% support in an independent poll.  Soon after we announced the debate WCMH-TV released a poll showing Don Eckhart with 7% support.   Other polls showed similar results so we invited Mr. Eckhart to join us.  We could find no independent poll showing Mark Nobel with more than 3% support, so we did not include him in the debate.

Our reason for not inviting everyone on the ballot to participate in our debates is simple: We want to give listeners and viewers QAT (Quality Answer Time).  We have one hour to get candidates for office to answer questions and explain their stances.   The more people participating, the less time allotted to candidates with a reasonable chance of holding the office.

As WOSU started to plan the debate the Kilroy campaign insisted that “all voices should be heard.”   The liberal Mary Jo Kilroy and the very socially conservative Don Eckhart are on opposite ends of the political spectrum.  Kilroy was, presumably, trying to include Eckhart to split the Republican vote between Eckhart and the more moderate Steve Stivers.

Oddly enough, it was not the Libertarian Party candidate, Mark Nobel, who filed the complaint with the Federal Elections Commission.  It was Bill Buckel, perennial candidate (but not in 2008) and frequent caller to WOSU’s Open Line program.  I actually spoke with Mark Nobel at length about our guidelines and our reasons for not including him.  While he disagreed, he seemed to understand our reasoning.

In the election, Mark Nobel actually beat Don Eckhart by some 1,100 votes.   Neither candidate garnered 5% of the vote, however.

We also chose not to invite the Libertarian Party candidate, Steve Linnabary to our debate for the 12th Congressional District because he also failed to meet our requirement that a candidate have at least 5% support in an independent poll.

It’s a difficult balance, but the FEC seems to agree that WOSU Public Media struck it in 2008. We welcome your thoughts.
– Mike Thompson (full debate guidelines below)

WOSU Public Media – Candidate Debates Guidelines – adopted March, 2008

  • WOSU Public Media strives to bring its viewers, listeners and users balanced, comprehensive and relevant political coverage. Occasionally WOSU offers to produce debates between candidates for offices of wide interest to our audience. To help guide the production of such debates, WOSU News and Public Affairs has developed a set of guidelines.
  • WOSU Public Media political debates may occur within regularly scheduled programs Open Line, Viewpoint) or as a special production (ex. The 2006 15th District Congressional Debate).
  • WOSU has final say on the format of any debate it produces.WOSU may or may not consult with candidates and/or partnering organizations on format issues.
  • WOSU Public Media will make every effort to have candidates face each other simultaneously, live and in person.
  • If one candidate refuses to debate or if a candidate or candidates refuse to appear together, WOSU will decide on a case by case basis if the candidate(s) will be interviewed separately. Such decisions will be based upon the following factors:
    • Wide community interest in the race
    • WOSU’s programming schedule
  • However, WOSU will not produce a debate if only one candidate for a particular office agrees to participate.
  • Third – Party or Independent Candidates:  WOSU will include in debates all qualified candidates who have demonstrated a measurable chance of election to the office they seek. However, the mere presence of a candidate’s name on the ballot is not enough. To be included, a candidate has to demonstrate that he/she satisfies the following two objective criteria: He/She is a legally qualified candidate under rules established by the Federal Communications Commission (based on one of the following):(A) has publicly announced his/her intention to run for the office, is qualified under applicable law to hold the office, and has qualified for a place on the ballot; or (B) has publicly committed to seeking election by the write-in method and documents that he/she is conducting an active campaign, including having a staffed campaign headquarters and receiving press coverage; and Has received five percent (5%) or more of support in a professionally conducted public opinion survey by an independent pollster.
  • If a candidate has not met the above criteria, she/he will not be included in a WOSU produced debate because such participation will hinder the audience’s understanding of the positions held by candidates who have a legitimate chance of winning election. The final decision concerning a candidate’s satisfaction of the criteria rests with the management of WOSU Public Media.

Join The Conversation

  • http://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/jd-webb/id300043216 Jd Webb

    Thanks for putting the thought in and writing it