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Controversy Grows Over Excluding ‘Outsider’ Candidates From Debates

Gubernatorial candidate Jill Stein of the Green-Rainbow Party speaks to a reporter after she was excluded from a gubernatorial debate in Braintree on Tuesday. (AP)

BOSTON — In the race for governor of Massachusetts there’s a growing controversy about just who should be invited to participate in the debates. Earlier this week, Jill Stein of the Green-Rainbow Party, who is on the ballot, was excluded from a debate sponsored by WBZ-AM. A consortium of news organizations, which includes WBUR, has also argued that Stein should only be included if she can demonstrate that she’s a viable candidate.

“People in charge of the debates have no business pre-judging election outcomes when they decide who to let in on a debate.”
– former independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader

In Braintree on Tuesday night, WBZ-AM’s Dan Rea welcomed Gov. Deval Patrick, Republican challenger Charlie Baker and Independent candidate Tim Cahill.

Jill Stein, The Outsider

A fourth candidate hoping to be governor — Jill Stein of the Green-Rainbow Party — was outside, along with a small group of supporters. Stein insists that because she met the legal requirements to be on the ballot, she should have been included in the debate.

“I’m running to give voters another choice outside of Beacon Hill. We’ve got a Beacon Hill boys club in there tonight,” Stein said.

Stein blames Boston’s media outlets for pre-judging her and short-changing the voters.

“They’re messing with the public airwaves and a really critical public process in our democracy. If we don’t have the responsible journalists expanding our debate, not shutting it down, not censoring it, then we are in real trouble,” she said.

The other candidates, including Patrick, agree that Stein should be allowed to participate.

“Pundits and pollsters and experts and all that, they’re busy trying to tell the public what the outcome is going to be before the public has had a chance to engage or even cast a vote. She’s a serious candidate — she ought to be in, I agree,” Patrick said.

WBZ’s Defense

In a written statement, WBZ says it made the decision to exclude Stein after considering a number of factors — including poll numbers, fundraising and whether she had a “reasonable expectation of winning.”

The Boston Media Consortium, which includes The Boston Globe, two local TV stations and WBUR, has similar standards and is planning two gubernatorial debates: one the week of Sept. 20 and a second in October.

“There just isn’t that much time if you have too many candidates,” said WBUR Managing Director of News and Programming Sam Fleming.

“We all know that from primaries where you have forums and everybody gets to speak for a minute here and a minute there. And at the end you really don’t have a true sense of where each the candidates is coming from.”

The Case For Lower-Profile Candidates

“People in charge of the debates have no business pre-judging election outcomes when they decide who to let in on a debate,” said Ralph Nader.

Nader is probably one of the most famous — some might say infamous — third-party candidates. The long-time consumer and reform advocate says locking legitimate candidates out of debates deprives voters of choice.

“Furthermore, these debates are on public airwaves, which are owned by the people. And there’s an obligation to recognize that if a candidate is ballot qualified candidate, as Dr. Jill Stein is, then she should be in the debates,” Nader said.

But Dan Payne — a Democratic political analyst for WBUR — says WBZ and the consortium are right to keep less viable candidates, such as Stein, out.

“Because Jill Stein will get one quarter of the time and camera and she has not a million-to-one chance to become governor. For her to be given a seat at the table is unfair to the voters, who will then have to wade through the clutter of a fourth candidate in the race,” Payne said.

Among the conditions set by the Boston Media Consortium, a candidate must have raised at least $100,000 by Oct. 1. Stein is well short of that. But because next week’s debate comes before that deadline, the consortium reversed itself and will allow her to participate in it.

But it will probably exclude her from the second one, so this debate will continue.

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