Thursday's Mainstream Media Buzz: The Nader Factor

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:26 PM EDT

( - From major newspapers to network television, the talk in media circles Thursday morning was the Ralph Nader factor - how his third-party candidacy may harm Al Gore and help George W. Bush on November 7.

In an interview on ABC's Good Morning America, Gore was asked directly if he thinks Nader could cost him the election. He admitted it might hurt, but curiously, he backed away from his own campaign ads, which say that a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush.

On NBC's Today show, two Nader supporters debated the pros and cons of Ralph remaining in the race.

And the New York Times, in its lead editorial, called Ralph Nader's third party candidacy "a very real danger to the Gore campaign."

ABC asks Al Gore about Nader

In the live (and relatively lengthy) interview on ABC, Gore said he feels good about the election - the most exciting one in 40 years, he called it.

"I don't like the argument that a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush,'' Gore said. "It may be true," he added, but he said he'd rather "convince all the voters to support me with enthusiasm." Gore said he'd lay his record on the environment and the economy against any else's.

Then Gore moved off the Nader subject, onto what anchor Charlie Gibson called a "political speech."

By ABC's count, Nader could cost Gore six states. Bringing Gore back around to the Nader subject, Gibson noted that Nader has called Gore "a consummate political coward, forked-tongued, Pinnochio-nosed...You sort of dismiss it and move on to a political speech?" Gibson wondered.

"No, no, I'm not dismissing it, Charlie. What I'm saying, is, I'm speaking directly to those who might support him or those who might support George Bush, and I'm asking them to support the approach I am recommending.

"I think that at the end of the day, it's true most people are going to want to participate in the principle choice. And I hope that's the case - I think it will be the case -- but I am not going to ask people to vote against somebody. I want to ask them to vote for the policies that I think will be good for the country and help people have better lives in America."

Nader supporters argue on NBC

On NBC's Today show, anchor Katie Couric noted that "Ralph Nader has become a real cause for concern" in the Gore camp. Specifically, she noted that polls show Nader with enough support in three states - Oregon, Washington, and Michigan -- to drain votes away from Gore and tip the race to Bush.

Couric then interviewed two Nader supporters - one (former TV talk show host Phil Donohue) who remains committed to Ralph, and another (former Nader Raider Gary Sellers) who's urging Nader to bow out of the race for the sake of Gore and the Democratic Party.

Donohue said he "has joined millions and millions of Americans in indignation at the fact that our presidential campaign has quite literally been purchased by some of the largest corporations in this nation." He said the two major parties are "smothering" in corporate cash, as businesses hedge their bets by contributing to both Republicans and Democrats.

Reacting to a New York Times editorial that criticizes Nader as "an ego run amok," Donohue accused the newspaper of "hyperventilating at any notion of democracy." Donohue said the New York Times seems to have the attitude that "democracy would be a wonderful thing if we didn't have all these people speaking up all the time."

"We believe we are winning," said Donohue, based on the fact that "millions of Americans who have never voted before are walking into that booth on Election Day to vote for Ralph Nader as a protest against the Tweedledee and Tweedledum corporate candidates."

Gary Sellers, a former Nader Raider, told Couric that Nader "has no chance of winning but a very good chance of becoming a spoiler, and that will be his major legacy to history."

Sellers called it really sad that Nader has not lived up to promises he made when he announced he would run for president as the Green Party candidate.

"He pledged to those of us in Washington that he would not campaign in states where he would make a difference (to Gore). He's broken that pledge, and it's with a really heavy heart that all of us (Nader supporters) have decided now that we can no longer support him."

"All of us?!" interjected Donohue.

Sellers said a "stunning" number of former Nader supporters now want Ralph to swing his support to Gore.

Donohue would have none of it. "We believe there are millions and millions of Americans who seek Ralph Nader's voice, who agree with him that we shouldn't be executing retarded teenagers." Donohue said Republicans and Democrats would rather "argue the thin-beer agenda" and confuse people.

Donohue also accused the major-party candidates of "wrapping their arms around each other and saying, 'Let's not talk about the big stuff, because they may not vote for us.'"

Will a Nader candidacy empower liberals and force the Party to shift to the left? Couric asked Sellers. Yes, he said. "The consequences are really profound. Of course it'll lurch the Democratic Party a little bit to the left. But it will take 30 years to undo the harm that Ralph is going to do in the next thirty days."

"A scare tactic," muttered Donohue.

Sellers said he absolutely believes that a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush. He said George W. Bush remembers what happened to his own father when Ross Perot got into the race in 1992, draining votes away from then-President Bush and helping Clinton win the election.

New York Times weighs in on Nader

The lead editorial in the New York Times says Nader's candidacy could make a real difference in eight states with 70 electoral votes. "The country deserves a clear up-or-down vote between Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore," it says, accusing Nader of deluding his followers, brightening Bush's prospects, and dimming his own legacy as a reformer.

"He calls his wrecking-ball candidacy a matter of principle, but it looks from here like ego run amok," the editorial concludes.

But on the New York Times op-ed page, author (and liberal Democrat) Barbara Ehrenreich writes that Nader supporters are more sorrowful than spiteful: "We didn't choose to abandon the Democratic Party in its hour of need; the party chose to abandon us."

If Bush wins, Ehrenreich says, she'll be sorry but not apologetic: "It's not my fault if Mr. Gore has refused to stand up for the populist principles that might draw America's disenchanted majority back to the polls."

Ehrenreich says for old-fashioned Democrats, a vote for Nader is a chance to "prod the Democratic Party to the left re-energize American democracy. It is, she says, "a statement of affirmation and hope."

Ehrenreich has written an about-to-be-published book called Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in Boom-Time America.