NEVADA SUPREME COURT RULES AGAINST KUCINICH IN DEBATE DISPUTE
By Ken Ritter
January 15, 2008
LAS VEGAS -- A lower court order that Democratic presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich be included in a MSNBC candidate debate Tuesday was tossed out a few hours before the debate by the Nevada Supreme Court.
Lawyers for NBC Universal Inc. had asked the high court to overturn the lower court order that the cable TV news network include the Ohio congressman or pull the plug on broadcasting the debate Tuesday night with Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards.
The Supreme Court's unanimous order said that blocking the debate unless Kucinich got to participate would be “an unconstitutional prior restraint” on the news network's First Amendment rights.
Justices also said the lower court exceeded its jurisdiction by ordering Kucinich's participation even though “he first requested and was denied relief” from the Federal Communications Commission.
“It's a matter of being on stage and answering questions. That's the issue,” lawyer Bill McGaha argued for Kucinich during a hearing before four justices in Las Vegas. Three other justices participated by closed-circuit video conference from Carson City.
Donald Campbell, a Las Vegas lawyer representing NBC Universal, accused Kucinich of trying to make a jurisdictional “end run” around the FCC and federal courts by suing in Nevada state court to be added to the debate.
FCC broadcast rules do not apply to cable TV networks, Campbell said, adding that forcing MSNBC to add Kucinich or not broadcast the debate amounted to prior restraint and would be a “clear and unequivocal” violation in First Amendment press freedom.
“Mr. Kucinich's claim . . . undermines the wide journalistic freedoms enjoyed by news organizations under the First Amendment,” Campbell said in his appeal.
Kucinich emerged from the hearing saying he would make no comment until the justices ruled. He headed for a rally in front of the Las Vegas meeting hall where the debate was scheduled.
Jeremy Gaines, a spokesman for MSNBC, said the cable network also was awaiting a decision from the court. He declined further comment.
Senior Clark County District Court Judge Charles Thompson's order declared the state court had jurisdiction over a dispute involving a debate to be held in Las Vegas, “and that this is a matter which affects the public interest.”
The judge decided an initial invitation to Kucinich to debate represented a contract between the candidate and MSNBC, and ruled that if MSNBC doesn't include Kucinich, it was prohibited from broadcasting the debate.
McGaha told the judge on Monday that MSNBC and a Democratic party liaison at first invited Kucinich and then dropped him from the debate.
Campbell said MSNBC decided to go with the top three candidates after the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries.
Kucinich drew less than 2 percent of the Democratic vote in the New Hampshire primary, after attracting little support and no delegates in the Iowa caucus.
DEBATE ON MSNBC IS ALLOWED TO GO ON, WITHOUT KUCINICH
By Brian Stelter
New York Times
January 15, 2008
Representative Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio was prevented from participating in the Democratic presidential debate Tuesday night after the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that MSNBC was not required to include him.
The seven-member court overturned a ruling Monday by a Nevada district court judge.
The decision, which came one hour before the debate was set to begin in Las Vegas, meant that Mr. Kucinich would not share the stage with the party’s leading contenders, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, and former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina. The debate was [to] beg[i]n at 9 p.m. Eastern time.
MSNBC had no immediate comment. It is likely to be described as a First Amendment victory by the news organization, as its lawyers had argued that it had a right, as a privately owned network, to determine who to invite. MSNBC changed the criteria for participation after other candidates dropped out of the Democratic race last week.
On Monday, Charles Thompson, a senior district court judge, ruled that Mr. Kucinich should be allowed to participate in the debate, citing a breach of contract by NBC Universal.
Two days after a consultant for NBC invited Mr. Kucinich to the debate, NBC changed the criteria to include only candidates who had placed first, second, or third in the Iowa caucuses or New Hampshire primaries. That excluded Mr. Kucinich, who has averaged 3 percent to 4 percent support in recent Nevada polls, prompting him to file a complaint on Monday.
The district court judge sided with Mr. Kucinich and said he would issue an injunction halting the debate if he was excluded. NBC Universal requested an emergency review. The state Supreme Court sided with it. The court also ruled that he did not have an enforceable contract.
Mr. Kucinich had previously framed his disinvitation as an attempt by NBC to muzzle dissenting voices. In a statement last week, he labeled corporate news media control of information sinister and un-American.
KUCINICH DECRIES GE-MEDIA CONSPIRACY
By Emily Richmond
Las Vegas Sun
January 15, 2008
At 5:25 p.m., shortly after the Nevada Supreme Court refused to give Dennis Kucinich a seat at the debate, a small band of his supporters marched to a far corner of a parking lot outside the Cashman Center, where supporters of the three major candidates.
Spectators soon realized that Kucinich was among them. He said:
“The fact of the matter is, NBC is owned by General Electric. General Electric makes power plants. General Electric wants to make sure there is a place to dump the waste.”
He was talking about nuclear waste and the now shuttered Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump site northwest of Las Vegas. Kucinich has joined the state of Nevada in opposing the dump. Thus, he said, GE is trying to keep him off the air.
“Now the media has become an issue in this campaign by trying to determine who should be in this debate,” he said.
The Cleveland congressman said he will fight for changes to Federal Communications Commission law to ensure that future candidates can participate in debates. “This underlying corruption is something that undermines our democracy. I’m asking you to continue our efforts to stand up and speak.”
Kucinich has been allowed to participate in all but one of the Democratic debates. He was barred from the Las Vegas debate by NBC after poor showings in the Iowa and New Hampshire contests.