Jan 04, 2008 23:03 EST
Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich filed a complaint with the FCC on Friday after ABC News excluded him, fellow Democrat Mike Gravel and Republican Duncan Hunter from its prime-time debates on Saturday.
Kucinich argued that ABC is violating equal-time provisions by keeping him out of the debate and noted that ABC’s parent Walt Disney Co. had contributed to campaigns involving the four Democrats who were invited.
“ABC should not be the first primary,” the Ohio congressman said in papers filed at the Federal Communications Commission.
ABC said the candidates left out of the debates failed to meet benchmarks for their support that were outlined to each campaign prior to the Iowa caucus. Kucinich did not complain about these rules ahead of time, said spokeswoman Cathie Levine, who had no further comment since she hasn’t seen the FCC filing.
ABC said it hoped to encourage more conversation and interaction among the candidates during the debates, which will both be moderated by Charles Gibson. The stakes are high as candidates take the stage three days before the New Hampshire primary.
The Republican debate will include Iowa caucus winner Mike Huckabee, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. It starts at 7 p.m. EST.
Shortly after that 90-minute forum, Democrats Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Bill Richardson will take the stage at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H.
The network set rules to narrow the field. Candidates had to meet at least one of three criteria: place first through fourth in Iowa, poll 5 percent or higher in one of the last four major New Hampshire surveys, or poll 5 percent or higher in one of the last four major national surveys.
Democrats Joe Biden and Chris Dodd took some of the pressure off ABC by quitting the race Thursday night.
“In previous debates where the stage was more crowded you had to make sure all of the candidates got fair time,” said David Chalian, ABC News political director. “Here you will have more time to go in depth on the issues.”
ABC said it believed its rules were inclusive, while also ensuring viewers get a thorough look at the probable next president.
“We’re regretful that we’re not going to be in it,” said Roy Tyler, a spokesman for Hunter. “We’re just going to keep working. I think it’s a mistake on their part to exclude any viable candidate at this point.”
Fox News Channel is sponsoring a debate in its mobile studio Sunday that excludes Paul and Hunter. Huckabee, Giuliani, Romney, Thompson and McCain have been invited.
Each debate will be divided into two parts. During the first 45 minutes, Gibson will select three prominent issues to promote a dialogue. The candidates will be seated and encouraged to talk to each other, and not just to the cameras, Gibson said.
“If I have any personal prejudice against these debates, it’s that you see too much of the moderator,” Gibson said. “I want to see less of the moderator and more of the candidates.”
There won’t be any buzzers or lights on the stage to mark time limits for talking, putting the pressure on Gibson to limit filibusters and promote fairness.
The second half of the debate will be a more traditional format, with Gibson and WMUR-TV political director Scott Spradling asking questions on a variety of topics. Candidates will be asked to keep their answers to a minute, Chalian said.
Gibson said he hoped to have a few minutes where both Republican and Democratic candidates are on the same stage, to promote the idea that despite differences, all are Americans hoping for the best for their country. The auditorium will be quickly emptied between debates and a new audience brought in.
Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos will lead ABC’s coverage. Three hours of live debate with both Republican and Democratic candidates represents a grueling on-air test for Gibson, ABC’s chief news anchor.
“I didn’t volunteer,” he said. “It’s something new, it’s something different. I can fail miserably at this and may well do so but we’re looking for some ways to do something different.”
ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co. Fox is a unit of News Corp.