Ethics Quiz: The Martin O’Malley Dilemma

hooked-off-stageI didn’t mention it in the post on the last Democratic presidential candidates debate (I should have), but the NBC moderators went out of their way to give as little attention and camera time to former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley as possible. The frustrated third wheel found himself begging for time like Jim Webb in the first debate, and several commentators have noted that Andrea Mitchell and Lester Holt were openly disrespectful to him, making it clear to all that he was irrelevant.

Disrespect is usually unethical, and the conduct of the moderators was indeed disrespectful, essentially marginalizing O’Malley and muzzling him as well. The context, however, is that they may have a point. O’Malley has been running from the start. He has said nothing to distinguish himself from Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, other than remind everyone that he’s the only ex-governor in the race. He is polling in Lincoln Chafee territory, even though his opposition is a superannuated socialist whose positions make no sense, and a previously rejected serial liar who is facing a possible indictment. Is he the equivalent of the guest who won’t leave the party?

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz question today:

Is the news media treating Martin O’Malley unfairly?

I’m not going to answer this, except to note a couple of things. It is not the news media’s job or proper role to decide who is or is not a legitimate candidate. You may recall that the Huffington Post announced that it would not cover Donald Trump’s candidacy because it, in its unquestionable wisdom, had concluded that he he was a buffoon and his campaign was a sham. Obviously, a lot of members of the American public felt differently, and Huffpo had to reverse itself. Two entities get to decide who legitimate candidates are: the parties, and the public. The media gets to cover the race and comment; it does not have the authority, ethical or otherwise,  to embargo candidates. There hasn’t even been a vote yet. The media claims it’s following the race objectively, but aren’t ratings driving who it covers and who it doesn’t? The Huffington Post may have gone too far, but hasn’t the news media’s obsession with Donald Trump contributed to making him a serious threat to win the GOP nomination? Is this not an abuse of power and influence?

On the other side of the issue, when does it become offensive for an alleged candidate to waste our time and detract from the real race? O’Malley has some powerful arguments to make against Clinton and Sanders, but has thus far refused to make them. If his plan is to hang around hoping that Hilary ends up on trial and that his party will refuse to nominate a crackpot who honeymooned in the Soviet Union, is that enough to warrant full and equal coverage? At some point, doesn’t a candidate have an obligation to get off the stage? If he doesn’t, is it wrong for journalists to point to the exits?

Martin O’Malley may indeed be irrelevant, but these questions are not. What is the proper role of journalists in a national election? When does a dark horse candidacy get in the way of choosing a leader?

13 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: The Martin O’Malley Dilemma

  1. I dunno. Is this any different than Dennis Kucinich being the last to leave the race in 2004, long after John Kerry already had enough delegates to win the nomination? He got many kudos on commondreams.org for being the only real liberal still in the race and how his campaign could “drive the engines of history” by putting certain ideas front and center, like the idea of a Department of Peace to counterbalance the Department of Defense. Eventually he was told to get back to representing his constituents in Congress and stop wasting time on campaigns that were going nowhere, but it was too late, and he was redistricted out of Congress altogether.

    O’Malley has no such grandiose ideas, true, most likely he is hanging around hoping for a cabinet post from whoever wins, i.e. Hillary.

  2. I haven’t actually been watching the debates, but it seems that if a process selects candidates to be in a debate, that the rules of the debate should give time to all of those candidates. If someone’s not going to be heard, they shouldn’t be invited.

    In the old days, of course, O’Malley’s equal time problems could be solved by the simple strategem of showing up in a little black dress, sensible heels, and tiara. Doesn’t even get you noticed today….

  3. It appears to me that, ethical or not, you get off the stage when you run out of money not ideas. It is unethical for the media to marginalize any candidate still on the stage but when they will not get off the stage voluntarily what are you to do? Remember Harold Stassen?

    Maybe it was all over when the Supreme Court gave up the fight on corruption by limiting it to quid pro quo transactions. Well, if enough of us piss in to the wind maybe the rest of us will get wet wake-up and make some changes

  4. Bugs Bunny. Greatest character in American fiction. Ain’t show business grand. Most days just the appended illustrations make visiting this site worthwhile.

      • You’re welcome. I often think, “Where the heck does he find all these images? How does he find all these images? How does he think them up and then find them?” Very impressive. They add a welcome sense of humor to a very serious enterprise.

        “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down…”

  5. I don’t know. Lo and Orin’s comments seem to lean towards a media bias (“that the rules of the debate should give time to all of those candidates” “It is unethical for the media to marginalize any candidate still on the stage”) but I’d argue that the media isn’t marginalizing O’Malley… The polls have already done that. It doesn’t make much sense for someone polling at what? 2%? To be given equal time to someone polling over 50. SO what’s fair? the percentage of time allocated based on your poll results? O’Malley might have weighted high. At this point it might be fair to consider him a fringe candidate.

    My question is who’s fault is it he’s on that stage: Is it him, for being an idiot? MSNBC for giving him a platform, or the DNC, for not dropping him a month ago?

    • I would venture to say that the DNC made sure he was on stage. That way Hillary was flanked by two non-starter candidates. Otherwise it would have been Hillary and Bernie. They couldn’t have that. It would have made Bernie look like he was equal to Hillary. Martin knew he didn’t belong and so did the moderators.

  6. I’d say that as far as the debate goes, his being invited and then excluded is unfair – by giving him the time and the platform, theoretically he could rise in the polls. But as far as coverage is concerned, I say he gets that when he earns it.

    Of course, sit tight and stay the course isn’t such a terrible campaign strategy this far out when running against a loon and a crook standing in the crosshairs of the law.

  7. If O’Malley is thinking, “for the sake of the country, somebody has to stay in the race who’s not a crook and not a crackpot, and I’m the only person currently volunteering to do that,” then I say he’s right to stay.

    • He’s a huge disappointment. He hasn’t had the guts or principle to either call Hillary on her lies, or Bernie on his insane economics. That makes him corrupted,in my book. What’s the point of running if you won’t try to win? At least the Republicans are competing. I have very little respect for O’Malley.

      • Maybe it’s the DNC’s idea so it doesn’t come down to a choice between Hillary and Bernie and result in independents walking away from the party.

      • From a strategic standpoint, attacking Bernie and Hillary is not a great idea for someone who is already not very popular within the party – attacking popular people tends to make you less popular, not more popular.

        O’Malley basically has no way to win at this point. Hillary and Bernie are both acceptable to the party as a whole, he doesn’t have anything going for him. And he doesn’t have any substantially interesting or unique policy positions.

        He really should have given up a while ago.

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