October 19, 2012

None of these people will be the next president of the United States: former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, a Republican now running for president on the Libertarian Party ticket; Jill Stein, a Massachusetts physician, running as the Green Party’s nominee; and Virgil Goode, a former Republican congressman from Virginia running on the Constitution Party label.

They don’t have much money or name recognition, nor do they have big campaign organizations behind them. But Johnson is on the ballot in 48 states, Stein in 38, and Goode about 29.

They also have ideas that differ from President Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s.

This is the reason readers have been asking me why there hasn’t been more coverage of the third-party candidates, and why in particular they weren’t included in the excellent series of stories examining Obama’s and Romney’s stands on the issues, which The Post published Oct. 8-12 in print editions and is available online at washingtonpost.com as The Issue Engine.

These were excellent compilations and analyses of the two major-party candidates’ positions on issues ranging from health care to immigration, with informative graphics. Through reading them, I gained a greater understanding of the two men’s positions than I got from either of the televised debates.

Democrats and Republicans together have a monopoly on political power, but they do not have a monopoly on ideas.

Stein, for example, would make the state National Guard the centerpiece of national defense, cut Pentagon spending in half and close many U.S. bases overseas.

Johnson would make a clear pathway to citizenship for immigrants wanting to work in this country and legalize online gambling.

Goode wants the estate tax eliminated and English established as the official U.S. language, and he supports just about anything that would stop illegal immigration.

The Post has covered Goode with at least five stories in the past year, plus some blog posts. He was newsworthy because GOP leaders in Virginia tried to keep him off the ballot; they were worried that Goode could become a spoiler, taking enough votes away from Romney in Virginia to tip the divided state toward Obama.

But coverage of Johnson and Stein has been scant. Stein’s effort to get federal matching funds — she did finally — merited one A-section story. The other four stories and briefs about her in the past year appeared in the Style section because Stein’s unsuccessful rival for the Green Party nomination was sitcom star Roseanne Barr. Not exactly a substantive treatment.

Johnson, who registered at 4 percent in Virginia in a September Post poll, got an A-section brief in December when he dropped out of the race for the GOP nomination to switch to the Libertarian Party, and he got a few blog posts and mentions in other poll and fundraising stories. But that’s it.

That all changed two weeks ago, when The Post’s new 15-minute daily television show, The Fold, debuted. Because of Goode’s potential spoiler role in Virginia, The Fold staff decided to interview him, and that went so well they decided to do Johnson and Stein as well, who both jumped at the chance to come to The Post’s video suite for the interviews.

Each of the three answered five substantive questions on issues in short but informative interviews. Kudos to The Fold, one of The Post’s newest innovations, which is designed to be viewed on Google Internet televisions, Android tablets and, of course, on The Post Web site. It’s too bad the newsroom and politics staff didn’t emulate The Fold.

Marcus Brauchli, The Post’s executive editor, said, “We recognize that the third-party candidates have followers and raise issues of importance to many voters. We’ll look for ways to address them.”

It’s not The Post’s job to be boosters for any presidential candidate, not even these minor parties’ nominees. It’s up to the candidates to compete in the rough-and-tumble of politics in a country skewed, with its winner-take-all system, toward two major parties.

But it is part of our First Amendment franchise to hear people out and to give voice to the voiceless, even if they can’t win and register only in single digits in the polls.

Patrick B. Pexton can be reached at 202-334-7582 or at ombudsman@washpost.com.