THE NATIONAL TV networks' Washington broadcast affiliates don't seem very interested in who is elected governor of Virginia. When the two major candidates square off in their third and last debate Sunday night, none of the three network broadcast affiliates will air the event live. Nor will WETA, the Washington area's public television station.
The leading candidates, Democratic Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and Republican Jerry W. Kilgore, the former attorney general, are neck and neck in the polls. This debate may easily be the most important of the campaign; their first debate, in July, was not aired at all, and their second, last month, received scant television coverage. By contrast, this weekend's debate in Richmond, organized by the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, is to be aired live by network affiliates and public television stations in virtually every corner of the state -- except Northern Virginia, the most populous one. What a bad call.
Things are not completely dire for the 70 percent of households with access to cable. C-SPAN 1 and cable's News Channel 8 will air the debate live, at 7 p.m. For night owls and VCR devotees, NBC's Channel 4 (WRC) will broadcast the debate at midnight, and CBS's Channel 9 (WUSA) plans to carry it at 2:05 a.m. Monday. And the Web sites of both the CBS affiliate (at www.wusatv9.com) and the NBC affiliate (at www.nbc4.com) plan to stream the debate live.
True, the network affiliates would have to sacrifice some advertising revenue to carry an hour-long, commercial-free debate. But that doesn't explain why WETA, the commercial-free local public television station, is opting out. A spokesman for WETA said, by way of explanation, that the station simply does not get involved with the region's gubernatorial debates. Instead, at 7 p.m. Sunday, WETA viewers will be treated to "Cuba: Wild Island of the Caribbean," whose promotional materials tout the wonders of the "iridescent Cuban jewel ant."