Tuesday, October 26, 1999

Buchanan might be
poor fit for Reform

Bullet The issue: Pat Buchanan has left the Republican Party to seek the Reform Party presidential nomination.

Bullet Our view: Buchanan's strongly conservative opinions on moral issues might clash with Reform Party positions.

WE have to hand it to the Reform Party. For colorful characters, it's got the Democrats and Republicans beaten by a mile. Where could you find people to compare with Ross Perot, Jesse Ventura and now Pat Buchanan and Donald Trump?

Whether the Reform Party will be a factor in next year's elections is another matter. In the 1992 election, Perot won 19 percent of the popular vote, the highest total by a third-party candidate since Theodore Roosevelt won 27 percent in 1912. But Perot didn't do nearly as well in 1996, and the party seemed on the verge of disintegration.

Jesse Ventura's victory in the Minnesota gubernatorial race last year gave the Reform Party a new lease on life -- its only state-wide officeholder and a second figure whose name is a household word.

Now add Buchanan and Trump. It isn't clear whether they add up to an effective political force, but they sure make a fascinating collection.

Buchanan's switch is a case of blatant opportunism. Trailing badly in the campaign for the Republican nomination, he has conveniently found the two-party system "a fraud upon the nation" and decided to devote his provocative talents to the Reform Party.

Denouncing the fund-raising excesses of both parties, he admits his campaign is broke. He is obviously eyeing the $12 million in federal funds that the Reform Party candidate will receive because of Perot's showing in the 1996 election.

But it is by no means certain that the party of Perot and Ventura will go for a candidate who thinks the United States was wrong to fight Adolf Hitler.

The Reform Party is mostly known for its advocacy of a balanced budget, repayment in full of the federal debt and trade restrictions. The party platform includes a call for electoral, lobbying and campaign finance reforms. The party's candidates have tended to be neutral on social issues such as abortion, gay rights and prayer in schools -- the kinds of questions that Buchanan loves.

Buchanan is a throwback to the isolationist Roosevelt-haters of the 1930s. Typically, he declared, "This year, I believe, is our last chance to save our republic before she disappears into a godless world order." For him, balancing the federal budget and reforming the campaign finance laws are side issues.

At the same time as Buchanan made his switch, real estate billionaire Trump also quit the Republicans and registered as a member of the Reform Party. Trump, who called Buchanan "a Hitler lover," said he plans to decide early next year whether to seek the party presidential nomination.

Unlike Buchanan but like Ross Perot, Trump presumably wouldn't need the Reform Party's federal funds to mount a presidential campaign. But who knows -- Perot might decide to run again himself. What a party.

Ruling supports news
media probes

Bullet The issue: A federal appeals court has thrown out a jury's verdict against ABC for its methods in exposing Food Lion's handling of food.

Bullet Our view: The court's action should restore public confidence in aggressive media methods of uncovering wrongdoing.

A federal appeals court has overturned a North Carolina jury's punishing verdict against ABC for its muckraking methods in exposing the supermarket giant Food Lion Inc.'s sale of spoiled meat and unsanitary handling of food. The jury's verdict was a hostile reaction to what much of the public views as news media excesses. It was properly set aside to preserve the tradition of free and aggressive media.

Two producers of ABC's "Prime Time Live" began working undercover in 1992 as employees of Food Lion, hiding tiny cameras and microphones in their wigs and clothing. They recorded incidents of employees doctoring chickens that had gone bad and tampering with expiration dates.

Instead of suing ABC for libel -- Food Lion would have been required to prove the report was false in order to prevail -- the food corporation alleged fraud, trespass and deceptive trade practices. Food Lion never questioned the report's truthfulness.

The jury found that ABC committed fraud by conducting undercover activities and ordered ABC to pay $5.5 million to Food Lion. A federal judge reduced the amount to $315,000, but the appeals court went further, deciding the two reporters should be fined only $1 each for submitting fake employment applications and for trespass.

The appeals court said that Food Lion should not be paid $1,402 for the cost of hiring and training the two reporters and that there was no harm to the public so the $315,000 judgment was thrown out.

ABC declared victory, saying, "All of us can be reassured that the First Amendment continues to protect investigative journalists from attempts to intimidate them through threats of outlandish damage claims."

The network was acting in the tradition of Upton Sinclair and his exposure of conditions in Chicago's meat-processing plants early this century in taking extraordinary measures to inform the public about Food Lion's handling of its products.

Leaving the jury's verdict intact would have sent a chilling message to all news media. An uninformed public would have been the result.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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