Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2008 | 2 a.m.
At A Glance: Tonight's Debate
Tonight’s Democratic debate begins at 6 at the Cashman Center Theatre, 850 North Las Vegas Blvd. The two-hour event will air live on MSNBC and will be rebroadcast with a Spanish-language translation on Telemundo at midnight. Both networks are owned by NBC.
The moderator is “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams. Joining him will be Tim Russert, host of NBC’s Sunday morning talk show “Meet the Press.” The format includes questions submitted by viewers.
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A District Court judge Monday ordered NBC to include Democratic presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich in tonight’s debate in Las Vegas after the candidate complained that the network had breached its contract and undermined the public interest by barring him from the stage.
Judge Charles Thompson said he would file an injunction to stop the 6 p.m. debate if it does not include Kucinich. NBC said it will appeal today, setting the stage for more last-minute legal maneuvering before the debate, which is scheduled to air on the local NBC affiliate and on MSNBC, an NBC cable network.
Bill McGaha, the Ohio congressman’s Las Vegas attorney, said the network should “let the people decide who they want to vote for. Don’t exclude a candidate. Let the voters do that. That’s what the process is for.”
According to the lawsuit, Kucinich was invited Wednesday to participate in the debate with the three front-runners New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. Kucinich qualified because he placed among the top four Democratic presidential candidates in a national news media poll conducted after the Iowa caucus, McGaha said.
On Friday, an MSNBC official withdrew the invitation, saying the criteria to participate had changed and the cable network wanted only the top three candidates, court documents said.
McGaha argued that MSNBC had breached its contract by withdrawing the invitation, an opinion that UNLV law professor Jeff Stempel said sounds reasonable.
“MSNBC invited and then disinvited Kucinich,” Stempel said.
Since there is no monetary award that can compensate for the breach, Stempel said, “the only thing that cures the breach is to let him in” the debate.
McGaha also argued that NBC had undermined the Federal Communications Act, and therefore violated its obligation to the public, by excluding Kucinich. The act requires broadcasters to provide a reasonable opportunity for conflicting points of view to be included in discussions of public importance, McGaha said. The lawsuit argued that Kucinich’s anti-war voice was being silenced.
“The debate is not a true presidential primary debate without including all credible candidates, but instead is effectively an endorsement of the candidates selected by NBC,” the lawsuit said.
Jim Rogers, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education and owner of the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, said he does not know the specific laws that dictate the Kucinich case but he is not surprised by the judge’s ruling. Many rules dictate how networks run presidential debates, he said.
The judge’s ruling is scheduled to be released this morning.