LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A planned televised debate among the Democratic presidential contenders was canceled on Wednesday after candidates vowed to boycott the event rather than cross picket lines of striking Hollywood writers, organizers said.
CBS Corp., whose Television City studio in Los Angeles was the venue chosen for the December 10 debate, is embroiled in two labor disputes with the Writers Guild of America, including the screenwriters’ strike.
Writers Guild members have routinely rallied outside the CBS facility since the strike against film and TV studios began November 5, and several leading candidates recently pledged to forego the debate rather than cross WGA picket lines.
Organizers said they tried but failed to get assurances from the union for a moratorium on picketing outside CBS studios in Los Angeles for the night of the debate.
Further complicating the situation, CBS News writers, producers and editors represented by the WGA East recently voted to authorize a strike against the network in a separate contract dispute, though no work stoppage has been declared.
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) cited “uncertainty created by the ongoing labor dispute between CBS and the Writers Guild” in a statement announcing it was pulling the plug on the debate. It said there were no plans to reschedule.
CBS News added in its own statement: “The possibility of picket lines ... and the unwillingness of many candidates to cross them made it necessary to allow the candidates to make other plans.”
The cancellation comes just over a month before Iowa on January 3 holds the first of the state-by-state contests to determine which Republican and Democrat will face off in the November 4, 2008, election.
The debate among all eight Democrats presidential hopefuls was to have been moderated by CBS News anchor Katie Couric for live broadcast on a sub-network of at least six West Coast affiliates of CBS. It also would have aired nationally on the C-SPAN political cable network.
The event became the latest casualty of a screenwriters’ strike that has thrown the television industry into disarray and forced postponements on several high-profile films in the worst labor crisis to hit Hollywood in 20 years.
Talks aimed at settling the strike resumed again on Wednesday for a third day since the walkout began more than three weeks ago in a dispute that hinges on how much writers should be paid for work distributed over the Internet.
CBS Corp. is one of several major media companies being struck by some 12,000 film and TV screenwriters, whose contract expired November 1.
The 300 CBS News employees represented by the WGA East have been without a contract for 2 1/2 years and without a pay raise since April 2004. The union rejected CBS’s latest contract offer, which called for a two-tier wage package for workers.
The WGA expressed “regret” that the debate was canceled, but blamed “CBS’ fear that the Democratic candidates would not cross a picket line ... a concern that could have been avoided entirely if CBS would simply sit down and negotiate a fair contract for its news and entertainment employees.”
The DNC-sponsored event is the latest of several presidential debates canceled in recent weeks, most of them because not enough candidates were willing to participate.