Political scientists have long known that the first election in any presidential contest is the media's. They decide who gets coverage, how they are covered, and just as importantly, who does not. Other factors weigh in, too, such as frequency of coverage, questions asked, etc. Media bias is now obvious to most and documented in many studies. No news flash here!

A case in point: National televised media outlets who favor the re-election of Barack Obama, and most do (especially so with MSNBC), will tend to play more clips of Superstorm Sandy and fewer clips on new reports, highly damaging to the president, on the terrorist attack on our embassy in Benghazi. Fox News, which tends to favor Mitt Romney, will cover the storm but will make certain that their viewers see the new evidence.

But there is a story with respect to the media establishment's consistent exclusion of presidential candidates from any political party outside Republican and Democratic. It happens every four years. Third-party candidates who don't get much coverage tend not to be known by the public and thus are guaranteed to lose, thanks to those who had been entrusted to tell us. Every election year since 1992, I have written the Federal Election Commission to ask for critical and consistently omitted information about these candidates. They offer two reports, one the 2012 Presidential Address List and the other the Ballots of Each State and the District of Columbia, from which the following is extracted.

Currently, 405 individuals are running for president and 53 political parties are functioning in the U.S. Those running include past and present governors, U.S. senators and members of the House. Certainly there are many less notables as well. Each candidate is required by law to register with the FEC if they have raised or spent $5,000 or more on their candidacy for president.

Twenty-eight of these were powerful enough to make it on one state ballot or more with little or no national media mention. In an effort to limit ballot names, each state develops its own hurdles. No state wants 400 entries, and to that end, the media legitimately also assist in exclusion. But nothing justifies the national, or near national, blackout of everyone except the two favored parties. Of the 28, three, in addition to the anointed Democratic and Republican party candidates, were able to get placement in more than half of the states in the union. These candidates were: Virgil H. Goode of the Constitution Party, Jill Stein of the Green Party and Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party. Anyone able to vault the hurdles of 25 states or more should have earned the right to debate Romney and Obama.

The strongest case for media manipulation of the election is the situation involving the Libertarian Party, which frequently qualifies in every state in the union but is consistently denied access to the television cameras of the debate. They have attended but are denied placement.

It is the same every presidential election, each of these parties providing a candidate for the last 30 years. The national media has seemingly funneled the "sheeple" into only two corrals. Remember, each candidate got into state ballots without national media help. Virtually all of them would be on all 50 state ballots if given any real media coverage.

On Oct. 23, the day following the third Romney/Obama debate, four of the ostracized candidates held their own debate. Unable to get a network to cover them, their debate was posted on YouTube. Participants included the parties previously named plus Roseanne Barr of the Peace and Freedom Party. Not one word, however, from the establishment press announcing the debate or commenting on it later.

Perhaps our free elections are not as free as we have supposed.

Harold Pease, Ph.D., has taught history and political science for more than 25 years at Taft College. The Californian reserves the right to edit all submissions for length and clarity.