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For Kucinich, Is the Media (Critic) the Message?

The Federal Communications Commission has just issued a ruling that could further consolidate America’s media.

The nation’s most important newspaper is reeling from parallel scandals that could permanently damage its credibility.

Sounds like a perfect time for Jeff Cohen, America’s foremost liberal critic of the media, to sound off.

But Cohen doesn’t do media criticism any more — at least not formally. The founder of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, a 17-year-old media watchdog organization, has traded in the critic’s lance for the political operative’s scalpel.

Cohen has become the paid communications director for Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s (D-Ohio) long-shot presidential bid.

“He’s a rare candidate,” Cohen said. “I would only work for a progressive, solidly ethical candidate.”

Working primarily from his home in upstate New York, Cohen has been trying to cobble together a media operation befitting the renegade campaign the four-term Congressman is waging. It isn’t easy.

“This is probably the most decentralized campaign I’ve ever seen,” Cohen said.

But while most presidential candidates seek out seasoned political spinners who revel in the give and take with cynical inside-the-Beltway reporters, Kucinich has turned to a media adviser who takes his inspiration from the street protests that disrupted the World Trade Organization conference in Seattle in 1999.

“We’re just trying to figure out a movement campaign,” Cohen said. “A grassroots campaign. An Internet campaign.”

The major media have largely ignored Kucinich so far, or treated him like a hopeless eccentric. Cohen said the media ignore reality.

“In the field, the campaign really soars,” he said. “It’s resonating with the grassroots of the Democratic Party. It fuses so many types of voters.”

Cohen’s work for Kucinich is not altogether surprising to his former compadres at FAIR, the New York-based nonprofit that publishes a magazine and issues myriad reports alleging bias in news accounts.

“To move on to something else in progressive politics seems logical,” said Rachel Coen, a FAIR spokeswoman.

Or maybe it’s just tonic for Cohen’s previous gig. He actually severed his association with FAIR in 2002 to work for MSNBC as senior producer to another liberal who has occasionally been marginalized by the mainstream media: Phil Donahue. Cohen worked for Donahue years ago, and when the veteran talk show host returned to television on MSNBC in 2002, he invited Cohen to join him.

When Donahue’s show was canceled after just a few months, Cohen quickly followed him out the door. Now, he calls the three cable news networks “right, righter and rightist.”

So what does Cohen envision doing next — if there isn’t a Kucinich administration for him to serve?

“I’d like to host a talk radio show,” he said. “I think I’d be good at it.”