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Will the strike upend CBS' Democratic debate?

Wga_11

NEW YORK — If the WGA strike drags on for two more weeks, it could claim another casualty: CBS News’ Dec. 10 Democratic presidential debate.

Last week, the five top candidates said they would not participate in the debate if the news division’s WGA-represented news writers and other employees walk off the job. The CBS staffers, who have worked without a contract for 2 ½ years, voted earlier this month to authorize a strike. Union officials are meeting this week to consider whether to call for a work action, which would be separate from the current WGA strike.

But even if the news writers continue working, CBS might still be forced to scrap its debate, set to be held at in Los Angeles at CBS Television City and anchored by Katie Couric.

That’s because the candidates could face the prospect of walking past WGA members marching outside in support of the ongoing television and film writers’ strike — something Democratic contenders eager for the support of organized labor are unlikely to do.

Representatives for former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois confirmed today that the candidates would not participate in the CBS debate if it is picketed. (UPDATE: Late this afternoon, a spokesman for Sen. Hillary Clinton confirmed that she too will not cross a picket line to attend the CBS debate.)

Edwards senior advisor Joe Trippi said the campaign is already making plans for him to stump elsewhere that day unless the WGA strike is resolved.

“If there’s a picket line, he’s not going to cross,” Trippi said.

CBS executives said that if the strike is not settled in time, they’re hoping the guild will agree not to picket in order to allow the debate to continue as a public service.

It remains to be seen whether the WGA would be willing to make that concession. CBS Television City, home of “The Price is Right,” among other shows, has been a frequent picket location for the union, which had members outside the studio’s gates as recently as this morning.

A WGA official said the guild had not yet decided whether to picket the debate.

CBS is the only struck network holding a presidential forum before the end of the year. ABC would be the next network forced to deal with the ramifications of the WGA strike if the labor stoppage hasn’t been resolved by Jan. 5, when it holds separate Republican and Democratic debates in New Hampshire.

Edwards, who walked the line with WGA writers in Los Angeles earlier this month, drew hearty cheers today from members of the East Coast guild when he addressed them during a labor solidarity rally held in New York’s Washington Square Park.

“We are in this thing together, and what all of you are doing is important for not only your members and what you’re standing up for, which is fairness for the American dream, for everybody having a real chance,” said Edwards, who canceled appearances on “The View” and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” in support of the strike. “The truth is it’s crucial for the future of America. It’s why when I’m president of the United States, and when you’re out there walking the picket line, nobody will be able to walk through that picket line and take your job away from you.”

Hundreds of writers gathered on the leaf-strewn plaza for the upbeat midday rally, joined by members of other unions representing doctors, teachers, garment workers and janitors. Danny Glover, Tim Robbins, Julianna Margulies and Edie Falco were among the many actors in attendance.

“You better believe that every other organized worker in this city and in this state is not just rooting for you to succeed, but we are with you every step of the way,” said Randi Weingarten, president of New York’s United Federation of Teachers. “We will do, in our own teacher style, everything we can to support you. Your fight is our fight!”

More news on the strike

-- Matea Gold

 
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