This week, continuing a refrain from earlier in the campaign, Bernie Sanders advisers once again went after what they view as unfair treatment from the mainstream media. Sanders speechwriter David Sirota said this in a recent newsletter, “In the last week, a wave of polls has emerged showing a genuine, full–on Bernie surge — but you might not know that if you tuned into cable TV or read the headlines from the national press corps. In fact, you might not even know Bernie is running for president.” Criticisms like this have been quickly shot down by the likes of CNN, and other critics have gone so far to say the complaining sounds downright Trumpian. But, while there may be emphasis here from Sirota to make a point, it would be irresponsible to pretend there’s not a great deal of truth in what he has written. In fact, in order to claim otherwise, one must simply play the game the likes of CNN, MSNBC, and the New York Times wish you to play. To pretend that all of the headlines that emphasize Biden, Warren, or even Mayor Pete, just happen to be that particular headline, framed the way it is by nothing more than happenstance. That Sanders and his people are seeing a conspiracy so they can try to make political gain out of it.
For my money, there’s just too many examples of this phenomenon to discard it outright. But it does speak to a critical larger point. If Sanders and his advisers are going to go down the road of claiming conspiracy, they are giving these media outlets the escape hatch they need. Look at crazy Bernie! He thinks we’re all in cahoots! Instead, Sanders ought to make the argument from the perspective of class, in which he excels in so many other moments. The idea that billionaires and wealthy media entities need to consciously act in a conspiratorial fashion is utterly beside the point. Rather, we should assess what the interests of these groups are and see that it would only make sense that they would act this way, that they would seek to tilt the coverage against or, even better, away from Sanders.
Just a few examples since there are too many for this piece alone. Sanders only really broke through into consistent mainstream coverage after his heart attack. The media was more than willing to cover that story and ask a thousand times whether he should drop out. Then, Sanders stabilized, physically and in the polls. He was further boosted by the endorsements of AOC and Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib. Weirdly, these were treated in a rather muted fashion, despite how important they were said to be, when we were waiting to see where they would land. We heard plenty of concerns about Sanders’ inability to reach out to women and minorities, but far less about why two of the most visible women of colour in American politics had cast their lot in with Bernie. Again, without trying to sound like a conspiracy nut, you could not get me to believe that if these two congresswoman had endorsed Elizabeth Warren, it would not have been paraded around the mainstream media as a game changer, and a death sentence for the Sanders campaign.
Then there was his comeback rally in New York City that was attended by over 25,000. This absolutely dwarfs the size of any other gathering of any other Democratic candidate. Somehow it was covered with less import than the heroism of Elizabeth Warren braving a four–hour selfie line. While media outlets may not be completely erasing Sanders and his campaign, they seem desperate to avoid conveying anything about its actual strength.
For now, Sanders supporters ought to take this treatment as a sign that something is working. It suggests that Bernie’s working–class agenda is authentic, because the exact people who would be most impacted are busy either pretending he doesn’t exist, or that his support doesn’t really matter. Perhaps there’s a reason that billionaires are relatively silent about Bernie while they tell us how scared they are of Elizabeth Warren. Perhaps there’s a reason Donald Trump says less about Bernie than any of his other potential opponents. Perhaps the owning class in America knows Bernie’s campaign is plenty strong, and that it may become unstoppable if given the oxygen.
If you really want to get an idea for how out of step Bernie’s campaign really is with the interests of the rich and powerful in America, just think about how Trump’s ‘movement’ was covered wall–to–wall during the 2016 Republican Primary. He was gifted billions in earned media, television time that his opponents could not compete with. His rallies were pinged daily into millions of American households. Now, those same media outlets guffaw at his ‘lack of respect for the office’ and so on. Meanwhile, Sanders tours Detroit, the largest city in a state the Democrats simply must win. He’s endorsed by a popular Congresswoman. He speaks of corporate greed and the need to abolish private health insurance companies. He packs a crowd of 5,000 into a gymnasium for a rally, where rock star Jack White opens the show. Did anyone get to watch his entire speech? Where was the breathless, ceaseless analysis of a burgeoning movement? Or were pundits too busy lauding Mayor Pete’s ‘strong fourth’ place position right before they cut to a health insurance ad? V