Who knew, when Bernie Sanders announced a run in the Democratic primary, that not only would he meet with hostility from his main opponent’s chief surrogates, but that the media would acquiesce and even collude to such a great degree?
When analyzing the quantity and content of the vast majority of what is said and written about Sanders, his campaign platform, and appearances, one finds a running theme across the so-called liberal media. The New York Times has been called out by more than one analyst, myself included, for its complete lack of serious coverage of Bernie Sanders.
Since joining the staff at the New York Times, Maggie Haberman has written about Sanders on fewer than a handful of occasions, while she has written about the other candidates in the race more often. While it is understandable that Hillary Clinton would be the subject of more numerous articles, it makes no sense for Martin O’Malley to have more articles written about him than Sanders, given the pecking order that emerged right from the start, yet that is what has transpired so far.
In articles that address various aspects of the Democratic side of the primary, Senator Sanders’ ability to succeed is always described in doubtful terms, even as Hillary Clinton’s troubles in the polls are being described. The New York Times has published fewer than a dozen pieces that are Sanders campaign-specific and each is problematic in the way he is portrayed. Most often, Sanders’ age and hair are highlighted, and the incorrect moniker “socialist” is applied. (Socialist and Democratic socialist are not interchangeable terms.)
While the age of a candidate might matter to some when thinking about a candidate’s experience or mental capacity, Bernie Sanders is 73, only six years older than Hillary Clinton. His mental capacity has never been a subject of contention. One can only conclude from the repetition of negative references, that writers are attempting to condition readers into thinking of Sanders as the “unkempt” elderly stereotype.
Most presidential candidates have been older than 60. Think of Ronald Reagan. The distance between 67 to 73, in human years, isn’t that significant from either the experiential or health standpoints. If anything, Sanders’ breakneck schedule, accounting for work in the Senate, crisscrossing the nation to hold rallies, and appearing on cable news shows demonstrates a high level of mental and physical energy.
The most harmful way anti-Sanders media bias has been manifested is by omission. In this respect, the New York Times is joined by the vast majority of the mainstream media in not typically reporting on Sanders, especially on policy. Overall there is a version of a “wall of silence” built by the media when it comes to serious reporting and analysis of his policies; or when analyzing or reporting on the policies of his opponents, a failure to mention Sanders’ in contrast, especially when his is the more progressive position. This behavior hasn’t gone unnoticed by readers. You can see numerous complaints from readers about the Times organization’s bias toward Sanders. You see it in the New York Times comments section, on the Facebook pages and comments sections of all the major publications, and just about everywhere else. Readers complain about the lack of substantive coverage as well as the bias in what little is published. The Times’ Jason Horowitz’ piece, “Bernie Sanders Draws Big Crowds to His ‘Political Revolution” drew over 1600 comments, double what the most popular columns usually fetch, with most in protest over the obvious bias of the piece and the Times’ egregious lack of coverage of Bernie Sanders news.
Bernie Sanders’ campaign has centered around economic justice and his plans to reform banking, taxation, trade, stimulate the economy, promote manufacturing at home, and institute jobs programs. I’ve yet to see side-by side comparisons of the top two Democratic candidates’ prescriptions for the US economy. Most economists and economic writers chose to publish pieces on the Clinton economic plan before she gave her speech. Few wrote about it after, and with reason: The speech didn’t deliver much in the way of specifics, and was vague about policies that the voting public expects. Sanders’ version of an economic plan has yet to garner serious analysis and discussion. Both Clinton and Sanders base their economic prescriptions on economist Joseph Stiglitz’ most recent work, Rewrite The Rules. Paul Krugman has, on three occasions, talked up Hillary Clinton’s economic platform, specifically on wages, without so much as mentioning Sanders. Clinton favors a minimum wage of $15 per hour in New York City, and $12 an hour nationally. Sanders has called for the minimum wage to be raised to $15 an hour for everyone. The Times had reported, in May, that Stiglitz’ work would likely greatly influence Clinton’s platform. If it has, one wouldn’t know it, judging by subsequent writings.
Plan for Racial Justice
While news outlets were reporting on the disruptions of Sanders by the Black Lives Matter movement, few followed up on the story as Sanders began to respond positively. Sanders gave a major speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference on July 27. It received very little attention from the press. And within a week, Sanders delivered his answer to Black Lives Matter, by way of a plan. The New York Times has yet to make mention of Sanders’ plan for racial justice, link to the senator’s website, or publish it outright in an article. And the media has ignored the fact that the racial justice plan has received praise among a number of Black Lives Matter leaders, including activist Deray McKesson.
Clarence Page recently wrote about Sanders in an op-ed for the Chicago Tribune. He took a tack that many in the press now use: comparing and contrasting Sanders to Donald Trump. Given the kinds of controversy Trump has kicked up with his racial statements, and the treatment Sanders has received over his racial justice bona fides, it is no surprise that many of Sanders’ supporters are angry. Page begins his op-ed with: “The farther the left and right wings in politics move toward extremes, an old saying goes, the more they resemble each other.”
In any other context, that kind of contrast might have been fair, but not in a piece about Trump and Sanders. In his third paragraph, Page writes: “In recent days we have seen how both Trump, now a seasoned reality TV star, and Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist, have faced sharp criticism within their separate political tribes for omitting or offending key constituencies.”
While it is true enough that Trump has been making racially offensive statements about all constituencies that aren’t key to his campaign, that same accusation does not apply to Bernie Sanders, who in stark contrast to his main opponent, has never, in 50 years of documented political activism and public office, uttered a racially offensive statement, or favored policies that are detrimental to minorities.
Page praises Sanders’ plan for racial justice, without any discussion of its points and then goes on to characterize the diversity of Sanders’ supporters: “But his impressively huge crowds have been even less diverse than his 95-percent-white home state of Vermont.” There’s not been a study or poll of the crowds at Sanders events. From what I could see of Sanders’ Los Angeles and New Orleans rallies, the crowds seemed to match the diversity of the locale. Of note is the fact that there hasn’t yet been a large-scale poll of the black community on its support of Sanders following the publication of his plan for racial justice.
Over a month after the publication of Sanders’ plan for racial justice, the media continues to portray him as someone who is racially wounded, when to begin with, that “problem” came into existence the day of the Netroots Nation disruption under the guise of eliciting needed policy from all candidates, even those who are considered friends. As the top Democratic candidate continues to owe such “needed policy,” Hillary Clinton continues to enjoy relative insulation from the perception of having any racial wounds, in spite of a record of promoting policies that have led to the very reasons for the birth of Black Lives Matter.
Over at Vox, coverage of Sanders by everyone but Ezra Klein has mostly been overtly negative. Dara Lind address a portion of the race issues in her interview of comedian Roderick Greer, who came up with the Twitter hashtag BernieSoBlack. But that piece contained much more than an explanation of some funny hashtag, and all of it was slanted in the direction of stripping Sanders of his civil rights achievements, even as the piece was titled to indicate Greer’s frustration at Sanders’ supporters. Attacking Sanders’ supporters and portraying them as racist or borderline racist has been a running theme in the press. Since his record on civil rights cannot be impeached and he has never committed a racial faux-pas, the only way to attack him on race is through his supporters, and that is how in piece after piece, Sanders’ record is being sullied.
The attacks on Sanders began with a curious refusal to give him any credit for taking part in the civil rights movement, and have been followed up by pieces designed to paint him as dispassionate about human rights and racial justice. Few are those who cite Sanders’ longstanding near-perfect rating by the NAACP and ACLU, or mention those, like Senator Cory Booker, who have spoken up in defense of Sanders’ lifelong record with the African-American community.
Since when don’t records matter?
Up until Bernie Sanders, a politician’s record has always been the measure by which evaluations are made. This is of particular import here because Sanders’ main opponent, Hillary Clinton, also has a very long record and it isn’t being scrutinized. When Clinton met with protesters in New Hampshire and she was confronted with policies of hers and Bill Clinton’s that have harmed the black community, little was made of it in the press. All chatter about Clinton’s behavior at that meeting has practically come to an end, and she has yet to publish her own policy proposals for racial justice.
Sanders has focused his tenure as a public official on economic justice. That doesn’t mean he paid no attention to racial justice. His stump speeches, with few exceptions, make mention of the racial disparities in our society. One example that comes to mind is Sanders’ appearance in front of the Council of La Raza, where he spent several minutes addressing racial disparities harming African Americans.
The characterization that Sanders’ position on solving the problems of racial injustice is through addressing economic inequality is patently false. Sanders has long been on record as saying that racial inequality is a separate problem that needs to be addressed in parallel. Almost to a voice, the U.S. mainstream press corps avoids any mention of that in order to cement the perception that Bernie Sanders isn’t serious about redressing America’s original sin.
At a time when economic and racial inequality are at their deepest, we are again at a similar moment in time as when the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was speaking out in favor of racial unity to fight poverty and inequality. In one of his last speeches, “The Three Evils of Society,” King described the conditions we find ourselves in today. His prescription came in the form of his Poor People’s Campaign, uniting the nation’s whites and blacks to fight for economic justice. It is painful to hear and read those who are intimately familiar with King’s speeches joining in the same behaviors as the rest of their colleagues in the media in praising Bernie Sanders and putting him down all at once, at times even using the very same Martin Luther King quotes included in Sanders’ plan for racial justice.
To Martin Luther King Jr., racial, educational and economic justice were always inexorably tied. To James Baldwin, racial, educational and economic justice were indivisible from each other. It takes a rare cynic who is well versed in the writings of Baldwin and King to use them as bludgeons against Sanders, all the while withholding salient facts from the public, so it can do its job as described in Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time:
“And here we are at the center of the arc, trapped in the gaudiest, most valuable, and most improbable water wheel the world has ever seen. Everything now, we must assume, is in our hands; we have no right to assume otherwise. If we—and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on or create, the consciousness of the others—do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world. If we do not now dare everything, the fulfillment of that prophecy, recreated from the Bible in song by a slave, is upon us: “God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time!”
In the absence of fair media coverage, how do we create the consciousness of the others? How do we achieve our country? How do we avoid repeating history?