Despite all the hand-wringing over our presidential candidates, the from whence rose the Trump Monster, and the reminiscing for the Democratic primary’s more-substance filled days, insight is here. Yet it comes by examining the campaign of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ – the anti-Trump – in which he advocated for love and compassion, etched into American policies. The Americans public did indeed want to see his etchings and made him competitive through the Convention.
Ultimately he was crushed by the establishment, a term mocked by Clinton’s supporters during the primary who we now know were deeply committed to her advocacy. Tom Frank’s new contribution in Harper’s and a review of our previous articles provide a useful look into an important chapter of American progressive history (expanded on by Wikileaks), on which we must understand, correct, and build.
TOM FRANK ON THE WASHINGTON POST’S EXTERMINATION
Frank’s blistering Harper’s article, “Swat Team: The Media’s Extermination of Bernie Sanders and Real Reform”, looks at the January through May coverage of Sanders in the Washington Post, a publication “that defines the limits of the permissible in the capital city.” Frank is already famous for his groundbreaking work describing tectonic national political shifts. This article is more than up to par.
Frank’s look includes all articles, op-eds, and blog posts of this period. By and large, they heap scorn on Sanders. Opinion articles were five times more likely to be negative, versus an even balance for Clinton, as part of nearly continual, varied attacks.
Why? Sanders was an affront to the “professional class worldview” (something Frank documented extensively in “Listen, Liberal: What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?”).
“Sanders may refer to himself as a progressive,” Frank writes in Harper’s, “but to the affluent white-collar class, what he represented was atavism, a regression to a time when demagogues in rumpled jackets pandered to vulgar public prejudices against banks and capitalists and foreign factory owners.”
Thus he was greeted with an unending stream of negative coverage. Early on, they dismissed him for not planning social security cuts or debt reduction. (The Intercept provides background for this ludicrous inside-the-Beltway thinking). Later headlines include, “Nominating Sanders Would be Insane” and “A Campaign Full of Fiction” as “[t]he paper hit every possible sort of anti-Sanders note, from the driest kind of math-based policy reproach to the lowest sort of nerd-shaming.” Sanders was even criticized for disparaging the Wall Street bailouts, TARP and the Democratic National Committee (!).
They also objected to his putting down President Obama.
“What the Post is saying is that the American system, by its nature, doesn’t permit a president to achieve anything more than ‘incremental change.’,” writes Frank of the newspaper’s mentality. “Obama did the best he could under the system … therefore he should be exempt from criticism at the hands of Democrats.”
As for the popular bold reforms that were championed by Sanders? Irrelevant. “Certain ideas, when voiced by certain people … are inadmissible. The ideas themselves might seem healthy, they might have a long and distinguished history, they might be commonplace in other lands. Nevertheless when voiced by the people in question, they become damaging.” And thus, he describes, “the machinery by which the boundaries of the Washington consensus are enforced.”
“Knee jerk incrementalism is a nifty substitute for actually thinking difficult issues through,” he writes. “Bernie Sanders ran for presidency by proposing reforms that prestigious commentators … found distasteful. Rather than grapple with his ideas, they simply blew the whistle and declared them out of bounds.”
Frank ends with questioning why often lowly paid journalists would choose to align themselves with policymakers instead of promoting key ideas – like college tuition and affordable health care – that might one day benefit them.
Read the article.
So too is it worth reviewing our own coverage from the election, largely borne out and expanded by Wikileaks.
In “The High Cost of Ignoring Bernie Sanders” (no longer online here due to a tech conversion which also wiped out many likes) we called out the biased coverage. During most of 2015, 234 minutes were devoted to Trump, with a similar number for Hillary with just 10 being given to Bernie Sanders on ABC, CBS, and NBC news programs. This despite Trump’s and Sanders’ often similar polling results.
“Bernie’s alternate and compelling ‘political leadership’ has drawn overflow crowds, record donors and heavy millennia support,” we wrote. “Yet a message that could trump the Trump is virtually muted by for-profit media. … and that has shaped our national descent into hate- and violence-filled debate.”
Sanders could well have served as the counterpoint to Trump through November. Yet in 2016, the mainstream media tilted the playing field to scary angles. As we documented in “Hillary’s Exploitation of Democratic Institutions (Including Superdelegates) Exposed”, famed media critic Robert McChesney describes ‘the greatest story [a journalist] could ever possibly ever cover” (Sanders’ poll rise and popularity) as being reported on “by the mainstream corporate media ‘through the eyes of the Clinton campaign.’”
The mainstream media failed to fact-check misleading debate statements that allowed them to call her first debate her win, despite abundant evidence to the contrary. Clinton campaign press releases were issued at times when Sanders’ policy ideas were resonating or Clinton’s campaign was blundering. They were promptly grabbed by the news outlets. Americans heard near-constant allegations of sexism (though her establishment power far outweighed individual sexism, and she was far from a feminist candidate as we wrote in Hillary, Gender and Power and “It’s Not Me, It’s You”.) Attacks on Sanders’ social media were linked to her supporters, calls for him to drop out echoed across the Hillary-friendly media, and important Sanders’ leadership was virtually ignored like The Most Important Speech: Bernie on the Banks. Perhaps most egregiously was the bait-and-switch used on voters for the superdelegates, who aligned with Clinton before the primaries started, because of what we were told was “winnability.” We (through The Case for Superdelegates Selecting Sanders) and others made the case Sanders was more likely to win: he polled better against Trump, suffered from highly questionable election results, drew more crossover votes, and had a better record. So then Americans were absurdly told superdelegates’ votes needed to reflect the popular vote.
Heavy media bias is painstakingly examined in Frank’s analysis. It is also shown through Wikileaks emails which displays coordination with strong bloggers who became unreadable during the election, and extensive media coordination including John Podesta receiving drafts of New York Times’ articles, the leaking of town hall questions, and an off-the-record cocktail party with 38 media staff from 16 outlets to “frame the race.”
THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY IN THE PRIMARIES
Of course, Americans know now that the Democratic Party was in Clinton’s corner too. The clearly-at-the-time hugely biased 2008 Clinton campaign co-chair and Democratic National Committee head Debbie Wasserman Schultz stepped down after Wikileaks’ disclosures including an email in which she wrote, “He isn’t going to be president,” and other leaks have demonstrated extensive coordination with the media also. Even at the time, outright bias was obvious. In Hillary’s Exploitation of Democratic Institutions (Including Superdelegates) Exposed we described the Democratic National Committee’s “money laundering”: the rare step of setting up an early political vehicle for Hillary which collected up to $330,000 from a person; sending it to the states; then getting 99 percent of it back, much of which was used to try and scare up small donors. The primary debates were at inconvenient times and limited. And the president clearly was in her court, though he held back some. Perhaps more important was unwillingness to attack corporate malfeasance from the bully pulpit for eight years which shaped Americans’ vision of the possible.
While the feel-good Democratic convention is largely out of scope of this article, it painstakingly undermined key gains of Bernie’s candidacy including his serious misgivings around American intervention and wars (with it now being clear Clinton had strong misgivings about a no-fly zone) and his strong advocacy for climate change and the environment. We documented these in Critical Global Challenges: Dems in Philly Fall Short. While the Democrats chose to highlight inclusiveness there today that seems, at best, to be a cloudy illusion.
Finally, it’s important to note that this took place in an era where major American institutions were largely funded by and served the interests of elites, as Chris Hedges has written about eloquently and thoroughly in “Death of the Liberal Class.” We published The Miracle of Bernie’s Candidacy, The Holiday Story You Won’t Be Told.
Colleges, hundreds who are funded by the Koch Brothers and many whose boards are dominated by financiers or corporate executives, have abandoned much of their research and teaching on human rights, labor rights, environmental sustainability, and climate sustainability. (This in addition to not paying living wages and spending just a few percent of the massive endowments that would allow tuition to be free). Think tanks accept major foreign government and corporate donations (as The New York Times has since highlighted.) As a result, they are largely unwilling to take on corporate power by framing issues as the power struggles that they are, at the scope on which they exist, or as lapses in core values. Establishment nonprofits often have weak messaging and strong establishment ties. Those that might have thought to be neutral, were they voting based on record, strangely endorsed and worked with Clinton, and movements (and the media) who were doing their job were dismissed as “freaks” or described as needing to “get a life.”
Many have asserted that Clinton is the stronger candidate of the two and, despite massive imperfections and issues, deserves our vote.
But as recently departed author and activist Tom Hayden said, “[T]he struggle for memory and for history is a living thing. … Each generation has to wrestle with the history of what came before, and ask: Whose interest does this history serve? How does it advance a legacy of social movements? How does it deny that legacy?”
It is a mistake to brush off a primary with huge significance. One where the popular and populist candidate was crushed by so-called democratic institutions and one which seems to presage the death of our dreams for the future, should the struggle for accountability and democracy not continue. To refuse to revisit our past is to settle for the expansion of empire, inequality, and suffering.