We hadn’t seen Bernie Sanders in Philadelphia since last July, when he watched his primary opponent, Hillary Clinton, win the Democratic Party’s nomination. Sanders joined the “Democracy Now!” news hour this week at the historic Philadelphia Free Library for a wide-ranging discussion. “I am deeply concerned about the future of American democracy,” Sanders told the enthusiastic standing-room-only crowd. Millions of Americans voted for Sanders in the primaries. He transformed the 2016 U.S. presidential election, inspiring and engaging people with a progressive vision for the future, with little help from the media.
The networks have engaged in endless “mea culpas” in the election’s aftermath, contrite about their reliance on faulty polls. Rarely do you hear a news personality on television admitting that they failed miserably in covering the Sanders campaign. The U.S. media effectively iced out a major-party candidate who consistently held the largest rallies, even without a media megaphone.
Donald Trump received blanket coverage. His every move, every tweet, almost all his speeches were covered across the networks. The U.S. corporate media made candidate Donald Trump. Estimates of the free airtime he received vary from $1 billion to as high as $3 billion.
What about Bernie Sanders? The Tyndall Report analyzed major-network campaign coverage in 2015. In over 1,000 minutes of national broadcast television airtime devoted to all the campaigns, Donald Trump received 327 minutes, or close to one-third of all the campaign coverage. Bernie Sanders received just 20 minutes. Hillary Clinton got 121 minutes of campaign coverage, six times the amount Sanders received. “ABC World News Tonight” aired 81 minutes of reports on Donald Trump, compared with just 20 seconds for Sanders.
I asked Sanders what he did to warrant a full 20 seconds of coverage on ABC, and he threw his head back, laughing out loud. “We had the misfortune of actually trying to talk about the problems facing America and providing real solutions,” he said, offering his take on the media’s failure. “Trump was tweeting out about how ugly or horrible or disgusting or terrible his opponents were, in really ugly terms. Perfect for the media. That is a great 12-second sound bite. But to talk about why the middle class is in decline or why we have massive levels of income and wealth inequality can’t be done in 12 seconds. And second of all, it’s not something that they are, frankly, terribly interested in.” While the media may not have been interested in Sanders’ message, the voters were. Despite the media blackout, Sanders won 23 primary contests and 46 percent of the pledged Democratic delegates.
After President Barack Obama leaves office, Sanders may well become the most powerful Democrat in the country, even though he is not technically a Democrat, but an independent socialist. His success has catapulted him into the Democratic leadership of the Senate. “I accept this responsibility as outreach chair with a lot of trepidation, but also with excitement. The current approach clearly is not succeeding, and we need a new approach … to create a 50-state strategy. That means we start playing ball in states that the Democrats have conceded decades ago. But more importantly, we create a kind of grass-roots party, where the most important people in the party are not just wealthy campaign contributors, but working people, young people, people in the middle class.” It is also why he is supporting Keith Ellison’s candidacy to be chairperson of the Democratic National Committee. Ellison is the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and also happens to be the first Muslim member of Congress.
Sanders cautions against maligning all Trump supporters. “It would be a tragic mistake to believe that everybody who voted for Donald Trump is a ‘deplorable.’ They’re not. These are people who are disgusted, and they are angry at the establishment. And the Democratic Party has not been clear enough, in my view, about telling those people … that we are on their side.”
Bernie Sanders has transformed his campaign into a group called “Our Revolution,” to continue organizing. “Where we are now is in a difficult moment,” he summed up as our Philadelphia conversation was ending. “But throughout history, serious people have fought back. … Think about 120 years ago. There were children working in factories, losing their fingers. People fought back. They fought to create unions. Think about the women’s movement. Think about the civil-rights movement. Think about the gay-rights movement. Think about the environmental. Think about all of the hurdles that those folks had to overcome. … Nobody in this room or in this country has a right to say ‘I give up.’ You’ve got to jump in and start fighting.”
Bernie Sanders has spent his life fighting for progressive causes. As the world braces for the Trump presidency, Sanders shows no signs of slowing down.