This article was published by New Matilda on 11/04/2016, and on Independent Australia the following day. The author retains copyright.
You know you’re doing something right when special interests try to shut you down. In the Democratic Party presidential primaries, Bernie Sanders and his platform are routinely transfigured into straw men and pummelled by the punditry. And yet his following just keeps on growing.
The grassroots momentum that Sanders has built against Clinton, the Establishment Democrat candidate, is silenced in the mainstream media. Deliciously, this flagrant agenda seems to be predisposing disenfranchised voters to feel the Bern.
Since March 22 Sanders has won seven states straight with an average 73 per cent of the vote. He won Wyoming yesterday. There is now a difference of 219 pledged delegates between Clinton and Sanders. The media consistently reports this gap as insurmountable. Never mind that there are still 18 states – including California, New York and Pennsylvania, three of the five largest states – and a combined delegate pool of 1941 still in play.
What’s more, the poll turnaround has been nothing short of phenomenal.
Over the past 100 days, since January 1, 2016 the RealClearPolitics polling average has swung 19 per cent in Sanders’ favour. The difference is currently 4.8 per cent. There are just over 100 days to go until the Democratic convention in mid July.
Modelling by The New York Times indicates that Sanders needs to win an average 59 per cent of all remaining states to win the Democratic nomination. But averages hide the decisive role that perceptions of inevitability, credibility and electability play in getting out a constituency that isn’t compelled to vote. If Sanders were to win New York on April 19, all bets would be off for the remaining states and the Democratic primary would go from fiercely contested to anyone’s prize.
Wouldn’t that be something? A democratic socialist funded solely by individual voters neck and neck with the super-PAC backed favourite. This, not the meandering muse for #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgain, is the real story of the 2016 Presidential election. Instead Sanders’ rise has been sat on with prejudice by corporate-owned partisans posing as journalists.
CNN and MSNBC have made a smirking parlour game out of patronising Sanders and his supporters. He is cut off repeatedly in public debates. His supporters are ridiculed as cultist ‘Bernie Bros’ and ‘low information’ voters. In op-ed land, Sanders – an elected representative of over 30 years with an impeccable liberal record – is variously a fraud, inexperienced, an idiot, a rumpled old man, a sexist, and a gun lover.
And the news divisions of the big, respectable broadsheets are almost as bad.
On March 7, the day before he won Michigan, the Washington Post published one anti-Sanders article an hour for 16 hours. The New York Times endorsed Clinton as far back as January 31, before the primaries had even begun. To give an example of their coverage since then, on March 14 the Times was infamously called out by readers for ‘stealth editing’ an online article that was initially favourable to Sanders back towards the trenchant norm.
On April 1 the New York Daily News orchestrated a marathon charade of an interview, grilling Sanders with factually inaccurate gotcha questions. Even the Times put down their Clinton pom poms to call foul. Most everyone else ran with the story. The Daily News is still using their gotchas to devise front-pagesmear jobs.
And now the bit that just makes me sad. Yesterday Sanders announced, with obvious pride, that he had been invited to visit the Vatican to attend a conference on reinserting morality into capitalism. That’s incredible, right? The Vatican effectively intervenes in a political contest based on the moral strength of a candidate. Unheard of. Most news outlets responded by covering an hysterical allegation that Sanders had invited himself for political gain. If you don’t laugh, you’d cry.
Perhaps more damaging than all the instances of belittling Sanders, is the broader suffocation of his campaign. An oft-cited study commissioned by the Times notes that Trump received $1.8b worth of free media up to March 21. Less remarked upon is the fact that Clinton received more than double the free coverage of Sanders, at $746m to $321m respectively. Despite the fact that this contest should be compulsive viewing.
To be honest, Sanders surprised me. I had no idea that a genuine, principled and utterly uncorrupted politician could survive in the bought-and-sold Grindhouse that is the American political system. He really has been advocating equity all his adult life (and, in fairness, that linked article is part of a long-overdue pseudo-restoration of balance at the Times in recent days).
Sanders’ policies are all costed and considered and every bit the return to Roosevelt’s New Deal that America badly needs after Wall Street’s implosion. Ethically, his ideas harmonise with the social justice philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King, whom he marched with back in 1963.
You and I haven’t heard the actual details of the Sanders’ policy platform because it strikes at the heart of crony capitalism. Not the economy; only inequity. There is a reason Bernie’s off to the Vatican. The reaction against him is a function of a venal Party system that became an oligarchy a long time ago and views progressive economic reform as a threat to its donors.
If anything, however, the Sanders case is heartening. It shows the limits of even absolute media power.
So-called liberal media hacks and their ‘Republican lite’ Democrat owners have been unsuccessfully attacking Sanders for six months now. Every day that Sanders has lasted, an increasing number of Democrats have flipped to him. 84 per cent of Democrats aged 17 to 29, the future of the Party, supports him over Clinton.
Win, lose or get run over by a media pack, the political movement that Sanders has mobilised will reshape leftist politics in America. The corporate media has only itself to blame. Their flagrant bias has created antithetical support among the disillusioned.
As Mahatma Ghandi said, ‘First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you — then you win.’
The normal pattern that I follow for this page is to place an article somewhere, write a short commentary spiel and post it here with a link the same day.
This way I avoid the pressure to write daily or weekly columns that only I will ever read. Let’s face it, I don’t read other people’s blogs, and I don’t expect anyone would be interested in reading mine on a frequent basis. Instead, this omnium gatherum is a portfolio of sorts, sprinkled with a few articles that don’t fit in with other outlet’s agendas. Each article is a considered angle, not the product of a self-imposed deadline.
Anyway, my pattern has been to encapsulate a placed article shortly after publication. Normally the essence of an article – its personal significance – is easy to draw upon. Not this time. I am struggling to ‘encapsulate’ this article. What follows is my best shot.
The article appeared on April 11. It is now nearly two weeks later, and I’m still watching that contest and still conflicted about how I feel about it. I know the title I chose makes the piece sound like the work of a mad conspiracy theorist. Tin foil hat brigade. Maybe that’s true of the content also, but not without basis – unlike the media behaviour it chronicles. More than a catalogue of media malpractice, it’s a polemical take on a deep ambivalence – the opposition of two equally strong and diametric feelings – that characterise my reaction to the rise of the Senator from Vermont.
Good feelings first. Sanders is an inspiring politician. I would never have guessed that a politician draws breath anywhere on this wide world whom could be described as consistent or principled. Less still, one who stuck resolutely by a credo that is manifestly unpopular in the age of neoliberalism that Reagan and Thatcher ushered in. Of course Sanders has flaws. He is human, and the dark side of a true believer is often deafness to others. But he is not a liar, not communist, not a madman – despite what we are told.
Sanders is clearly a man for the American times, an advocate for re-balancing the capitalist pendulum towards society and away from the cartel behaviour of the political and economic elite.
The media interests blatantly ranged against him cause me great disquiet. America is in a much worse place, socially and economically, than Australia. Sure we have problems but we have healthcare, we have functional public education, we have a demilitarised police force, and we don’t have the media hellscape that Americans endure, in which 90% of all media outlets are controlled by six corporations.
As I mention in my article, the bias is so obvious it fuels new support for Sanders. I only started to pay attention to his campaign because of the obvious agenda being run against him in even news outlets I previously – formally – respected. Titles like New York Times, The Guardian, Washington Post and Vanity Fair don’t even hide their antipathy towards his efforts for candidacy.
The response here in Australia is a muted echo of the American songsheet. I have been offering articles around to all the major outlets regarding Sanders’ recent surge (7 of the most recent 7 states won) and the massive grassroots movement he has mobilised – but they are only interested in Trump, whose primary showings are a non-event now, as he and Cruz and Kasich are inevitably destined for a brokered Republican congress. Poor and ill-informed political coverage is increasingly an indictment on the quality and future viability of the big Australian mastheads.
That sensationalism sells and mainstream media at best buttress the do-nothing centre: these are the two messages I have taken out of watching this nomination race. I go into this in some depth in the article, but less so the implicit question that keeps me worried outside of Sanders’ prospects.
When progressive media outlets out themselves as nothing more than mouthpieces of the political status quo, regardless how broken, what does that say about the other inequitable status quos reinforced by press prejudice? Independent media, a hundred times over and forevermore, independent media for me. The soaring readership of online outlets like New Matilda and The Young Turks is evidence that I am behind the curve in reaching this conviction.
I am still watching Sanders, and hoping that he and his supporters can pull off what you and I have been told is impossible. A New York rally attracted an estimated 47,000 two days ago – unreported, naturally – the largest political rally in American history; this gives me hope, despite reports of vote suppression, as the 19/04 Battle for New York nears.
Feature image: taken by Phil Roeder. Used under creative commons.