Bernie Sanders' Media Beef Is Legitimate, But the Press Can't Admit It - Rolling Stone
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The Campaign Press: Members of the 10 Percent, Reporting for the One Percent

Media companies run by the country’s richest people can’t help but project the mindset of their owners.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) talks to journalists as he walks along Grand Avenue at the Iowa State Fair.Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) talks to journalists as he walks along Grand Avenue at the Iowa State Fair.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) talks to journalists as he walks along Grand Avenue at the Iowa State Fair.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Bernie Sanders Monday gave a speech in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. He took shots at the press, mentioning coverage of his campaign against Amazon:

I talk about (Amazon’s taxes) all of the time… And then I wonder why The Washington Post, which is owned by Jeff Bezos, who owns Amazon, doesn’t write particularly good articles about me. I don’t know why.

Employees of the Post were put out by Sanders’s comments. They insisted they hold no ill will against him for regularly bashing the man who writes their checks as one of earth’s most obnoxious plutocrats, and moreover that Sanders is wrong to make the media a “boogeyman” the way he’s turned “billionaires and corporations” into boogeymen. This “doesn’t add up,” noted the Post, going so far as to put the term “corporate media” in quotation marks, as if it were a mythical creature.

Perhaps the negativity toward Sanders isn’t over Amazon. After all, Sanders gets similar treatment from the New York Times, CNN, the Atlantic and other outlets. Still, the Post’s Bernie fixation stands out. The paper humorously once wrote 16 negative pieces about Sanders in the space of 16 hours (e.g. “Clinton Is Running for President. Sanders Is Doing Something Else,” “Bernie Sanders Pledges the US Won’t Be No. 1 in Incarceration. He’ll Need to Release Lots of Criminals,”etc).

The Post in 2017 asked readers how Democrats would “cope” with the Kremlin backing Bernie Sanders with “dirty tricks” in 2020. In April of this year it described the Sanders campaign as a Russian plot to help elect Donald Trump. They’ve run multiple stories about his “$575,000 lake house,” ripping his “socialist hankering” for real estate. “From each according to his ability,” the paper quipped, “to each according to his need for lakefront property…

Apart from being described as a faux-Leninist Russian stooge who wants to elect Trump and mass-release dangerous criminals, what does Sanders have to complain about?

After Bernie’s Wolfeboro speech, other media outlets let out a group howl. CNN called his attack “ridiculous” and “no different from what Trump does.” CBS said Bernie “echoes Trump” in going after the media.

The news media is now loathed in the same way banks, tobacco companies, and health insurance companies are, and it refuses to understand this. Mistakes like WMDs are a problem, but the media’s biggest issue is exactly its bubble-ness, and clubby inability to respond to criticism in any way except to denounce it as misinformation and error. Equating all criticism of media with Trumpism is pouring gasoline on the fire.

The public is not stupid. It sees that companies like CNN and NBC are billion-dollar properties, pushing shows anchored by big-city millionaires. A Vanderbilt like Anderson Cooper or a half-wit legacy pledge like Chris Cuomo shoveling coal for Comcast, Amazon, AT&T, or Rupert Murdoch is the standard setup.

This is why the White House Correspondents’ dinner is increasingly seen as an unfunny obscenity. The national press at the upper levels really is a black-tie party for bourgeois stiffs who weren’t smart enough for med school, and make their living repeating each other’s ideas and using Trump to sell Cadillacs and BMWs. Michelle Wolf was on the money when she ripped us for only covering “like three topics”:

Every hour it’s Trump, Russia, Hillary, and a panel of four people who remind you why you don’t go home for Thanksgiving… You guys are obsessed with Trump… He couldn’t sell steaks, vodka, water, college, ties or Eric. [But] he has helped you sell your papers, books, and TV. 

That was too much truth for Correspondents’ Association, who decried Wolf’s lack of “commitment” to a “vigorous and free press” and “civility.” They scrapped the comedy idea, and this year brought in a self-described “boring” speaker, who made light of Trump’s complaints about the press by reading from Ibsen’s “Enemy of the People.”

Instead of submitting to one annual roasting, attendees got to listen to stale Trump jokes and homilies to their awesomeness in between red carpet poses for people like Andrea Mitchell, Gary Cohn, and Madeline Albright.

Sanders in Wolfeboro went too far when he said no reporter has ever asked him what he’d do about income inequality (hell, I’ve asked him that). But his basic complaint is right.

The Vermont Senator frequently cites a (true) statistic that three families in America own more wealth than the bottom 50 percent of the entire population. In an alternate universe that could be a page one headline every day. The three oligarchical figures are Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and the owner of the Post, Bezos. The trio collectively is worth an absurd $345 billion.

Media companies run by the country’s richest people can’t help but project the mindset of their owners, and they are naturally incompetent when it comes to viewing their own role in society. While we regularly congratulate ourselves for being protectors of democracy, we have difficulty admitting basic embarrassments, like that the news is a profit-driven consumer product that isn’t always good for the customer. The public sees through this with ease. The press is completely in denial about this.

MSNBC’s Brian Williams did a segment showing the Sanders speech. He read a statement from Post editor Marty Baron:

Contrary to the conspiracy theory the senator seems to favor, Jeff Bezos allows our newsroom to operate with full independence, as our reporters and editors can attest.

Williams then said Sanders later “scaled back” his criticism, as if in response to the all-powerful words of Marty Baron:

Well, today Sanders scaled back his criticism a bit during interview at CNN saying, “My criticism of the corporate media is not that they are anti-Bernie, that they wake up, you know, in the morning and say, what could we do to hurt Bernie Sanders?  That’s not the case, that Jeff Bezos gets on the phone to “The Washington Post.”

That’s not “scaling back” criticism. It’s elaborating. Anyone who’s worked in the business (or read Manufacturing Consent) knows nobody calls editors to red-pencil text. The pressure comes at the point of hire. If you’re the type who thinks Jeff Bezos should be thrown out of an airplane, or that it’s a bad look for a DC newspaper to be owned by a major intelligence contractor, you won’t rise. Meanwhile, the Post has become terrific at promoting Jennifer Rubins and Max Boots.

Reporters watch as good investigative journalism about serious structural problems dies on the vine, while mountains of column space are devoted to trivialities like Trump tweets and/or simplistic partisan storylines. Nobody needs to pressure anyone. We all know what takes will and will not earn attaboys in newsrooms.

Williams brought out two guests. The first was Eliza Collins, politics reporter from the Wall Street Journal (Williams neglected to mention Sanders had also gone after the Journal and its owner Rupert Murdoch in his speech). He then brought on Robert Costa from the Post, for balance.

They considered a tweet by a Twitter rando called “Hoarse Whisperer” complaining that Bernie didn’t work hard enough for Hillary Clinton. This incidentally is also untrue, but that’s an issue for another time (besides, what does this have to do with Amazon and the Washington Post?).

In sum: a $10 million per year anchor for a Comcast subsidiary brings on employees of Bezos and Rupert Murdoch to ask if the press has a problem covering billionaires – and concludes it does not. They confirm the point using a tweet as the modern equivalent of a “man on the street” quote, itself an easily-manipulated device (you can keep asking “men on the street” questions until you get the answer you want), but at least it requires human interaction. That’s circling wagons, not testing hypotheses.

Trump may have accelerated distaste for the press, but he didn’t create it. He sniffed out existing frustrations and used them to rally anger toward “elites” to his side. The criticism works because national media are elites, ten-percenters working for one-percenters. The longer people in the business try to deny it, the more it will be fodder for politicians. Sanders wasn’t the first, and won’t be the last.

In This Article: Bernie Sanders, media


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