The bias of the mainstream media against Bernie Sanders

The questions asked by political polls often reveal the interests of the media organizations which conduct the polls. The recent CNN/ORC International poll, which surveyed 1012 Americans about the US presidential race on September 4-8, 2015, shows the institutional bias of a mainstream news organization like CNN against Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

The CNN/ORC International poll found that among Americans who intend to vote in the Democratic primary election for president, 37% support Hillary Clinton, 27% support Bernie Sanders and 20% support Joe Biden as their first choice. According to their own polling, Sanders’ support nationally has been surging in recent months, but has dropped slightly in the last month with news that Biden might enter the race.

However, in the critical races of New Hampshire and Iowa, where Sanders is actively campaigning, recent polling shows that Sanders continues to rise in the polling. The most recent NBC/Marist poll in New Hampshire finds that 41% favor Sanders, 32% favor Clinton and 16% favor Biden among Democratic voters. Likewise, the most recent Quinnipiac University poll found that 41% favor Sanders, 40% favor Clinton and 12% favor Biden among likely Iowa Democratic caucus goers, although the most recent Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll found that Clinton still leads with 37%, compared to Sanders with 30% and Biden with 14%.

In other words, in the important races where voters are paying attention and Sanders’ name is better known, he looks likely to win the Democratic primary. In many other states, Sanders’ name and his agenda are not as well known, whereas both Clinton and Biden are well known all across the country. Given the recent polling in New Hampshire and Iowa, mainstream news organizations should be taking Sanders seriously as a contender to win the Democratic primary.

In CNN’s recent national poll, however, Sanders was not matched up with potential Republican candidates to see whether he could win in a general election, whereas CNN polled Americans whether either Clinton and Biden could win when matched up against Jeb Bush, Donald Trump and Ben Carson. Why did CNN omit Sanders, but include Biden, when Biden isn’t even a declared candidate and Biden is clearly behind Sanders in the polling? If CNN took the time to match up 3 Republican candidates with Democrats in the poll, why did it only match up 2 Democrats? If it was only going to choose 2 Democrats for polling, it should have chosen Sanders and Clinton as the two front runners. To not poll voters about Sanders in a matchup with Republican candidates is a glaring omission.

The major hurdle that Sanders faces is the fact that many Democrats support him, but they don’t think that he can win either in the Democratic primary or in the general election because his positions are too radical for the general public. CNN’s own poll shows this fear. Although 27% of Democratic voters support Sanders as their first choice, among those same voters, only 13% think that Sanders will get the nomination to be Democratic candidate for the US president. Given the fact that there is a widespread perception that Bernie Sanders is too radical to win in a general election and this is pressing political question among many Democratic voters, it is significant that CNN did not bother to match Sanders up with potential Republican candidates to see how he would fare in a general election. For a news organization, it should be a significant story whether Sanders can or cannot win in the general election. CNN, however, seems uninterested in polling American voters about this important question which is puzzling many Democratic voters.

Why would CNN not want to answer this question? Probably because it prefers that Democratic voters remain fearful of a Sanders’ candidacy. If its poll found that Sanders could beat Jeb Bush, Donald Trump and Ben Carson, then it might convince more Democrats to support Sanders. It is better for Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) to linger in the minds of Democratic voters about Sanders, while providing them with concrete polling data about Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden in a matchup with Republicans, so they feel more certainty about the establishment candidates.

Is it far fetched that mainstream news organizations like CNN would have an institutional bias against a candidate like Bernie Sanders who openly critiques the “establishment media” in his speeches? In some ways, mainstream news organizations have treated Sanders very fairly during this election cycle. Media organizations like MSNBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post have fairly reported on how Sanders has risen in the polls and have given him a number of interviews. Most mainstream news organizations have not harped about how Sanders is a “socialist” like Fox News does. In fact, the right-wing media watchgroup, Newsbusters, criticizes NBC, ABC and CBS for only mentioning that Sanders is a “socialist” in 18% (17 out of 94) of its news reports about Sanders during its morning and evening news broadcasts since April 1.

Nonetheless, these same mainstream news organizations marginalize and sideline Sanders by not treating seriously the issues that he raises. For example, in an interview with CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux, Sanders commented:

What we need is a serious debate on serious issues. That’s what the American people want. People want to hear why it is that despite increased technology and productivity, people are working longer hours for lower wages. I would hope very much that media would allow us to have that discussion, rather than just get involved in political gossip and soap opera type approaches.

Brian Stelter, the host of CNN’s Reliable Sources, played this clip of Sanders’ critique of the media for Maggie Haberman, a New York Times reporter and a CNN political analyst, and asked for her response. She replied:

Its very conventional to say that everything is the media’s fault. I actually think that there has been a fair amount of discussion about wage stagnation and the issues that Bernie Sanders really does care about. My colleague Pat Healy was very early on the notion that Bernie Sanders was attracting a lot of crowds and his message was resonating, so I think it is very easy to blame the media. I’m not even exactly sure what specifically he is talking about in that clip.

It is laughable for Haberman to claim that she does know what Sanders is talking about when he criticizes the media for engaging in “political gossip and soap opera type approaches” rather than covering the issues which effect average Americans.

Bernie Sanders doesn’t just criticize the influence of Wall Street and the billionaire class on US politics, he also criticizes the mainstream media for failing to cover the important issues and treating politics like a horserace and a “soap opera”. In an interview in May on CNN’s Reliable Sources, Bernie Sanders commented:

But this is what I worry about. In terms of campaign coverage, there is more coverage about the political gossip of a campaign, about raising money, about polling, about somebody saying something dumb, or some kid works for a campaign sends out something stupid on Facebook, right? We can expect that to be a major story.
But what your job is, what the media’s job is, is to say, look, these are the major issues facing the country. We’re a democracy. People have different points of view. Let’s argue it.

In recent weeks, Sanders’ criticism of the mainstream media has become a standard part of his stump speeches which he gives all around the country. In a recent speech at Columbia, South Carolina, Sanders declared:

The American people are sick and tired of establishment economics, they are sick and tired of establishment politics, and they are sick and tired of the establishment media.

Much of the corporate media will talk about everything else in the world except the issues facing ordinary Americans.

The bias against Bernie Sanders in mainstream media organizations such as the New York Times is well documented. When Sanders announced his candidacy, the Times buried it in the back pages. During the month of August, the Times published 14 articles about Sanders, compared to 54 on Hillary Clinton, 63 on Donald Trump, 18 on Jeb Bush, and 10 on Marco Rubio. The Times has been inundated with so many comments criticizing its coverage of Sanders, that Margaret Sullivan, the Times Public Editor, did a review of their coverage of Sanders. She concluded:

The Times has not ignored Mr. Sanders’s campaign by any means, but it also hasn’t always taken it very seriously. The tone of some stories does seem regrettably dismissive, even mocking at times. Some of it is focused on the candidate’s age, appearance and style rather than what he has to say.

Clearly, mainstream media organizations are not enthusiastic about Bernie Sanders’ message which criticizes the same wealthy interests which often own the media and pay for much of its advertising.

Interviewers often spend more time trying to get Sanders to attack Hillary Clinton than to talk about his own platform. They don’t want to discuss his ideas for how to implement universal health care, a carbon fee-and-dividend, free tuition at public universities, a $15 minimum wage, 12 weeks of paid sick and family leave, 10 days of paid vacation per year, a trade policy that doesn’t export American jobs or a foreign policy which isn’t based on perpetual war in the MiddleEast.

Even a sympathetic interviewer like MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow spends more time covering his polling numbers rather than the issues he raises. The vast majority of recent articles about Sanders in the press have focused on his polling or the size of his crowds, rather than the policies he wants to implement. For example, a search in Google for “Bernie Sanders news” finds dozens of articles about Sanders’ polling numbers, but there are only a handful of articles about the bills Sanders is introducing to reduce prescription drug prices in the US or to ban privatized federal prisons. Business journals such as the Wall Street Journal and International Business Times cover his bills because the business class has to know what legislation might be coming down the pike, but most mainstream news organizations have ignored them. Bernie Sanders wrote an article entitled “High Drug Prices Are Killing Americans” in the Huffington Post on August 29, about why prescription drug prices need to be regulated, but the mainstream press has published very few articles about this issue. There is no evaluation of Sanders’ arguments nor any discusion on whether his proposals would lower drug prices.

Most analysts scoff at the practicality of Donald Trump’s proposal to build a wall on the southern border with Mexico or Scott Walker’s brief flirtation with a wall on the northern border, but these proposals get endless coverage in the press. In contrast, Sanders’ ideas are detailed in proposed legislation which he has introduced or cosponsored, yet they aren’t given much serious discussion in the media.

The problem is that Sanders’ proposals take on powerful entrenched interests which would prefer that these ideas not be discussed in public. The financial sector certainly doesn’t want much public debate about Sanders’ proposoal to break up the big banks and impose a transaction tax on Wall Street trading to pay for free tuition at public universities. The military industrial complex certainly does not want the public to bruit about Sanders’ proposal to audit the Defense Department and its contracts, similar to the audit of the Fed several years ago. The medical insurance companies don’t want the American people to discuss Sander’s Medicare for All program that would put them out of business, just like the pharmaceutical companies don’t want Americans to discuss Sanders’ proposed regulations that would lower the price of prescription drugs. The fossil fuel companies don’t want any discussion of Sander’s proposed carbon fee-and-dividend. No employer of unskilled labor, especially not the fast food and restaurant industry, wants the public to discuss the relative merits of a $15 minimum wage. Likewise, nobody in the billionaire class wants the public to discuss how wealth has migrated to the top over the last 4 decades and the Amercan middle class has been hollowed out–not when this radical talk is accompanied by Sanders’ dangerous proposals to publicly fund elections, end tax evasion of US corporations in places like the Cayman Islands, and increase the capital gains, estate and income taxes for the wealthiest Americans.

The mainstream news organizations have catered to the wealthy interests by keeping Sander’s radical ideas out of the media, so they won’t infect the American public. Thankfully, the revolution in the internet and social media has made the American people less dependent upon the mainstream media. Sander’s dangerous ideas are slowly percolating through the blogosphere and his supporters are finding him through Reddit, Facebook and Twitter. It is becoming harder and harder for the mainstream media to ignore his surging campaign for president, even when groups like CNN and the New York Times do their best to silence the ideas underpinning Sanders’ “political revolution.”

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