Opinion: Bernie Sanders vs. the media

Photo: Taelar Pollmann · The Sentry Bernie Sanders at a campaign rally in Denver in 2019.


Photo: Taelar Pollmann · The Sentry
Bernie Sanders at a campaign rally in Denver in 2019.

Bernie Sanders, who is currently running for president of the United States in 2020, has been a consistent activist since the 1960s. His messages about healthcare for all, social justice, and advocacy for the working class haven’t changed either. Another consistency in Bernie’s political journey is the lack of press coverage by mainstream media, as well as doubt and criticism from other politicians, candidates, and the news sources that do cover his campaign. 

When he ran for president in 2016, a large number of his supporters noticed that compared to other candidates, Bernie wasn’t receiving the same type of media coverage: one that showed them in a positive light and put their face on TV and the front page as often as possible. Considering how many major media outlets are owned by large corporations that Bernie has been openly critical of, this signals to a potential cause of the lack of media coverage. 

In one interview, Bernie acknowledged this, stating “I wonder why The Washington Post—which is owned by Jeff Bezos, who owns Amazon—doesn’t write particularly good articles about me.” Sanders has openly criticized Bezos’s treatment of Amazon workers as well as Amazon’s general labor policies. 

Despite Bernie’s steady rise in the polls and flow of important endorsements, mostly by unions and labor groups, the media tends to portray Bernie’s campaign as a sputtering campaign that struggles to gain traction and get off the ground. However, there is overwhelming evidence that says otherwise. An example of this (and evidence of The Washington Post’s bias due to its ownership) is a Washington Post opinion article titled “Bernie Sander’s Trump-like Campaign is a Disaster for Democrats.” The article provides no real evidence connecting Sanders’ campaign techniques to Trump’s and shows a clear bias towards Democratic nominee Pete Buttigieg. 

While it is an opinion article, it is consistent with the source’s disapproval of Bernie Sanders. According to a recent Politico article, members of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) have been caught privately discussing changing the rules for the convention itself, in hopes to weaken Sanders’ campaign. These rules changed after Michael Bloomberg, another candidate, gave the DNC $300,000, according to a Vice article on the incident. 

Luckily for Bernie, the lack of coverage his campaign faces when in the  mainstream media and his lack of support from the DNC isn’t as big of a hurdle for him thanks to smaller news companies, union groups, and student organizations. Recently, Bernie gained endorsements from a number of union groups, including but not limited to, National Nurses United, National Union of Healthcare Workers, and NH American Postal Workers Union, as well as endorsements from Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and their branch specifically for college students, Young Democratic Socialists of America. The president of the Democratic Socialists of America was contacted for this article but was unable to comment as she was actively campaigning for Bernie at the Iowa caucus.

Recently, some news outlets produced pieces dropped this dismissive attitude towards Bernie. When he surged in the poll numbers in Iowa before the caucus, NBC News published an article titled “‘Oh my God, Sanders Can Win’: Democrats Grapple With Bernie Surge in Iowa”. The article discusses Democratic candidates’ surprise about Bernie’s overwhelmingly positive surge in votes in Iowa. It seems to be a change from a previous article from the same source that slammed Bernie supporters: “Trump’s MAGA Supporters and Twitter Bernie Bros Have This Ugly Tactic in Common.” The article discusses Bernie’s supporters allegedly harassing other people on the internet, specifically on Twitter, in a fashion similar to President Trump’s supporters. 

However, research on Bernie’s supporters shows that the term “Bernie Bros” is mostly a smear tactic used to paint Bernie as less progressive with a ‘misogynistic’ fanbase. Journalist Glen Greenwald, in his article “The ‘Bernie Bros’ Narrative: a cheap campaign tactic masquerading as journalism and social activism,” states, “The concoctions of the “Bernie Bro” narrative by pro-Clinton journalists have been a potent political tactic—and a journalistic disgrace. It’s intended to imply two equally false claims: (1) a refusal to march enthusiastically behind the Wall Street-enriched, multiple-war-advocating, despot-embracing Hillary Clinton is explainable not by ideology or political conviction, but largely if not exclusively by sexism: demonstrated by the fact that men, not women, support Sanders (his supporters are “bros”); and (2) Sanders supporters are uniquely abusive and misogynistic in their online behavior. Needless to say, a crucial tactical prong of this innuendo is that any attempt to refute it is itself proof of insensitivity to sexism if not sexism itself.”

The Bernie Bros tactic is an example of corporate media and corporate political leaders teaming up to smear Bernie Sanders, assumingly because of his critique of such capitalistic organizations. 

Greenwald’s argument is supported by an analysis of recent polls (November 2018 to March 2019) compiled by Morning Consult + Politico. These polls show that Sanders is more popular with people of color than white people and is equally favored by men and women (Vox, 2019, quoting a March 2019 Morning Consult poll). Currently, his biggest hurdle is age, as he tends to attract the support of voters between the ages of 18 and 44 but is less popular with older voters. 

Bernie’s campaign has been a long battle between the corporate media, other politicians and their separate agendas, and the false information being consumed by everyday voters. In a country where money is a major driving factor in political campaigns, it is important to be aware of false information and misleading headlines. Bernie’s campaign has been an interesting case study on the role money, corporations, and powerful people play in the media the public consumes every day, and with this in mind, it will be interesting to see how the 2020 presidential election plays out.

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