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The High Cost of Ignoring Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders

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December 19, 2015 20:53 EDT

Study finds that US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has been virtually ignored by media outlets.

Last week brought near-universal condemnation of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for calling for a “total and complete” ban on Muslims entering the United States. From British Prime Minister David Cameron to actor George Takei, and from President Barack Obama to House Speaker Paul Ryan, leaders condemned vitriolic Trump speech.

Yet hidden in the near-universal criticism of the right-wing demagogue is both the role the media have played in his rise, and its cost to American values. The media have enjoyed the ratings buzz of covering Trump’s misogynistic, racist trumpeting of hate. The lackluster businessman was, until recently, best known politically for questioning Obama’s US citizenship as a leader of the harebrained “birther” movement (no disrespect intended to those fuzzy animals).

As a candidate, the media have breathlessly covered the following: Trump implying that supporters who targeted a Hispanic homeless man for a beating were “passionate”; his brutal imagery of a bloodied Fox News anchor after her probing debate questions; his calling Vietnam War veteran Senator John McCain a “loser”; and his statement that a #BlackLivesMatter protester at his rally who was punched and kicked “should [maybe] have been roughed up.”

Donald Trump’s hate-filled pronouncements have attracted media frenzy, with The Huffington Post even putting him on their “Entertainment” page, despite 75% of his statements proving false.

More recently, Trump has incited hatred against American Muslims by describing fake 9/11 celebrations of thousands in New Jersey. Trump has also said he wasn’t sure if he would have supported or opposed the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, and he has called for a database of Muslims.

Media Time

Now, channeling Captain Renault, media outlets are “shocked … shocked … to find that Trump has been outspokenly xenophobic!” (Corporation: “Your advertising dollars.” Media: “Oh, thank you very much.”)

A recent study of ABC, CBS, and NBC news programs found 234 minutes dedicated to Trump versus just ten for Bernie Sanders, with a comparable 81 minutes to 20 seconds on ABC’s “World News Tonight.” This despite both candidates’ often similar polling results and the fact that Sanders outranks leading Republican candidates, including Trump.

For Bernie Sanders, it has seemed like a case study of Mahatma Gandhi’s famous quote: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” The news media have mostly focused on ignoring him, albeit rarely mocking him for not kissing enough babies or living relatively cheaply.

And that has shaped our national descent into hate- and violence-filled debate. Last week, when Trump spoke of the amoral, unlawful abrogation of Muslims’ rights, former Japanese-American internment camp resident George Takei responded. He recited the results of a congressional study which found that the internment happened in the context of three things: racial prejudice, war hysteria and lack of political leadership.

Bernie’s alternate and compelling “political leadership” has drawn overflow crowds, record donors and heavy millennia support. Yet a message that could trump the Trump is virtually muted by for-profit media.

In Sanders’ quest to “make America great again” (although he’d never adopt as trite a motto), he implicitly targets the actions of a specific demographic, like Trump. The decisions of powerful white males in legislative and corporate positions have led to a massive deterioration of financial security and dignity for many Americans. Sanders also advocates returning, in some ways, to an earlier era.

At the center of the Vermont senator’s campaign is reversing income and wealth inequality. The top one-tenth of the 1% holds almost as much wealth as the bottom 90% of America, as he frequently says. (Those richest have about three times more the share of wealth than they did in the late 1970s.)

Sanders supports reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act, whose repeal played a key role in the financial implosion that is costing America $6 to $36 trillion. He supports a living wage of $15 per hour to boost stagnating salaries, and the public funding of higher education that has skyrocketed in price. He advocates an end to austerity and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). He has a comprehensive plan to address racial justice. He supports divestment of fossil fuels, promotes what he calls “real family values” and endorses affordable health care.

These are policies consistent with decades of his congressional leadership prioritizing the American people over the corporations whose money he doesn’t accept.

Listening to his blisteringly accurate analysis is revelatory. At his September Prince William County rally, a friend turned to me and said, “This is why they don’t let him on TV.”

Over the last few months, he has expanded the scope of his bold proposals addressing key challenges.

Sanders introduced bills in Congress to reduce carbon pollution by 80% by 2050 through a carbon fee (a mechanism backed by climate leader James Hansen), and a similarly aggressive climate plan. He visited Freddie Gray’s neighborhood and compared it to an impoverished part of a Third World country, and he has added an environmental violence to his platform to end racial justice. Sanders has called for resignations of those officials who delayed the release of a video showing Chicago teenager Laquan McDonald’s brutal death. He has called for an end to exploitative for-profit prisons.

The narratives of other Republican presidential candidates, who cumulatively have totaled about half of Trump’s coverage, have been weak and often false. The exception is on foreign policy, in which their violent statements feed Islamic State propaganda and likely violate international law.

And Clinton?

Hillary Clinton, who racked up about half of Trump’s coverage (outside her secretary of state controversies), grudgingly and half-heartedly has accepted some progressive positions.

She announced her opposition to the Keystone XL and the TPP just a month before the first Democratic debate, with her narrow opposition to the trade agreement seeming to allow a change in position. Her plans for the banks and #BlackLivesMatter issues have gaping holes. She has whitewashed the narrative of the financial crisis to downplay the significant role of husband Bill Clinton while president. She is trying to carve a middle path to victory that won’t stop corporate and wealthy donors allied with her family from giving, including financial and military companies.

But this leaves many Americans confused as to her true priorities. Even while she has called for a “movement” to prevent gun violence, she has adopted moderate positions, many of which are backed by Sanders. She has drifted from topic to topic, presenting policies not anchored in basic truths and injustices of our country. Hillary Clinton, despite what she’d like to believe, is not the anti-Trump.

This plays out in the context of the heavily biased Democratic National Committee (DNC) leadership, with a history of making decisions to favor Clinton over Sanders. DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz—a Clinton supporter—has severely limited debates, which also occur at inconvenient times.

The decision hurt Sanders hard given his virtual media blackout. On December 18, just weeks before the first primaries, the DNC imposed a ban of indeterminate duration on the Sanders’ campaign accessing the voter database, based on Sanders’ staffers accessing Clinton’s information during a security failure. It was quickly reversed after a lawsuit was filed by Sanders’ campaign, who assert that they stood to lose $600,000 per day in donations. The Sanders campaign calls for an independent audit of the DNC.

As for now, let’s work to keep America off the path of discrimination and violence. Say it, mainstream media: “The top one-tenth of the 1% has as much as the bottom 90%.” Cover that and other basic policy truths of the Sanders’ campaign, and inform us of his inspiring, realistic solutions to create justice and opportunity for all.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Juli Hansen /

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