Tuesday

February 25th, 2020

Media

The media keep falling in love --- with anybody but Bernie Sanders

Margaret Sullivan

By Margaret Sullivan The Washington Post

Published Feb. 13, 2020

As the presidential campaign got underway last year, we watched the media lavish its affections on Beto O'Rourke for a while, and then Kamala Harris, briefly, and Elizabeth Warren for perhaps a month.

But, as it will, love waned.

Joe Biden became the new sure thing - experienced, solid and empathetic. Most of all, he possessed that ineffable quality: electability. But last week, after the Iowa caucuses, the attention shifted squarely to Pete Buttigieg, portrayed as a centrist savior, though it's still debatable if he actually won.

Then Tuesday night, the news media's roving crush moved to Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar. Her third-place finish in the New Hampshire Democratic primary became the story of the night.

Never, though, has mainstream media turned its loving eyes to the frontrunner, Bernie Sanders. Quite the opposite.

"He is a grumpy, angry person on the stump and he is not going to be elected," raved Republican strategist Sara Fagen on ABC News one recent Sunday morning.

At the New York Times, columnist Thomas Friedman scoffed at the Sanders surge to write in praise of former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, who is on the verge of being the next flavor du jour, if his record on criminal justice doesn't catch up with him.

On a sentence-by-sentence basis, straight news coverage may not have reflected an anti-Sanders bias, but the framing of that coverage - choices made on headlines and emphasis - sometimes did. (Sanders, in a home page headline in the Times, "tightens grip" on the party's liberal wing, which sounds more threatening than victorious.)

Meanwhile, Klobuchar was queen for a day, garnering headlines like this one from Yahoo News: "Riding wave of momentum, Klobuchar lands in 3rd place in New Hampshire primary." You heard words like "Klobucharge" and "Klomentum" bandied about.

On MSNBC Tuesday night, host Chris Matthews fawned: "Bernie indicts. She finds a way to care."

Amy Goodman of the progressive news program Democracy Now, a Sanders defender, recalled hearing one cable pundit say that Sanders had "flatlined at No. 1." On a recent episode she bemoaned that most of the media coverage is "so anti-Bernie it's just remarkable."

The subtext behind much of the disdain is a partly a deep-seated sentiment that Sanders, if nominated, has little chance of winning the general election. But it's also partly - and more insidiously - that many journalists don't identify easily with Sanders in the same way they do with, say, Warren or O'Rourke or Buttigieg.

In Iowa early this month, I asked one local reporter who had met all the major candidates who would be the strongest Democratic candidate. "I don't have a hope, I have a fear," came the answer. It wasn't hard to figure out what that meant or how that sort of visceral dislike might make its way, subtly, into coverage.


While many reporters and pundits have seemed, until very recently, to casually discount Sanders, a few opinion writers are taking him very seriously - seriously enough to shoot off flares about what a bad choice they think he would make.

"Running Sanders Against Trump Would Be an Act of Insanity," thundered the headline on a New York magazine piece by Jonathan Chait in late January.

He wrote: "No party nomination, with the possible exception of Barry Goldwater in 1964, has put forth a presidential nominee with the level of downside risk exposure as a Sanders-led ticket would bring. To nominate Sanders would be insane."

"Bernie Can't Win," opined David Frum in the Atlantic, characterizing Sanders in unflattering terms as "a Marxist of the old school of dialectical materialism, from the land that time forgot." At The Washington Post, columnist Jennifer Rubin has been equally tough; one recent headline: "Bernie Sanders' Trump-like campaign is a disaster for Democrats."

In turn, Sanders keeps dissing what he calls the corporate media, as he has for years.

In the official editorial-board interview with the New York Times recently, Sanders blustered that he doesn't cozy up to powerful media figures as other candidates are wont to do.

"I'm not good at pleasantries. If you have your birthday, I'm not going to call you up to congratulate you, so you'll love me and you'll write nice things about me," he said.

A few media figures are giving him his due, if a little grudgingly. CNN's Jake Tapper was one: "Take a step back. He is 78 years old, he is a Democratic socialist, he is a Jewish American, originally from Brooklyn - it is a stunning achievement by Senator Sanders and for his movement."

Sanders, though, doesn't seem to mind. His ardent followers bond with him and with each other by despising the mainstream media, often enough with good reason.

And it may well be that he doesn't need or want the help of cable pundits, columnists and other opinion-makers.

From Beto to Biden, their crushes, so far, have turned into heartbreaks.

Maybe media love - fickle and fleeting - is a valentine that Bernie Sanders would rather do without.

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Previously:
10/28/19: Facebook launches a charm offensive --- and vows to pay (some) news organizations for their journalism
08/20/19: Redemption sounds nice, but disgraced lib pundit doesn't deserve it
06/27/19: Dem debate felt like a nightmare version of speed dating
05/27/19: The outsize influence of cable news
03/18/19: Social-media platforms were used like lethal weapons in New Zealand --- that must change now
01/08/19: Campaign journalism needs an overhaul. Here's one radical idea
10/07/18: Nate Silver will make one firm prediction about the midterms, but most journalists won't want to hear it
09/07/18: A messy journalistic dilemma if New York Times reporters find out the identity of anonymous op-ed author
07/23/18: Mark Zuckerberg is a horror show, but there's a glimmer of truth hidden in his latest blunder
06/11/18: Shocked by Trump aggression against reporters and sources? The blueprint was made by Obama
05/14/18: Symptoms at NBC hint at a larger sickness
10/18/17: From the pen of an 18-year-old Harvey Weinstein: An aggressor who won't be refused
01/12/17: BuzzFeed crossed the line in publishing salacious 'dossier' on Trump
11/09/16: The media didn't want to believe Trump could win. So they looked the other way
11/02/16: Nate Silver blew it when he missed Trump --- now he really needs to get it right
10/20/16: How the Committee to Protect Journalists broke its own rule to protest Trump

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