Mainstream media has stepped up its attacks on Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders after he slammed the Washington Post for biased coverage of his campaign, calling him “dangerous” and likening him to Trump.
Sanders “is continuing to undermine the institution of the press by suggesting to people that we can’t make editorial decisions for ourselves because the corporate leaders, owners, dictate for us,” CNN’s Dana Bash complained on Monday, deftly conflating “the press” with “corporate-owned mainstream news” after Sanders suggested the Washington Post’s relentlessly negative coverage of his campaign was revenge for his attacks on owner Jeff Bezos’ Amazon and the “corporate media.”
Sanders’ criticism of the Post wasn’t just dangerous, Bash warned – it was “very similar to what Trump is doing.” Never mind that Sanders calls himself a Democratic Socialist while Trump dredges up the specter of socialism only to wring a few “boos” from an audience, or that Sanders was skewering Goldman Sachs while Trump was populating his cabinet with its former executives – both were flogging the same “conspiracy theory,” the CNN panel agreed, echoing the words of WaPo executive editor Marty Baron, who issued a statement to CNN on Monday in response to Sanders’ jabs insisting that Bezos “hasn’t once intervened in any way” in the paper’s coverage.
Sanders had called out Bezos and the Post by name during two recent campaign rallies in New Hampshire, pointing out that the richest man in the US’ retail powerhouse had paid $0 taxes last year – and joking that his refusal to let Amazon off the hook wasn’t winning him any points with Bezos’ news outlet. During the second rally, he threw in a dig at the New York Times as well, but it was deemphasized in order to give the mainstream media ample opportunity to lump him in with the Bad Orange Man.
“Large corporations own the media in America, by and large, and I think there is a framework, about how the corporate media focuses on politics…It’s not that Jeff Bezos is on the phone every day,” Sanders said on Tuesday, clarifying his remarks and taking the obligatory whack of penance at Trump for calling the mainstream media the “enemy of the people” – “a disgusting remark which undermines American democracy,” the senator sniffed.
While Sanders and Trump have both called out the mainstream media for unfair reporting, their explanations have little in common. During the second round of Democratic debates on CNN, Sanders went after moderator Jake Tapper, pointing out that CNN is heavily subsidized by pharmaceutical industry dollars – so of course they’re not going to give positive coverage to a candidate whose platform includes “taking on the drug companies.” Trump, on the other hand, has painted a picture of a mainstream media determined to take him out by any means necessary – motivated less by corporate than political interests and manipulated by the alleged Deep State interests that brought the country Russiagate.
And like Trump, Sanders has plentiful grounds for complaint. WaPo, especially, has a history of attacking the Vermont senator, once running 16 negative stories about his campaign in the space of 16 hours during the 2016 election season. For 2020, the New York Times assigned a former BlackRock hedge-funder to cover Sanders; Sydney Ember has lardedher supposedly neutral pieces with quotes from corporate lobbyists, Clinton superPAC-men, and pro-austerity think-tankers, all hostile to Sanders’ ideas. Not to be outdone, an April op-ed from WaPo attacked Sanders as “the Donald Trump of the left” whose “Democratic credentials” are “suspect” for pinning the US’ suffering on “billionaires.” A disclaimer at the bottom acknowledges the author is married to a staffer for John Hickenlooper, a rival for the 2020 Democratic nomination.
Calling out the mainstream media for pushing ideas toxic to the majority of the country is not the sole province of left or right – indeed, candidates from both parties would be wise to get involved in intelligent media criticism if they hope to connect with voters sick of being lied to. But few are willing to bite the hand that feeds them – meaning negative coverage could be seen as a sign of integrity.