Dominant media outlets continue to produce more desperate and cartoonish attacks on Bernie Sanders as he continues to surge in the polls. The attacks are failing in epic fashion. And the left is having some laughs at the expense of establishment tears.
Losing the argument to Sanders is not the only concern for the dominant media, 90 percent of which are owned by only five corporations. The corporate media may also lose credibility in the process. These outlets are helping raise the class consciousness of the public by providing evidence supporting Sanders’s claim that these media operate as an organ serving the richest institutions in the country.
“Amazon zillionaire Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, and Bernie has been fighting Amazon on behalf of Amazon workers,” said Norman Solomon, a 2016 delegate for Bernie Sanders at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, in an interview with Truthout. Solomon said that Sanders has prompted a more widespread “realization that the most powerful media outlets aren’t umpires, they’re players, and the ‘game’ has tremendous consequences.”
Indeed, increased awareness has helped the public more willingly reject the neoliberal dogma that pervades the corporate media. This dynamic did not change overnight. Some of it can be attributed to an evolving understanding of class that has been growing for years in this country. As a Truthout analysis observed in 2016, the first Sanders campaign and the Occupy movement were both instrumental in helping reshape the American debate through class lenses. These movements grew in the aftermath of the Great Recession and the 2008 economic crisis. This was a wake-up call for young Americans who were (and still are) disproportionately impacted. The 2020 primary is an incredibly high-stakes chapter in this fight, as the class consciousness that manifested itself in 2011 and 2016 has transformed into an even larger national movement with a viable national candidate.
Moreover, the growth of alternative means of communication, including independent media and social media, have provided a chance for more Americans to learn about the world without relying on corporate media outlets.
Mainstream media contempt for Sanders has been well documented back to his first presidential run. Still, the sheer volume of anti-Sanders media content in the last few weeks — as his poll numbers have risen — is overwhelming. Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin’s recent commentary is sadly typical. She has been arguing that Sanders is unelectable and is a massive liability to compete with Trump. As she was making this argument on Twitter, she asked: “What poll is there suggesting a Bernie can beat Trump?”
It was clear Rubin thought this was a classic mic-drop moment. However, Sanders has defeated President Donald Trump in numerous credible head-to-head polls, faring better than every other candidate save for Biden. Whether Rubin is being dishonest or ignorant is an open question, but there is no justification either way.
Much to Rubin’s chagrin, Bernie’s “Internet Army,” as The New York Times pejoratively called Sanders supporters in one of its many anti-Sanders articles, quickly dismantled her argument in real time. A flood of comments and memes correcting her missteps flooded her responses, far outpacing likes or retweets. In addition to shredding Rubin’s assertion, many (like Solomon) pointed out that the owner of The Washington Post, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, has a vested interest in stopping the kind of redistributive economic policies Bernie Sanders’s campaign advances.
There was a time when Rubin’s sentiments would have had more influence. Facts that disprove her points, expose her hypocrisies or demonstrate who owns the bulk of the mainstream media would not have been as accessible to your average consumer of political news, say, 20 years ago. But ready access to such information means that these types of assertions simply can’t stand.
“Since we have democratized the national conversation because of [social media], whenever [establishment media figures] have bad takes, they get destroyed,” argues political commentator and co-founder of Justice Democrats, Kyle Kulinski, on his show “Secular Talk.”
Social media played a key role in helping this happen. It played a key role in organizers being able to educate and communicate in the Arab Spring and Occupy. However, there are grave concerns about corporate control of our digital sphere as well, with two Silicon Valley companies controlling 60 percent of digital advertising.
Rubin is hardly the only media figure engaged in such tactics. Spurious and sometimes baseless attacks on Sanders have come from all corners of the establishment press. Progressive talk-show host Kystal Ball recently appeared on a CNN segment hosted by Alisyn Camerota. When she cited data stating that Bernie Sanders is popular, pundit and former Hillary Clinton staffer Karen Finney simply rejected Ball’s claim without evidence.
In January, when Sanders first took the lead in the famous Selzer/Des-Moines Register (DMR) poll, pundits on MSNBC, including Joy Reid and Jimmy Williams, minimized the results. The DMR poll is described as the gold standard by establishment standard-bearers like Nate Silver and Vox Media. Yet Williams still tried to suggest to the audience, absent any evidence, that the poll was not accurate:
Writing in The Atlantic, David Frum (one of the key architects of the Iraq War) made arguments in his article “Bernie Can’t Win” that were so unbelievably specious that they elicited widespread laughter on the left. At one point, Frum sincerely suggests Trump will focus his campaign on parroting Hillary Clinton’s criticism of Sanders — emphasizing rude supporters on Twitter and toxic masculinity. “[You will] almost think Clinton is Trump’s running mate,” he wrote.
In other words, Donald Trump — who has been accused of (and recorded boasting about) sexually assaulting many women — will, according to Frum, try to undermine Sanders by saying he is sexist and appealing to people’s sense of decency. And to do this, supposedly, he will use the arguments of the candidate with woeful favorability numbers, who he just defeated and threatened to throw in jail. One could be excused for thinking Frum’s whole argument was meant as satire.
The Diminishing Efficacy of Corporate Propaganda
In the United States, the most influential centers of power have long been class-conscious. They have shaped media policy and media coverage to emphasize other fault lines in an attempt to break the country up by anything but class. As such, powerful forces have attempted to keep the working class from fighting for class interests or even recognizing that they are members of anything resembling a working class. This is what makes the kind of inequality we have possible in the United States. If this logjam breaks, the dynamics that maintain the status quo face a crisis.
In the 2020 election, a wary public sees Bernie Sanders asked at every debate how he can dare to suggest we pay for Medicare for All, though former Vice President Biden is not compelled to explain how we can afford to maintain the status quo — which is literally the most expensive and wasteful health care system on the planet — or how we can afford to fund an endless war. Why is the burden of proof so rigid toward policies that benefit the many, while there is no burden of proof placed on those who seek the opposite?
These assumptions are so deeply ingrained into establishment journalists that many of them have merely internalized them. No wonder pundits seem so confused when they are challenged with obvious realities that don’t fit in nicely with the dominant ideology.
Now corporate media outlets are trying desperately to shape public opinion and the efficacy of its propaganda is waning. Their “kitchen sink strategy” against Sanders makes their contempt for him and his supporters so obvious, the public is (slowly, but steadily) starting to connect dots about who the media serve. As it stands, only 13 percent of Americans have a great deal of trust in the media, according to a Gallup poll from September 2019. (Twenty-eight percent have a “fair amount of trust,” for a total of 41 percent having some trust in the media.)
If current trends persist, the mainstream press will find itself increasingly toothless in its efforts to shape our national debate. Many feel this development is long overdue.