Earlier this week, even before Hillary Clinton’s primary victory in California assured her the Democratic presidential nomination, the Associated Press had already declared her the presumptive nominee. Bernie Sanders and his supporters were sore, and they had a right to be.
Although the AP defended its decision, saying that Clinton’s crossing the delegate threshold was news and they had an obligation to report it when they did (the day before the clinching primaries) the timing and the circumstances were suspicious. It appears that AP had been hounding superdelegates to reveal their preferences, and blasting that headline just before those primaries threatened either to depress Sanders’ vote or Hillary’s or both because the contest was now for all intents and purposes over.
Sanders has never been much of a media fan. Last October, Mother Jones reported that way back in 1979, he wrote in Vermont’s Vanguard Press, an alternative newspaper, that “with considerable forethought [TV capitalists] are attempting to create a nation of morons who will faithfully go out and buy this or that product, vote for this or that candidate and faithfully work for their employers for as low a wage as possible.” He said TV was America’s “drug.” On another occasion, he took a 60 Minutes crew to the AP office in Burlington and, in a bit of turnabout, began interrogating their reporters. So perhaps the AP’s announcement this week was a bit of long-simmering retribution.
Payback or not, Sanders and his supporters are justified in saying the mainstream media have not been entirely fair to him. But that isn’t because Sanders was anti-establishment or because he has attacked the media’s monopolistic practices or because he claimed to be leading a revolution or even because he was impatient with reporters who asked idiotic questions — though he had done all of those things.
Sanders and his supporters are justified in saying the mainstream media have not been entirely fair to him.
Sanders was the victim of something else: the script. The media have a script for elections, and in that script the presumed losers are always marginalized and even dismissed. The script, then, dictated that Sanders wasn’t going to get favorable coverage. Or, put more starkly, the MSM pick the losers and then vindicate that judgment.
From the moment he announced his candidacy in April 2015, the media treated Sanders as if he were unlikely to win. In The New York Times, that announcement was printed on page A-21, calling him a “long shot” but saying that his candidacy could force Hillary Clinton to address his issues “more deeply.” The article ended with a quote from Sanders: “I think people should be a little bit careful underestimating me,” which is exactly what The Times seemed to be doing.
By contrast, Hillary Clinton’s announcement two-and-a-half weeks earlier got prime real estate in The Times and the judgment that the “announcement effectively began what could be one of the least contested races, without an incumbent, for the Democratic presidential nomination in recent history.” So already the roles had been cast — though, of course, the perception that Sanders wasn’t likely to beat Clinton was all but a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The problem was, to use the buzzword of this election, the math. No matter how much money Sanders raised, how many caucuses and primaries he won or how much enthusiasm he stirred, he couldn’t beat the delegate math — which is to say, he was a loser. To the media, his rise was a plot twist before the narrative wound its way to the inevitable conclusion. And, as Patterson wrote of the media, “What is said of the candidate must fit the plot.” Here the plot was that Sanders was not going to win because he was not good enough to win.
Sanders’ coverage in The New York Times is a case in point, and an important one because The Times drives so much of the MSM’s coverage. It is hardly a secret that The Times has had a jones for Hillary Clinton, but that doesn’t excuse its coverage of Sanders, which even included an article criticizing him for not doing more of the baby-kissing and hand-shaking that candidates usually do.
Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone wrote a scathing takedown of The Times’ most egregious offense: a March article by Jennifer Steinhauer on how Sanders functioned as a legislator. Headlined “Bernie Sanders Scored Victories for Years Via Legislative Side Doors,” http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/15/us/politics/bernie-sanders-amendments.html?partner=rss&emc=rss" target="_blank">as originally published, the article recounted how effective Sanders was at attaching amendments to pieces of legislation, both Republican and Democratic, and forging coalitions to achieve his ends. The piece was bandwagon stuff.
But then something happened. The original article, already published, underwent a transformation in which Sanders suddenly wasn’t so effective a legislator. Even the headline was changed to “Via Legislative Side Doors, Bernie Sanders Won Modest Victories.” And this paragraph was added: “But in his presidential campaign Mr. Sanders is trying to scale up those kinds of proposals as a national agenda, and there is little to draw from his small-ball legislative approach to suggest that he could succeed.”
Responding to angry Sanders supporters, The Times’ own public editor, Margaret Sullivan, asked why the changes were made and wrote, “Matt Purdy, a deputy executive editor, said that when senior editors read the piece after it was published online, they thought it needed more perspective about whether Mr. Sanders would be able to carry out his campaign agenda if he was elected president.” Yeah, right.
Yes, it is block quoted.