Anyone who’s been paying attention should get the picture by now. Overall, in subtle and sledgehammer ways, the mass media of the United States — owned and sponsored by corporate giants — are in the midst of a siege against the two progressive Democratic candidates who have a real chance to be elected president in 2020.
Some of the prevalent media bias has taken the form of protracted swoons for numerous “center lane” opponents of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. The recent entry of Michael Bloomberg has further jammed that lane, adding a plutocrat “worth” upwards of $50 billion to a bevy of corporate politicians.
The mainline media are generally quite warm toward so-called “moderates,” without bothering to question what’s so moderate about such positions as bowing to corporate plunder, backing rampant militarism and refusing to seriously confront the climate emergency.
Critical reporting on debate performances and campaign operations has certainly been common. But the core of the “moderate” agenda routinely gets affirmation from elite journalists who told us in no uncertain terms four years ago that Hillary Clinton was obviously the nominee who could defeat Donald Trump.
This year, Sanders has taken most of the flak from reporters and pundits (often virtually indistinguishable), serving as a kind of “heat shield” for Warren. But as Warren gained ground in polling this fall, the attacks on her escalated — to the point that she now has a corporate media bulls-eye on her political back.
The disconnect between voters and corporate media is often huge. Meanwhile, with fly-on-the-wall pretenses, media outlets that have powerfully distorted proposals like Medicare for All are now reporting (with thinly veiled satisfaction) that voters are cool to those proposals.
The Washington Post, owned by the world’s richest person Jeff Bezos, has routinely spun Medicare for All as some sort of government takeover. In a prominent Nov. 30 news story that largely attributed Warren’s recent dip in polls to her positioning on healthcare, the Post matter-of-factly — and falsely — referred to Medicare for All as “government-run healthcare” and “a government-run health plan.”
Such pervasive mass-media reporting smoothed the way for deceptions that have elevated Pete Buttigieg in polls during recent weeks with his deceptive “Medicare for all who want it” slogan. That rhetoric springboards from the false premises that Medicare for All would deprive people of meaningful choice and would somehow reduce coverage.
In late September, with scant media scrutiny, Buttigieg launched an ad campaign against Medicare for All that has continued. Using insurance-industry talking points, he is deliberately confusing the current “choice” of predatory for-profit insurance plans with the genuine full choice of healthcare providers that top-quality Medicare for everyone would offer.
Mainstream media outlets are ill-positioned to refute such distortions since they’re routinely purveying such distortions themselves. Warren’s backtracking step on Medicare for All in mid-November was a tribute to media pressure in tandem with attacks from centrist opponents.
The idea of implementing some form of a substantial “wealth tax” has also been denigrated by many corporate-employed journalists. Countless pundits and political beat reporters have warned that proposals like a wealth tax, from Warren and Sanders, risk dragging Democrats down with voters. The truth is that such proposals are unpopular with the punditocracy and the extremely wealthy — while it’s a very different matter for most voters, who strongly favor a wealth tax.
On the same day this fall, the New York Times and the Washington Post published stories on Democratic elites’ “anxiety” about the presidential election. The Post wrote that Democrats “fret” Warren and Sanders “are too liberal to win a general election.” (With disdain, the article made a matter-of-fact reference to “the push for liberal purity.”) The Times similarly wrote of “persistent questions about Senator Elizabeth Warren’s viability in the general election.” Contrary voices were absent in both news stories.
Assessing those articles, FAIR.org media analyst Julie Hollar pointed out: “The pieces interviewed a number of big donors and centrist party leaders, who fretted about their preferred candidate’s struggles and expressed hope for someone more corporate-friendly than Warren to enter the race and challenge her rise.”
Hollar added: “The thinking of powerful people in the Democratic Party is worth writing about. But it’s crucial not to just take their claims at face value. . . . What establishment Democrats are really worried about, of course, is their own power in the party, which is threatened by a surging left wing. Don’t look to their establishment media counterparts to report on that transparently.”
Part of the problem is the TV network that many Democrats (mistakenly) trust. MSNBC is becoming notorious for its hostility to Bernie Sanders, often expressed through egregious omission or mathematical fib if not direct antipathy.
Ongoing media analysis is crucial, but even more important is activist push back against the 24/7 onslaught of corporate-minded propaganda, often couched as common sense and incontrovertible reality. Among the needed counter punches are these:
** Support progressive media outlets as they provide independent coverage of the presidential campaign.
** Widely share, via email forwarding and social media, online pieces that you like. (Hopefully including this one.)
** Recognize, challenge, and organize against the corporate-media echo chamber that affects so many voters.
You shouldn’t have to be an active supporter of Bernie Sanders (as I am) or of Elizabeth Warren to voice outrage about corporate media biases. What’s at stake includes democracy — the informed consent of the governed — and so much more.
History is unfolding in real time. It’s not a product on the media shelf, to be passively bought and consumed. As Bernie 2020 campaign co-chair Nina Turner says, “All that we love is on the line.”
Norman Solomon is co-founder and national coordinator of RootsAction.org. He was a Bernie Sanders delegate from California to the 2016 Democratic National Convention and is currently a coordinator of the relaunched independent Bernie Delegates Network. Solomon is the author of a dozen books including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.