On May 29, I wrote about the hypocrisy of the Sanders campaign’s having opposed the superdelegate system in principle, while turning to superdelegates as the the last hope for overturning the will of the voters. While I stand by the my post, as a whole, it included these unfortunate words: “his supporters. . .throw things.” This was an oblique reference to an incident that was widely reported as taking place at the Nevada state convention in May. I should never have made that reference and hereby apologize for it.
As it turns out, there was no chair throwing in Nevada. According to the myth-busting website, Snopes.com, the incident was completely made up by a Nevada journalist by the name of Jon Ralston and then further propagated by such liberal bastions as Rachel Maddow and the New York Times.
Your blogger was gullible enough to take Maddow’s and NYT’s reports at face value. Dear Reader, as an one-person opinion blogger, I cannot promise you that I will engage in the kind of fact checking that I would expect of professional journalists and the institutions they work for. I find it outrageous that Maddow and NYT (not to mention hundreds of other media outlets) didn’t do their due diligence on this. I have learned a new lesson about relying on them and will try harder to verify controversial items I see in the mainstream media.
Ultimately, I don’t think this particular piece of misreporting changed in any significant way the outcome of the race: Bernie Sanders pretty much had no hope of victory by then. But it certainly contributed to greater hostility between the Clinton and Sanders campaigns, which has not been good for anyone (except Trump and the GOP).
So, what of the Bernie claim that the media was horribly unfair to him from the moment he got in the race. I certainly saw clear evidence of this from the Washington Post, which is a consistent pro-corporate rag with no line between editorial and reporting. But I again failed to notice New York Times’ irresponsibility. This outstanding piece by Bill Moyers sheds good light:
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,” 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.
Moyers also reports the numbers:
On CNN, Clinton got more than 70,000 of the Democratic-candidate mentions, while Sanders got just under 42,000. On MSNBC, Clinton got more than 93,000 mentions to Sanders’ roughly 51,000. On Fox News, she got more than 71,000 mentions to his more than 28,000. The numbers are similar on the Lexis-Nexis database of newspapers.
Moyers’s conclusion about why all this happened, though, contradicts one part of the conspiracy theory held by many Bernie supporters. According to Moyers, media bias against Sanders was not the result of a corporate, right-wing cabal to defeat the left, but rather resulted from a self-reinforcing echo chamber. That is, the media assumed from the start that Sanders couldn’t possibly win against Clinton. Therefore, they under-covered him and denigrated him to justify their firm conclusion that he was and would be a loser. Writes Moyers:
. . .this isn’t just what the MSM think of Bernie Sanders. It is what the media think of losers. They don’t like them very much, and they seem determined to make sure that you don’t like them either — unless they beat the press’s own odds and become winners.
Do I suspect anti-left bias in the media? To some extent. But in some ways it’s even more alarming to learn that the news sources we rely on are just so completely irresponsible that truth and balance simply don’t matter. If you can’t rely on the New York Times, whom can you rely on?
©2016 Keith Berner