Chapter 7: Collusion with media.
One of the greatest obstacles to the Sanders campaign, and much of the reason Sanders lost the primary, was the failure of mainstream media to cover his campaign at all. Then, it was also a failure of U.S. journalists to do honest, authentic journalism.
As seen above, Donald Trump’s coverage, compared to the others, is pathetic. It only confirms that the for-profit “news” prefers entertainment over substance, bringing them higher ratings and thus greater profits. And perhaps it has something to do with the Clinton team’s early strategy to “elevate Trump” by “telling the press to take him seriously” — they figured he’d be easy to beat.
But while Donald Trump was covered twice as much as Hillary Clinton, Hillary Clinton was covered 11x more than Bernie Sanders.
In addition to the pure institutional bias from the media (Sanders threatened the mainstream media far more than Hillary Clinton did), the DNC and Clinton campaign did their fair share of manipulating U.S. news and journalism through unethical means, behind closed doors.
The goal of this media collusion was not to explore the honest truth about the candidates. It was not about an honest debate of the issues. The goal was to boost Hillary Clinton, and hardly mention this “Bernie Sanders” guy. When Sanders is mentioned, he will be lied about, or simply not taken seriously.
It is worth asking why the media would not cover Bernie Sanders for nearly the entirety of his campaign running up to the actual primary voting. It is worth asking why journalists would consistently lie about Sanders and his proposals. It is worth inquiring into why, and to what extent, both the DNC and Clinton campaign used journalists and the media to keep the public ignorant and misinformed.
Thankfully, there are some solid answers to these questions. Wikileaks and other sources would later reveal that the DNC and Clinton campaign used specific reporters and media channels to push pro-Clinton and anti-Sanders narratives, under the impression of “unbiased” reporting. Sources would also show Facebook and Twitter taking action to remove trending tweets and topics that could hurt Clinton, and censor and erase troublesome posts that could hurt Clinton. Then, the Clinton campaign would illegally coordinate with a SuperPAC, “Correct the Record,” whose sole purpose was to boost Hillary Clinton and attack Bernie Sanders on social media.
Correct the Record was a mass “astroturfing” and trolling operation, deployed to spread narratives in favor of Clinton, and to discredit Sanders — truth be damned. Correct the Record was even working with corporate lobbyists, one of whom would pose as the “mayor” of Atlanta in a CNN column, ripping Bernie Sanders that he is “out of touch with the poor” and “has a one issue platform.”
This is only the tip of the iceberg. The collusion and corruption in the 2016 primaries were extensive, and not everything is known about every occurrence. But this chapter will explore some of what happened.
The 2016 media collusion may begin with an early DNC email, which reads that the DNC would “pitch stories” (pro-Clinton) to reporters, but of course, not let anyone know it was coming from the DNC. Instead, it would appear to the public as if the stories were coming from whichever autonomous journalist or “fact-based” news organization.
One intercepted email reads:
“Working through the DNC and others, we should use background briefings, prep with reporters for interviews with GOP candidates, off-the-record conversations and oppo pitches to help pitch stories with no fingerprints and utilize reporters to drive a message.”
In other words: The DNC would use the media for their own goals, while denying they played a part in creating or running the stories. This was part of their strategy to…
“in the coming months will be to frame the Republican field and the eventual nominee early and to provide a contrast between the GOP field and HRC.”
Then, to defend Hillary Clinton, the DNC planned to spread lies through the media to cloud any facts and truths about her weaknesses:
“Use specific hits to muddy the waters around ethics, transparency and campaign finance attacks on HRC.”
Source: NY Daily News
The DNC, acting in part for the Clinton campaign, would use this strategy against Bernie Sanders in the debates, through the news media, and online during the primaries.
The main weapon here was the narrative. These pro-Clinton, anti-Sanders narratives were planted in the media by the DNC and Clinton campaign to undermine Sanders’ campaign and confuse the electorate. In this chapter, we will take a look at some of these narratives, which were mainly false, and with the intent to help Clinton and hurt Sanders. We will also look at the manipulation of news channels and journalists in direct connection with the DNC and Clinton campaign.
The U.S. media is dominated by a few major corporations, and this is a problem of its own. The media was against Sanders before the DNC and Clinton campaign ever summoned it. In this report, it is simply acknowledged that this is true (see, for example, The Washington Post running 16 negative articles on Bernie Sanders in a 24-hour period) — but this is not a report to expose the full extent of media corruption. We are mainly going to look at how the DNC and Clinton campaign used the media against Sanders, unethically, and to undermine a truly democratic election process.
The DNC memo can be found here. In the memo, Clinton’s team are calculating how to “shape the narrative” in the media to be Clinton-friendly. They will use “friendly journalists,” and many specific journalists are pointed out in the memo, who have, for example, “tee’d up stories for us before and have never disappointed.”
Of course, it is not wrong to know journalists, and to contact them for stories. What is wrong — unethical and antithetical to democracy — is using journalists precisely to push your campaign message under the public impression that these are just reporters doing a story from a “neutral” vantage point. The entire point of journalism in a democracy is to challenge power, not serve it.
An even longer list, with citations for each journalist, can be found in the Wikileaks archive: Coordination Between Clinton Campaign and Journalists.
The bottom line here is that both the DNC and Clinton campaign aimed, and often succeeded at, manipulating journalists throughout the primary to cover Clinton favorably, and Sanders unfairly (or not at all).
2. “The Violence and Rage” of Sanders Supporters (citation needed)
At a contested convention in Nevada, Bernie Sanders delegates claimed that the process on the convention floor was unfair. The facts, from a later Sanders press release, were as follows:
Following protests on the convention floor, a narrative began to circulate that a Bernie Sanders supporter “got violent” and “threw a chair.” This narrative would begin to circulate, unverified, through mainstream media outlets, and echoed by Clinton supporters. Here is the DNC Chairwoman on CNN speaking of “violence and intimidation” from Sanders camp, and saying that both the situation and Sanders’ response to the situation were “absolutely unacceptable.”
Wolf Blitzer of CNN then asked Debbie Wasserman Schultz,
“The Nevada State Democratic Party said that Sanders’ campaign, staff, and supporters incited violence and chaos. Those are pretty strong words — does the DNC believe the Sanders campaign and staffers actually incited violence?
Schultz responded that she “was not there,” but she “does know” (“because there was video and acknowledgement that chairs were thrown at the stage, that violence was used, that the state party chair has been threatened, her child has had threats…”) and ultimately, the Sanders campaign and Sanders himself need to condemn these actions. They should be “civil and orderly, not respond with violence and intimidation.”
The truth is rather different. Debbie Schultz was, at best, making these strong allegations against the Sanders camp based on hearsay. No proof of violence ever surfaced, and one video of a Sanders supporter picking up a chair (and then putting it back down, at the urge of other Sanders delegates) was the worst form of “violence” that occurred at the Nevada convention.
Here is a documentation of the event, which shows that the convention proceeded unfairly (as mediated by Roberta Lange, chair of the Nevada state party and member of the national DNC executive committee) — and there was no “violence” at the convention.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz would even go on to compare Sanders to Donald Trump, due to his “inability” to “condemn the (nonexistent) violence” in Nevada.
The media made little effort to push back against these mere rumors of “violence” from Sanders supporters. The closest form of proof to ever surface of “violence and chair throwing” was this parody video.
Controlling The Narrative: Undermining Information (and Democracy)
Remember how the DNC and Clinton campaign had a strategy to plant stories in the media? Here are some of the narratives that the media propagated, and refused to challenge, in service of Hillary Clinton.
- Bernie Is Too “Radical” (and therefore Can’t/Won’t Get Things Done)
- Bernie Doesn’t Know How to Pay For It
- Bernie Isn’t Politically Savvy Enough to Enact His Proposals
- Bernie and Hillary Are Actually Pretty Much the Same
- Bernie Supporters are White Misogynistic “Bros”
- Bernie Is Not Electable (and Nominating Him Will Elect Trump)
- Bernie Said He Wouldn’t Go Negative on Hillary, But He Did (and Badly)
- Voting for Bernie Means You Are “Privileged”
I will do my best to document these quickly.
1 – “Bernie the radical who can’t get things done.”
Bernie “got things done” as an activist, then as mayor, then as U.S. Representative, then as U.S. Senator. That is why he is so beloved in his home town and state. Why would he keep being elected for public office, and having such high approval ratings — much higher than other politicians typically do — if he “couldn’t get things done?”
When did the mass media ever say something like: “Wait a minute, Hillary, Bernie actually did get things done: Here’s some of the stuff he got done…”
Almost never. Were they scared of upsetting Hillary Clinton? Or were they just that oblivious?
And part of the narrative was that Hillary Clinton, who the Republicans hated with a passion, would be able to “compromise” with Congress better than Bernie Sanders. The media willingly obliged this narrative, despite a lack of evidence — along with simply passing along the buck that Hillary is “pragmatic” versus Bernie who is “idealistic.”
2 – “Bernie doesn’t know how to pay for it.”
– “How Bernie pays for his proposals” is right on his website. How was this so blatantly missed by the media?
– “World’s Most Famous Economist [Thomas Piketty] Says Bernie Sanders Could Change the Face of the Country.” I thought Bernie doesn’t know economics? Virtually all the media told me so.
– “Economist explains why bernie proposals would make economy soar.” Can’t be true…
– Support from Robert Reich (former labor secretary under Bill Clinton), and other economists. So, some “smart economist people” really do side with Bernie Sanders. But you wouldn’t really know if you watched CNN.
– Social Democratic nations, with smaller GDP and budgets than the U.S., already enact most of Bernie Sanders’ proposals as a matter of common sense. The media didn’t tell us about this; if we wanted to know it, most Americans would have to find out on the internet or by going to a Bernie Sanders rally.
Despite all the positive evidence and support for Bernie Sanders’ economic programs, disingenuous hitmen like Paul Krugman, who seemed to have suddenly and radically transformed from his past positions, would help to prop up the narrative that Sanders was economically “unrealistic”:
It was a plain lie that Bernie Sanders’ economic proposals were too ambitious, and people like Krugman likely knew this. Krugman, however — and others — were on team Clinton. There must have been incentives for this. Maybe Krugman was in line to be in Clinton’s cabinet?
Much of the public would buy the narrative that Bernie’s economic ideas are fantasy. If we had an honest media, and critical journalism, however, this flimsy narrative would have been quickly demolished. Instead, the media was allied with Clinton (and defending its corporate interests).
3 – “Bernie Isn’t Politically Savvy Enough to Enact His Proposals.”
An interview with Bernie Sanders was published in the NY Daily News that seemed to suggest, at least from someone’s point of view, that Bernie Sanders “doesn’t know how to break up the big banks.” This “fact” was then recalled by Clinton in a televised debate.
The idea was pushed by the Clinton campaign, by Clinton-allied media, and Clinton supporters everywhere. This was one of Bernie Sanders’ flagship proposals, and the narrative (which was gladly pushed and rarely questioned by the media) became that “Sanders is just saying stuff for the sake of popularity, money, or whatever reason (other than political change).”
But it was wrong. More “independent” journalists like Shaun King of the NY Daily News would have to counter the narrative, even against own publication:
And more media outlets, mostly independent, would describe why the accusation was incorrect:
The question, once again, is why the media was so quick to get Sanders wrong on such an important issue. The answer is because, one, the corporate model for media is bad for authentic journalism, but also, that swaths of journalists and media outlets were working alongside the DNC and Clinton campaign.
4 – “Bernie and Hillary Are Actually Pretty Much the Same.”
On the one hand, a core attack against Bernie Sanders was that he is “impractical,” a “radical,” and can’t get things done. But then, Clinton and her allies would also claim, when expedient, that her and Sanders are “mostly the same” — after all, they “voted the same way 93% of the time.”
Why this is ultimately a lie is that within those “7%” of different votes were some significant differences, like votes for war, wages, mass surveillance, and Wall Street deregulation. Also, votes in Congress will not completely determine what kind of president someone is to become — Bernie Sanders’ idea of the “political revolution,” alone, illustrates how different he is than Clinton — and so does his reliance on small donors rather than large donors.
Sanders, along with an army of inspired activists and volunteers, would ferociously fight against Wall Street and the fossil fuel industry. Clinton would not. The media was reluctant to point out anything like this kind of difference. The media, as indicated by early DNC memos, would “blur the lines” on this sort of issue, attempting to push the perception that Clinton could be everything Sanders could be (and more).
5 – “Bernie Supporters are White Misogynistic “Bros.”
Another narrative that was manufactured by the Clinton campaign, and then pushed throughout the media, is that Sanders supporters are overwhelmingly white, obnoxious males.
Eventually, the myth was thoroughly documented as a manufactured narrative and a lie. Later, polls would find that Sanders’ support is actually greatest among women and non-whites — the opposite of the Bernie Bro narrative. And at least one study found that Clinton supporters were more aggressive online than Sanders supporters, and no less sexist.
Too late: the media already told the voting public that Bernie and his bros are all sexist.
6 – “Bernie Is Not Electable (and Nominating Him Will Elect Trump)”
Yet another narrative spun throughout the media was a lie. Obviously, the opposite happened in the end. And the evidence during the primary (and after the primary) showed that Sanders would fare better than Clinton against all potential Republican nominees — especially Donald Trump.
Bernie Sanders almost surely would have won a general election against Donald Trump, and had no less a chance against any other Republican. But the media barreled forward with the “unelectable” narrative, and there’s no question whose campaign benefited.
In the next chapter, we will also see how the DNC used “superdelegates,” in complicity with the media, to push this narrative of “unelectability.” Ultimately, this would lower enthusiasm and turnout for Sanders, affecting the final vote.
7 – Bernie Said He Wouldn’t Go Negative on Hillary, But He Did (and Badly)
Media outlets and Hillary-allied pundits would eventually claim that Bernie Sanders “went negative” on Hillary, after he said he would run a “positive” campaign. The opposite, however, was far more true.
Just like Hillary Clinton did against Obama in 2008, she ran a dirty campaign against Sanders, while the “going negative” of Bernie Sanders’ typically amounted to pointing out her real ties to big money interests.
This narrative of “going negative,” intended to hurt Sanders during the primary and even after the primary (by “exposing” his “hypocrisy”), was pushed in concert through the media. It is probably not a coincidence that so many “journalists” saying Sanders “went negative” were being paid (or simply instructed) by Clinton allies to say that.
8 – “Voting for Bernie (in the primary) Means You Are “Privileged.”
Another narrative pushed throughout the media was that Sanders is the candidate of “privilege.” It is related to the “electability” narrative: because if Bernie won the primary, Trump would win the general, and all because you wanted your “free stuff” and couldn’t “compromise.”
But who was really the candidate of “privilege”?
“You’re Not Voting For Hillary To Protect Me,” by Morgana Visser
Whether you choose one view, or the other, there were strong and valid arguments from the Sanders side regarding the “privilege” of voting for Clinton. But, only the “Clinton” side was represented in the mainstream media. (These two important pieces, for example, were independent blog posts.)
Last but not least: Donna Brazile, working for CNN, was fired for leaking debate questions to Hillary Clinton. Confidence and success in national debates is important, especially when there are so few of them — this would have increased Hillary’s preparedness in a way that Sanders was not offered.
Whether it affected zero votes or a lot of votes, we will never know. It would surely be closer to zero than a million, and yet it is one more thing showing that the DNC and media were working for Hillary Clinton. These things all add up, and there are probably more instances of collusion that we do not know about.
Months later, Donna Brazile, who was fired from CNN for leaking debate questions to Hillary Clinton, was appointed interim DNC chair. (It is clear whose side she was on.)
If the media were not so corrupted on its own accord — and also colluding with the DNC/Clinton campaign — there would have been more debates on the issues. The debates would have been more honest — the candidates held to account by real journalists — doing their job to challenge, rather than simply enable, the powerful.
There would have been a variety of viewpoints represented, more evenly and consistently, across media outlets. Journalists and pundits would have gotten their basic facts straight — much more often than they did.
Unfortunately, the media was hostile to Sanders and favorable to Clinton. Clinton and the DNC’s “inside access” undoubtedly had something to do with that. To defend this arrangement would not be an argument for democracy.