Even the most casual observers would have to admit that the news media has done a very poor job covering U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vermont) surprisingly successful run for the Democratic presidential nomination. Except for a few politically focused outfits, the mainstream news media has largely ignored Sanders.
The failure to report on Sanders contrasts wildly with the mindless attention some media outlets have focused upon Donald Trump’s entry into the Republican presidential race. What’s more surprising is that Sanders is doing better than Trump in the polls: Bernie has the support of around 30% of Iowa Democrats, while Trump is tied with the relatively obscure Dr. Ben Carson for 23% of the votes of Iowa Republicans. To add icing to the cake, Sanders is actually ahead of Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire.
Sanders Leaving Donald in the Dust
Sanders’ success has been absolutely incredible over the summer. The Washington Post estimated that 100,000 people had attended his events as of Aug. 11. Those crowds included 28,000 people in Portland, Ore. and 27,500 in Los Angeles, nearly as many as who turned out for Donald Trump’s largest event without the publicity. That does not include the 100,000 or so people who watched a Sanders YouTube address at 3,500 meetings on July 29.
Bernie is even succeeding in the financial department. Politico reported that he had raised $15.2 million, almost all from small donors, by July 15, 2015. That’s small potatoes compared to Hillary, but some observers think Sanders may have raised several million more since then.
A Quinnipiac University poll from July 30, 2015 even shows that Sanders would beat Donald Trump by a healthy margin of six points in a general election. Trump would get just 39% of the vote to Sanders 44%.
No matter what you think of him, Sanders’ success has been astounding. A basically unknown independent U.S. Senator from a small state who calls himself a socialist is beating one of the biggest names in American politics in the New Hampshire primary. Some observers, such as Huffington Post columnist H.A. Gordon, now think Sanders is winning the Democratic presidential race. What is even more astonishing is that Sanders is doing it with limited financial support from small donors.
Reasons why the Media is Ignoring Sanders
This is certainly big news, and even if you dislike Sanders, you have to admit there’s a huge story here. So why isn’t the media giving it the coverage it deserves, especially with all the attention being heaped on “the Donald”?
Here are a few possible explanations based on my experience with the media:
- Sanders is simply outside the experience of a great many journalists. Many of today’s reporters are poorly or narrowly educated and not very well read. They simply do not understand what a socialist is and why the success of one in an American election is so significant. Like a lot of Americans, many in the media know little of history and even less about our political system. They do not understand the significance of what is going on here.
- The Sanders story is a very complex one. Sanders’ success is being driven by sometimes hard to understand changes to the economy, in particular, growing income inequality and economic stagnation in many parts of the country. A few astute observers, such as Errol Louis, have noted that Sanders is most successful in areas like Iowa where poverty is growing. There is no simple narrative like Donald Trump’s immigrant bashing for the media to grasp.
- Sanders isn’t playing the political game the media likes; instead, he is running an issued-based campaign and not concentrating on personality. There are no sound bites and few photo ops. Instead, Sanders’ speeches are little more than sermons about the issues, something that his followers lap up, but bores the media. Nor is Sanders playing on his family: there are no pictures of cute kids, babies, or even dogs to sell newspapers. Does Sanders even own a dog?
- Sanders is a rather boring non-traditional candidate. He’s a grumpy old Jewish guy from Brooklyn who looks and acts more like a high school civics teacher than a presidential candidate. He’s not polished and hardly charismatic or telegenic, two qualities the media loves. Sanders is simply not a colorful and larger-than-life character like Trump is.
- Sanders refuses to pander to the media, while Trump bends over backwards for them. Donald has long made a career of staging shows for the media, while Sanders simply refuses to play that game, which galls reporters to no end.
- Unlike Trump, Sanders is a largely unknown quantity. Reporters do not have to explain to the public who Trump is or what he is all about. Sanders takes a lot of explanation, something that today’s journalists hate to do. Looking into his background will take a lot of research, something else that today’s media is loath to do.
- Trump is based in New York, while Sanders is from Vermont. One dirty, but well-known secret in American life is that the major media hates to cover stories away from a few big cities like New York. This is partially motivated by finance; it is very easy for a reporter to get her editor to approve the cost of subway fare to interview “the Donald”, but hard to get an expense report containing a plane ticket to Burlington, Vt., Bernie’s place of residence. It is also cultural: a lot of media types hate the idea of having to go out into the heartland or even to Vermont, which is far outside their comfort zone. God forbid that a reporter has to interview a guy with a pickup truck with a shotgun hanging in the back window or a hippy without shoes. Finally, a lot of reporters know little or nothing about Vermont; they haven’t thought about it since Newhart went off the air. Actually, I would not be at all surprised if some of them could not find the state on the map.
- Some journalists simply do not want to offend the Democratic establishment and its supporters in the big media and business. If you take a look at Hillary’s biggest donors, you will see that they are mostly banks, including Citigroup Inc., Goldman Sachs, DLA Piper, JPMorgan Chase & Company, Morgan Stanley, and media companies, including Time Warner, 21st Century Fox, and Cablevision Systems. Get the picture? This includes a lot of the people that the journalists work for. They do not like to bite the hand that feeds them. Note, I do not think this is any sort of a conspiracy; more likely, it is simply spineless journalists showing their devotion to their bank accounts rather than their craft.
“If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”
George S. Patton
Okay, my guess is that a combination of these factors are prompting the media to ignore Bernie. I’ll also make one more prediction here: if Bernie starts winning big, the media will jump on his bandwagon. Nothing attracts popularity in America like success, no more matter how controversial the successful person is.