Media bias against Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders is a member of the United States Senate representing the state of Vermont. In 2015 and 2019, Sanders began political campaigns for the Democratic Party nomination for President of the United States. The Sanders 2016 and 2020 campaigns have frequently complained that the media is biased against Sanders.
Sanders is a self-styled democratic socialist, who has avoided party affiliation throughout his political career. In the U.S. two party system, Sanders is ideologically closer to the Democratic Party, which considers itself primarily ranging from centrist to liberal and even progressive, depending on regional political landscape. While serving in the Congress, Sanders has caucused with the Democrats, which has made him eligible for participation in congressional committees as if he were a member of the Democratic Party, which he is not. In addition, Sanders received support from Democratic party organizations in Vermont, as well as from the Vermont Progressive Party, which also endorses some Democratic candidates in the state.
2016 primary campaignEdit
On April 28, 2015, Vermont Public Radio reported that Sanders would announce his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination on April 30. In an interview with USA Today on April 29, Sanders stated that he was "running in this election to win," and launched a campaign website, effectively beginning his run. Sanders said he was motivated to enter the race by what he termed "obscene levels" of income disparity, and the campaign finance system. On May 26, 2015, Sanders officially announced his candidacy at Burlington's Waterfront Park.
Early campaign monthsEdit
In September 2015, John Sides, a Political Science Professor at Vanderbilt University, found that media coverage of Sanders was consistent with how well he was polling, noting that candidates who poll well get more news coverage. Sides also noted that to what extent Sanders was covered, the coverage was generally more favorable than that of Clinton.
In October 2015, Story Hinckley of the The Christian Science Monitor published an article discussing what he called a "near-blackout from major TV news sources". He indicated that at the time, Sanders was polling high and bringing in significant donations, yet the mainstream media was giving insufficient coverage of the campaign. According to an analysis by Media Matters for America, media networks overwhelmingly covered Hillary Clinton's email controversy, while ignoring Sanders' campaign. In a study of campaign coverage conducted by Andrew Tyndall, ABC, CBS, and NBC devoted 504 minutes to the presidential race, with 338 minutes devoted to the Republican race, 128 minutes to the Democratic race, and a total of 8 minutes devoted to Bernie Sanders (compared to 145 minutes for Trump, 82 minutes for Clinton, 83 minutes for Clinton's email controversy, and 43 minutes to Jeb Bush).
Later campaign monthsEdit
In an article published by FAIR, Adam Johnson documented that the Washington Post ran 16 stories about Bernie Sanders over a period of 16 hours, all of which were presented, "in a negative light, mainly by advancing the narrative that he’s a clueless white man incapable of winning over people of color or speaking to women." The Washington Post responded to this claim, stating that FAIR's definition of negative was overly broad, and "conflated news, analysis and opinion". They also noted 16 stories in one day which presented Sanders in a positive light.
The New York Times received criticism when they retroactively made significant changes to an article about Bernie Sanders' legislative accomplishments over the past 25 years. The article was originally titled "Bernie Sanders Scored Victories for Years Via Legislative Side Doors" but was subsequently changed to "Via Legislative Side Doors, Bernie Sanders Won Modest Victories." In addition to the revised title, several paragraphs were added as well. Margaret Sullivan at the New York Times opined that the changes were clear examples of "stealth editing" and that "the changes to this story were so substantive that a reader who saw the piece when it first went up might come away with a very different sense of Mr. Sanders’s legislative accomplishments than one who saw it hours later." Katie Halper from FAIR noted in response to a defense of the changes that, "in its original form, the article didn’t cast enough doubt on Sanders’ viability and ability to govern."
Harvard Kennedy School reportEdit
A June 2016 report by the Harvard Kennedy School Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy on media coverage of candidates in the 2016 presidential primaries. The report found that,
...during the year 2015, major news outlets covered Donald Trump in a way that was unusual given his low initial polling numbers—a high volume of media coverage preceded Trump’s rise in the polls. Trump’s coverage was positive in tone—he received far more “good press” than “bad press.” The volume and tone of the coverage helped propel Trump to the top of Republican polls.
The Democratic race in 2015 received less than half the coverage of the Republican race. Bernie Sanders’ campaign was largely ignored in the early months but, as it began to get coverage, it was overwhelmingly positive in tone. Sanders’ coverage in 2015 was the most favorable of any of the top candidates, Republican or Democratic. For her part, Hillary Clinton had by far the most negative coverage of any candidate. In 11 of the 12 months, her “bad news” outpaced her “good news,” usually by a wide margin, contributing to the increase in her unfavorable poll ratings in 2015.
Patterson stated that,
Less coverage of the Democratic side worked against Bernie Sanders’ efforts to make inroads on Clinton’s support. Sanders struggled to get badly needed press attention in the early going. With almost no money or national name recognition, he needed news coverage if he was to gain traction. His poll standing at the beginning of 2015 was barely more than that of the other lagging Democratic contenders, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and former Virginia Senator Jim Webb. By summer, Sanders had emerged as Clinton’s leading competitor but, even then, his coverage lagged. Not until the pre-primary debates did his coverage begin to pick up, though not at a rate close to what he needed to compensate for the early part of the year. Five Republican contenders—Trump, Bush, Cruz, Rubio, and Carson—each had more news coverage than Sanders during the invisible primary. Clinton got three times more coverage than he did.
In her book A Rhetoric of Divisive Partisanship: The 2016 American Presidential Campaign Discourse of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, Colleen Elizabeth Kelly noted that Sanders and Clinton got a share of news coverage that was similar to their eventual primary results, until the stage of the campaign when Clinton pulled ahead in the primary. Sanders received the most favorable coverage of any primary candidate. Kelly writes that Sanders was both right and wrong to complain about media bias, with Kelly citing the Shorenstein Center report on the media's outsized coverage of the Republican primary, but noting that Sanders' coverage was the most favorable of any candidate.
2020 primary campaignEdit
Shane Ryan from Paste Magazine opined that, like in 2016 with Washington Post's 16 negative posts about Bernie in 16 hours report by FAIR, the 48 hours of Sanders declaration to run, the Post published four negative articles about him, two of which were by the same author. Jennifer Rubin immediately criticized Sanders as a dated, unpopular candidate upon which the next day he reached record fundraising numbers. Rubin continued to disparage the senator's success in what Ryan called, "a great big point-missing whiff, and a lame attempt at self-justification after being made to look like a fool a day earlier."
Katie Halper in FAIR documented a number of cases where the media was utilizing selective poll reporting and distortions of graphics. In her article, she starts with an MSNBC 2020 matchup against Trump poll on March 7. The poll showed Biden at 53%, Sanders at 49%, and Warren and Kamala at 48%. Sanders however, was listed as being in fourth place. A similar sequence error was made on MSNBC on March 15 with Sanders in a third place order despite being in second numerically. On May 24, Chuck Todd of Meet The Press reported a Quinnipiac Poll that found Sanders had gone up by 5 points between April 30 and May 21 whereas Todd signed it as if Sanders had gone down by 5 points. On April 29, Velshe and Ruhle of MSNBC inaccurately displayed the data of a Monmouth poll that put Sanders at 27% polling with white voters and Biden at 25%. The MSNBC graphic showed Biden at 28%; a three point difference not in accordance with the poll. In a segment by Rachel Maddow on April 29, she showed a graphic with candidates leading with female donations. Kirsten Gillibrand was highest at 52% with women while Sanders was at the bottom at 33%. Maddow failed to mention that the data was only based on donations of $200 or more. The data was taken from an open secrets report that made it clear that the report focused only on large donations. Sanders first quarter reported that 46% of his donations were from women. Lastly, Halper documented the MSNBC analyst Zerlina Maxwell claiming that Sanders, "did not mention race or gender until 23 minutes into the speech" in his kickoff speech. She later retracted her statement when she realized that he mentioned within the first five minutes. Glen Greenwald from The Intercept detailed the occurrence and considered it a blatant lie stating,
Indeed, as is almost always true for MSNBC, all of these pleas that they correct their false claim have been steadfastly ignored — no correction issued — because, as I’ve repeatedly documented, lying about adversaries of the Democratic establishment is not merely tolerated or permitted at MSNBC, but is encouraged and rewarded. That’s why they purposely had the very first person to comment on Sanders’s kickoff campaign speech be a paid Clinton 2016 campaign official highly embittered toward Sanders, and it’s why MSNBC does not correct lies no matter how loudly, clearly, or indisputably you document those lies to them.
Sanders along with various members of his campaign have spoken out directly about the media bias. After Sanders led the movement to pressure Amazon to pay its employees $15 an hour, "I talk about [Amazon’s taxes] all of the time... And then I wonder why The Washington Post, which is owned by Jeff Bezos, who owns Amazon, doesn't write particularly good articles about me. I don't know why." According to CNN, Sanders said, "We have pointed out over and over again that Amazon made $10 billion in profits last year. You know how much they paid in taxes? You got it, zero! Any wonder why The Washington Post is not one of my great supporters, I wonder why?" He added, "New York Times not much better". An executive editor of Washington Post stated in response, "Contrary to the conspiracy theory the senator seems to favor, Jeff Bezos allows our newsroom to operate with full independence, as our reporters and editors can attest."
Around the same time, Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir told CNN,
In about, you know, a minute or so or two minutes or so you’re going to cut to commercial breaks and you’re going to see some pharmaceutical ads. You’re going to see a lot of ads that are basically paying your bills and the bills of the entire media enterprise. And what that ends up doing is incentivizing you and others to make sure that you’re asking the questions and driving the conversations in certain areas and not in certain areas.
Sanders responded to the entire discourse in the end by stating,
So this is not into conspiracy theory. We are taking on corporate America. Large corporations own the media in America, by and large, and I think there is a framework, about how the corporate media focuses on politics. That is my concern. It’s not that Jeff Bezos is on the phone every day; he’s not.
Chris Cillizza from CNN opined that Sanders and Shakir,
have zero evidence to back up these big claims is beside the point for many supporters of the independent senator from Vermont. They believe deeply in Sanders and see anyone who disagrees with them as a corporate shill or part of the Big Bad Establishment.
Which is their right. But it doesn't make these claims true.
Domenico Montanaro from NPR opined that, "the remark [by Sanders] sounded an awful lot like the kind of criticism leveled by someone else" indicating that Sanders mimicked Trump's criticism of the media. However, in the same interview where Bernie Sanders criticized The Washington Post, he explicitly stated that Trump was undermining American democracy and that, "There are some really great articles out there, like investigations, which we use, so I don't think media is fake news."
In These Times analysisEdit
In November 2019, the Chicago left-wing magazine In These Times published an in-depth article analyzing the coverage of the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primary by MSNBC between August and September 2019. They focused primarily on Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and former Vice President Joe Biden. The analysis covered The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, All In with Chris Hayes, The Beat with Ari Melber, Hardball with Chris Matthews, The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell and The Rachel Maddow Show while categorizing positive, neutral, and negative discussion of the candidates. The analysis found that Sanders was discussed 36% of the time, compared to 43% for Warren and 64% Biden. The author notes that part of this discrepancy may be attributed to the Trump-Ukraine scandal. As for positive and negative mentions, 12.9% were positive towards Sanders, while 20.7% were negative—the most likely of the three. Most of the negative mentions came from Hardball and the 11th Hour. In comparison, 11.4% of comments towards Biden were negative, with 23.3% positive. The analysis found numerous inaccurate claims made by various political commentators regarding all candidates. Almost all the coverage discussed polls.
On December 2, 2019, PBS News Hour hosted a segment discussing a presidential primary election. Supporters of Sanders allege that it focused unevenly on minor candidates. Left leaning magazine Current Affairs wrote that even though the segment "found time to talk about Joe Sestak and Steve Bullock, plus plenty of candidates struggling to get out of single-digit poll numbers" it did not include "even a photo of Bernie Sanders." This article later was cited in an article by Common Dreams which levied the same accusation, describing it as part of the supposed "Bernie Blackout".
Response to criticismsEdit
This article's Criticism or Controversy section may compromise the article's neutral point of view of the subject. (December 2019)
Various commentators have responded, criticized, or offered explanations of the various accusations of media bias.
Politico put forth the idea that the Sanders campaign's perception of bias may be an artifact of Sanders propensity to turn down interviews and be willing to address breaking news stories. Dan Pfeiffer of Crooked Media, quoted by Politico, questioned the effectiveness of critiquing the media coverage by the press over the Sanders campaign. "Unfortunately for the Sanders campaign, the press too often considers complaints from the left as validation of their objectivity and complaints from the right as something worth addressing to prove their objectivity" Pfeiffer said when comparing the accusations with the technique of the right-wing having, "unbelievable success working the refs by calling the mainstream media biased against them".
Vox proposed a similar explanation stating that the "media circus" is not something that Sanders and his campaign prefer to participate in. They also contend that the media may find his position in the polls and his popularity as "boring" because it "doesn't fit into the horserace" like some of their other candidates campaigns do.
Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron characterized Sanders' suggestions that Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon, was influencing the Washington Post's coverage as a "conspiracy theory." Washington Post columnist Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote that Sanders was making a smart case of media bias that was uniquely different from Trump's explicit criticism; indicating that, "the gatekeepers of established opinion no longer hold as much sway, when new forms of communication and independent media challenge the old. It’s not surprising that the corporate media gives Sanders bad press. Thankfully, though, that matters less and less."
A controversy arose between the Sanders campaign and the Post in late August concerning fact-checking. The Post gave Sanders "Three Pinocchios" (meaning mostly false) for his claim on medical debt. Sanders has consistently maintained that, “500,000 people go bankrupt every year because they cannot pay their outrageous medical bills”. Journalists disputed the article's finding and said that the claim was true. The Post then claimed that the paper was not peer-reviewed. Upon inspection it was found that the paper was peer reviewed.
Paul Heintz suggested that Sanders' solution to his concern about media bias would be complete, verbatim coverage of his pronouncements.
Emma Specter at Vogue doubted that there was a conspiracy against Sanders. However, she listed several examples of bias and interpreted lack of coverage of Sanders on certain issues and events as slightly unfair.
Domenico Montanaro of NPR claimed that Sanders sounded like Trump in his criticism of the media, quoting Trump's tweet, "...[T]he failing New York Times and the Amazon Washington Post do nothing but write bad stories even on very positive achievements - and they will never change!" In 2015, Elizabeth Jensen of NPR responded to an influx of emails regarding a "Morning Edition" segment. Jensen said that she does not "find that NPR has been slighting his campaign. In the last two days alone, NPR has covered the Democrats' climate change stances and reactions to the Republican debate and Sanders has been well in the mix." NPR’s media correspondent David Folkenflik responded to criticisms of bias against Sanders in April 2016 by noting that Sanders had appeared three times on NPR whereas Clinton had only done so once, that media outlets saw a Sanders win as a "long shot" early in the campaign, and that by April 2016, she appeared very likely to win the nomination.
In March 2019, a preliminary study by Northeastern University's School of Journalism found that Sanders was receiving the most positive coverage of any major candidate in the Democratic primary, while an expanded, updated analysis in April placed him third out of eight candidates; a further update for June–September 2019 found that Sanders's positive coverage ranked fourth out of eight major candidates.
- Golshan, Tara (June 12, 2019). "Bernie Sanders's definition of democratic socialism, explained". Vox. Retrieved December 4, 2019.
A democratic socialist is one of the leading candidates in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.
- Qiu, Linda (February 23, 2016). "Is Bernie Sanders a Democrat?". PolitiFact. Retrieved December 4, 2019.
"I am not now, nor have I ever been, a liberal Democrat," he said in a 1985 New England Monthly profile, according to Politico.
- Murray, Mark (April 30, 2015). "Bernie Sanders to Announce Presidential Bid on Thursday". NBC. Retrieved April 30, 2015.
- Kelly, Erin (April 30, 2015). "Bernie Sanders: 'I am running in this election to win'". USA Today.
- Gram, Dave (April 30, 2015). "Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders: 'I am running for president'". Yahoo! News. Retrieved April 30, 2015.
- "Video: Bernie Sanders announces run for president". The Burlington Free Press. May 26, 2015. Archived from the original on July 1, 2015. Retrieved May 27, 2015.
- Sides, John (2015). "Is the media biased against Bernie Sanders? Not really".
- Story Hinckley (October 1, 2015), "Bernie who? Why does TV media ignore Sanders even as he tops polls?", The Christian Science Monitor
- Boehlert, Eric (September 24, 2015). "Network Newscasts' Campaign Priorities: Obsess Over Clinton Emails, Virtually Ignore Sanders". Media Matters for America. Retrieved December 4, 2019.
- Adam Johnson (March 8, 2016), Washington Post Ran 16 Negative Stories on Bernie Sanders in 16 Hours, FAIR
- Washington Post Runs 16 Anti-Sanders Ads in 16 hours, Democracy Now!, March 11, 2016
- Katie Halper (June 28, 2019), Sydney Ember’s Secret Sources, FAIR
- Felix Hamborg, Norman Meuschke, Akiko Aizawa, & Bela Gipp. (2017) Identification and Analysis of Media Bias in News Articles. In: Everything Changes, Everything Stays the Same? Understanding Information Spaces. Proceedings of the 15th International Symposium of Information Science (ISI 2017). Humbolt-Universität Zu Berlin. https://edoc.hu-berlin.de/bitstream/handle/18452/2098/hamborg.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
- Jennifer Steinhauer (March 14, 2016), "Bernie Sanders Scored Victories for Years via Legislative Side Doors", The New York Times
- Jennifer Steinhauer (March 14, 2016), "Via Legislative Side Doors, Bernie Sanders Won Modest Victories", The New York Times
- Matt Taibbi (March 15, 2016), "How the 'New York Times' Sandbagged Bernie Sanders", Rolling Stone
- Margaret Sullivan (March 17, 2019), "Were Changes to Sanders Article 'Stealth Editing'?", The New York Times
- Thomas E. Patterson, Pre-Primary News Coverage of the 2016 Presidential Race: Trump’s Rise, Sanders’ Emergence, Clinton’s Struggle
- Colleen Elizabeth Kelly (February 19, 2018), A Rhetoric of Divisive Partisanship: The 2016 American Presidential Campaign Discourse of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, pp. 6–7, ISBN 978-1-4985-6458-8
- Shane Ryan (February 21, 2019), "The Washington Post, Picking Up Where They Left Off in 2016, Runs Four Negative Bernie Sanders Stories in Two Days", Paste
- Katie Halper (July 26, 2019), MSNBC’s Anti-Sanders Bias Makes It Forget How to Do Math, FAIR
- Grace Haley (April 29, 2019), Who are women donors putting their money behind? Not just the Democratic women., OpenSecrets
- David (May 4, 2019), MSNBC Misreports Data, Shortchanges Bernie Sanders, Front Page Politics
- Glenn Greenwald (March 3, 2019), MSNBC Yet Again Broadcasts Blatant Lies, This Time About Bernie Sanders’s Opening Speech, and Refuses to Correct Them, The Intercept
- Travis Irvine (September 3, 2019), Media's Anti-Bernie Bias is Mind-Boggling, Columbia Free Press
- Morgan Gstalter (August 13, 2019), Washington Post editor calls Sanders claim about campaign coverage a 'conspiracy theory', The Hill
- Reliable Sources. July 28, 2019. CNN. President Trump's Pattern of Racist Tweets; Mueller hearings Reinforced America's Media Bunkers.
- Chris Cillizza (August 14, 2019), Bernie Sanders isn't sorry, CNN
- Domenico Montanaro (August 13, 2019), Bernie Sanders Again Attacks Amazon — This Time Pulling In 'The Washington Post', NPR
- Branco Marcetic (November 3, 2019), "MSNBC Is the Most Influential Network Among Liberals—And It's Ignoring Bernie Sanders", In These Times
- Luke Savage (November 20, 2019), The Corporate Media’s War Against Bernie Sanders Is Very Real, Jacobin
- "December 2, 2019 - PBS NewsHour full episode" (video). PBS NewsHour. December 2, 2019. Retrieved December 4, 2019.
- Affairs, Current. ""Manufacturing Consent" In Action ❧ Current Affairs". Current Affairs. Retrieved December 4, 2019.
- "'He's Just...Erased': PBS 2020 Segment Finds Time for Klobuchar, Sestak, and Bullock—But Completely Ignores Bernie Sanders". Common Dreams. Retrieved December 4, 2019.
- Michael Calderone (July 15, 2019), Sanders campaign: Media ‘find Bernie annoying, discount his seriousness’, Politico
- Tara Golshan (August 14, 2019), Bernie Sanders versus the “corporate media,” explained, Vox
- Michael Calderone (August 13, 2019), Washington Post editor attacks Bernie Sanders’ ‘conspiracy theory’, Politico
- Katrina vanden Heuvel (August 20, 2019), "Bernie Sanders has a smart critique of corporate media bias", The Washington Post
- Tim Dickinson (August 29, 2019), "The Washington Post's Latest Fact Check of Bernie Sanders Is Really Something", Rolling Stone
- Paul Heintz (February 26, 2019). "I've reported on Bernie Sanders for years. A free press won't give him what he wants". The Washington Post.
- Emma Specter (November 8, 2019), "Bernie Sanders Is the Most Progressive Politician in the 2020 Race. Why Aren't More People Talking About Him?", Vogue
- Elizabeth Jensen (August 7, 2015), Feelin' The Bern: Sanders Devotees Speak Out About NPR's Coverage, NPR
- Mitch Wertlieb & Kathleen Masterson (April 1, 2016), 'Bernie Bias' In The News? NPR's Media Correspondent Responds To Your Critiques, VPR
- Frandsen, Alexander; Bajak, Aleszu (April 24, 2019), Women on the 2020 campaign trail are being treated more negatively by the media, Storybench
- Bajak, Aleszu (September 30, 2019), Gabbard, Booker and Biden get most negative media coverage over last four months, Storybench
- Berniesandersfacts.com - A website dedicated to documenting alleged bias against Bernie Sanders.
- Towardsdatascience.com - An article that discusses media bias in the democratic primary.
- Status Quo Bias in the Mainstream American Media Coverage of Senator Bernie Sanders - A peer-reviewed journal article that discusses media bias in the context of Bernie Sanders.
- BernieBlackout.com - A website dedicated to documenting alleged media bias against the Bernie Sanders presidential campaigns.