Election 2016

Why Is the NY Times Basically Doing a Blackout on Bernie Sanders?

The New York Times' Sanders coverage is intellectually dishonest.

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 9, 2015:- U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (Independent -Vermont) speaks at a luncheon at the National Press Club
Photo Credit: Albert H. Teich / Shutterstock.com

The front page story is about such issues as “work force anxieties,” “shrinking middle class,” “stagnant wages,” and a growing income gap at pre-Depression levels. The candidate who has been raising these issues longer and louder than any others is Bernie Sanders. Yet the New York Times story about these issues does not even mention Bernie Sanders, although it mentions others with less credibility. 

That is the level of intellectual dishonesty actually achieved by the Times in its July 13 page one story headlined “Growth in the ‘Gig Economy’ Fuels Work Force Anxieties.” Two of the most relevant words excluded from the 1700-word story are “Bernie Sanders,” even though it includes two Republican and Hillary Clinton. 

It’s intellectually dishonest to write about these issues without mentioning the Independent senator from Vermont now running for the Democratic nomination for president as a Democratic Socialist. It is also deceitful and would be journalistic malpractice for anyone purporting to practice actual journalism. 

But the Times has long since ceased to be “the paper of record” in this country, which no longer has a paper (or any media) of record. The Times still serves, as it always has, as the voice of the establishment. That explains the paper’s “balanced” view here of the “gig economy” and the two generations of economic suffering it represents. Reporter Noam Scheiber’s anecdote-ridden story shimmers with an upper income bias, as befits any ambitious Times reporter looking with disdainful sympathy at lesser earners driven increasingly into jobs that are variously part-time, short-term, temporary, or freelance but almost universally more insecure and lower-paying than people could expect from the American economy 50 years ago

Hillary Clinton takes on “the vision thing” in a Bushlike manner

Bernie Sanders has railed against such economic injustice for almost as long, but Scheiber and/or his editors lack the integrity to mention that, even when they quote a supporter of Hillary Clinton saying: “People know things are changing. They don’t feel like anyone has a handle on it. There’s a yearning for a political vision that addresses that.”

Well, yes, that seems to be true. That also seems to explain why Bernie Sanders continues to surge in the polls since declaring for president in May. Though Clinton still holds a formidable lead, it has been shrinking, and her total support has been shrinking for several months.

The Clinton supporter who spoke of vision, Neera Tanden of the Center of American Progress, also demonstrated the essential deceit required to turn Clinton into the desired visionary. She said, “Whether America will be America or not hinges on whether we have a downward spiral around wages.” That sort of sounds good until you break it down. Then it’s apparent it’s a necessary lie for the Clinton campaign. It’s a lie because it suggests the “downward spiral” is a future threat, not a 50-year reality. And it’s a necessary Clinton campaign fiction because Hillary Clinton has not been there for the 99% for most of her career as she amassed a reported fortune of some $300 million. Clinton needs to have an effective marketing campaign to persuade enough voters that she has this imaginary “vision,” as the Times noted obliquely:

On Monday [July 13], Hillary Rodham Clinton plans to give a speech outlining her vision for improving the economic fortunes of the middle class. Leading Republicans, like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, have framed their policy ideas as an attempt to solve economic insecurity and the erosion of middle-class incomes. 

Nice touch by the Times, using the “vision” language of the candidate’s sales pitch. As it turned out, Clinton’s “economic fortunes” speech was a tortured balancing act promising some help to those with less while trying not to offend those with actual economic fortunes. This was the perfect point for an honest reporter to mention Bernie Sanders, who has spent his whole career deliberately offending “millionaires and billionaires” while calling for economic justice for the rest of America. 

In the Times, reality turns out to be a variable to be manipulated

But the contrast between Clinton and Sanders was apparently too stark for the Times, and too unflattering to Clinton, who has no record showing her having the courage of her convictions, or even of having identifiable convictions. Instead, the Times refers to two establishment-friendly Republicans whose economic views are less just than Clinton’s, but who have similar marketing campaigns for their “visions.” Bush and Rubio aren’t even the current leading contenders for the Republican nomination for president, even though they pose no threat to the present oligarchic status quo. 

In recent polling published July 14, Bush was second with 14% and Rubio was fifth with 5% in a nine-candidate field. Tellingly, the Times omitted the leader and two others ahead of Rubio. Running first, with 17%, was Donald Trump. Scott Walker at 8% was third and Ted Cruz at 6% was fourth. The Times bias among Republicans seems pretty clear, albeit unstated. 

The Times bias among Democrats is stark. The Times presents a picture in which Clinton has no opposition, even though Sanders at 20% or more is polling better in his chosen party than any Republican in the Republican Party. In polling published July 10, Clinton is at 55%, Sanders at 24%. Tied for third, with 8%, are Joe Biden and Undecided. Clinton still leads by 30-plus points, but when Sanders entered the race on May 26, her lead was 50-plus points

Whatever those numbers may mean, and however they may change, they were a present reality that the Times chose to ignore in order to present a false reality.

In another slippery paragraph, Scheiber falsifies reality in a subtler way. Discussing the non-job jobs of the “gig economy,” he writes:

The decades-long shift to these more flexible workplace arrangements, the venture capitalist Nick Hanauer and the labor leader David Rolf argue in the latest issue of Democracy Journal, is a “transformation that promises new efficiencies and greater flexibility for ‘employers’ and ‘employees’ alike, but which threatens to undermine the very foundation upon which middle-class America was built.”

Is it an existential crisis if you’re a millionaire or billionaire? 

Then there’s no more about this, despite the threat to “the very foundation” of once-basic American values. It’s as if the Times is assuring its readers: never mind, these are just “flexible workplace arrangements,” not a half century business policy to take money and peace of mind from millions of American families. You’d never know from the Times reference that the article in Democracy Journal begins by describing a very different reality:

The American middle class is facing an existential crisis. For more than three decades, declining wages, fraying benefits, and the rising costs of education, housing, and other essentials have stressed and squeezed middle-class Americans. But by far the biggest threat to middle-class workers – and to our economy as a whole – comes from the changing nature of employment itself.

Gone is the era of the lifetime career, let alone the lifelong job and the economic security that came with it, having been replaced by a new economy intent on recasting full-time employees into contractors, vendors, and temporary workers. It is an economic transformation that promises new efficiencies and greater flexibility for “employers” and “employees” alike, but which threatens to undermine the very foundation upon which middle-class America was built. And if the American middle class crumbles, so will an American economy that relies on consumer spending for 70 percent of its activity, and on a diverse and inclusive workforce for 100 percent of the innovation that drives all future prosperity.

The dilemma for the Times (and most mainstream media) is that if the “existential crisis” is as real as the vast evidence supporting it, then there’s only one candidate in the race facing reality, and it’s not Hillary Clinton. It’s Bernie Sanders. But he’s an outsider challenging longstanding establishment policy carried out with remarkable consistency by both major parties for 50 years. Or, as Hanauer and Rolf put it more clearly and bluntly than the mystifiers at the Times will allow:

This crisis is not unfolding in a vacuum. For more than 30 years, the Democratic Party has suffered from a crisis of identity, leadership, and vision on issues of political economy that has left it unable to either articulate or defend the true interests of the middle class. Democrats might tinker around the edges, arguing for more economic justice and fairness, but for the most part they have largely accepted, or at least failed to counter, the fictitious trickle-down explanation of what growth is (higher profits) and where it comes from (lower taxes and less regulation). And so, through Republican and Democratic administrations alike, corporate America has seen less regulation, lower taxes, and higher profits, while middle-class America has gotten the shaft. 

The rest of this long article is a devastating critique of the present American economic order – or as many experience it, economic disorder without reliable quality, accountability, or fairness. You wouldn’t know it from the Times, but the recommendations from Hanauer and Rolf overlap significantly with the Sanders Economic Agenda published December 2014. Nor would you know from the Times that Nick Hanauer, a billionaire by way of Amazon.com, is at least a philosophical supporter of Bernie Sanders. One of Hanauer’s post comments is: “The business lobby has been resisting labor standards since child labor. Overtime is no different.” (He posted the Times article with a cryptic “Very interesting” comment.) 

Clinton bobs and weaves and delivers ringing ambivalence

On July 14, the Times covered Clinton’s economic speech on page 13, not page one, but still managed to give it a pimping-for-Hillary headline: “Clinton Offers Her Vision of a ‘Fairness Economy’ to Close the Income Gap” even though the paper reported no evidence of anything like an actual “vision.” In essence, Clinton said she’d like to see things stay pretty much the same, just not quite so bad for so many. 

According to Times reporter Amy Chozick, “incomes for the vast majority of Americans whose wages have remained virtually stagnant for 15 years,” which gets the time-frame wrong by 35 years. This error is consistent with her reporting the “widespread feeling that the economic recovery has not benefited large parts of the population” [emphasis added], which is not a feeling at all, but demonstrable fact. Then Chozick offers this false choice as a central challenge for the Clinton campaign: “… devising an agenda that addresses income inequality without vilifying the wealthy….” 

This is the Times elitist zeitgeist showing through. First, the issue is not just “income inequality” but the staggering, growing “wealth disparity” – which is best left unmentioned. As far as “income inequality” goes, vilification is irrelevant. The simple solution is to tax large incomes. The wealthy may “feel” that as vilification, but it’s just economic balancing. And the Times approvingly, but falsely, quotes Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz, who advises Clinton, saying: “the speech showed a clear understanding that our economy is not working for most Americans” and that “we need to fundamentally rewrite the rules.” The false part is that Clinton has never come close to seeking a fundamental revision of any rules. Only Sanders does that. And the Times made clear that Clinton “did not embrace the fiery populism of Senator Bernie Sanders…. And she stopped short of endorsing policies championed by Mr. Sanders and others in the liberal wing of the party….” 

Times sets up straw man argument, then defeats its own unreality

Also on July 14, on page 3, the Times ran a denigrating piece about Sanders, in which Nate Cohn snidely and dismissively ridicules Sanders’ chances of winning anything. His argument centers on the past losses of centrist liberals like Howard Dean and Bill Bradley. At the same time, Cohn ignores the substance as well as the style of the Sanders campaign, its apparent growing appeal to voters, and the distinction that Sanders makes: that his democratic socialism in not ideology but about class-based justice. As Sanders put it: “I’m not a liberal. Never have been. I’m a progressive who mostly focuses on the working and middle class.”

Clinton criticized Republicans for their “trickle down” economic theories, which is fine as far as it goes. With Clinton, it doesn’t seem to go very far. What is her touted “profit-sharing” but a form of “trickle down” economics? Sharing profits is a manageable shibboleth. It’s not sharing ownership.

Trickle down is also a way to describe the infusion of chemo treatment to fight cancer. Current American economics are a form of economic cancer for the majority of Americans. With human cancer, an infusion is frequently blocked by an “upstream occlusion.” Treatment continues when the upstream occlusion is cleared. The American economy has suffered from an upstream occlusion for half a century. Clinton has benefitted greatly from this blockage of treatment for the country’s economic cancer. So far she has shown no sign of unblocking any cure. 

Bernie Sanders has always been all about serious treatment for a sick economy. Bernie Sanders is getting to be a bigger and bigger elephant in the room where denial of the cancer remains powerful. Eventually perhaps the Times and the rest of mainstream media will begin to talk about him honestly. But they are all part of the cancerous system and benefit from it. So perhaps a more radical infusion will come through other channels.

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theater, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

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