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8 Times the Media Red-Baited Bernie, Seemingly to No Effect

The public tends to shrug at the notion of socialism, but this doesn't stop the media from red-baiting like it's 1955.

Twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War, the notion of using “socialist” as a pejorative just isn’t what it used to be in the United States. Senator Bernie Sanders gambled as much when he decided to continue embracing the term when joining the 2016 presidential election. This doesn't stop the media, increasingly desperate for things to gotcha Sanders on, from attempting to red-bait the 74-year-old senator. After his decades in office as mayor, congressman and now senator, there simply aren't any sexy scandals, so the press continues to dust off the old McCarthy playbook, leading to sometimes funny, sometimes cynical and always cringeworthy moments of manufactured outrage.

1. Anderson Cooper, son of a Vanderbilt, brings up Sanders' trip to USSR, demands pledge of loyalty to capitalism.

In one of the more bizarre exchanges of the 2016 Democratic debates, CNN moderator Anderson Cooper grilled Sanders over his past ties with socialist governments, including (gasp!) a trip to the Soviet Union. The strangest part of the entire exchange is when Cooper demands—not once, not twice, but three times—that Sanders say whether or not he supports capitalism. Watch the exchange below:

2. The Daily Beast’s Michael Moynihan decontextualizes Latin American socialism using cartoon dictator framing.

Neocon Daily Beast is predictably the most consistent Sanders red-baiter, comprising three-eighths of the list. The most detailed—and to be fair, most competent—attempt to red-bait Sanders came from Michael Moynihan, current Daily Beast hippie-puncher and former editor at the libertarian, Koch-fundedReason magazine. The piece is a mess of innuendo and glib revisionism but its most glaring error is that it refers to the Sandinista government as a “dictatorship” (it won elections and gave up power when it later lost them). Moynihan also hand-wrings over the socialist government’s “censoring” of the right-wing La Prensa newspaper without mentioning essential context, like the fact that the paper was, at the time, being funded by the CIA.

3. Univision pushes Sanders to “disavow” his qualified support for Latin American socialists.

It’s no surprise that Univision, which has deep ties in the anti-Castro community in Miami, would bring up the issue of Sanders’ past statements sympathetic to Cuba and the Sandinistas of Nicaragua. Head moderator Jorge Ramos has long been open about his views on both Latin American socialism (bad) and what he calls "point-of-view" journalism (good), so Sanders could definitely have seen the question coming. But it wasn't just a question about past comments, it was an entire seven-minute segment, with co-moderator Maria Elena Salinas playing a 33-second clip and following up with repeated attempts to compel Sanders to "disavow" his prior statements. Sanders, to his credit, didn't take the bait, but instead pivoted to some aspects of Cuba—namely universal healthcare and the country's 100% literacy rate—that we could use stateside. 

4. The New York Times lets Clinton surrogates red-bait under the guise of being worried about red-baiting.

One of the most effective ways to get a message out is to have a major publication write about how a campaign is “considering” getting out said message. This has a twofold advantage: a) it disseminates the message for free; while b) simultaneously distances the campaign from any fallout. This trick was done to perfection 10 days before the Iowa caucus when the New York Times floated a story about how the Clinton campaign would be red-baiting Sanders. The thing is, beyond the article, it never really did. Top Clinton hatchet woman Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri led the way, telling the Times, “Having somebody who is identified more as a socialist in many decades of public service than as a Democrat makes it impossible for Democrats in a state like Missouri.” And Gov. Jay Nixon, also of Missouri, said, “Here in the heartland, we like our politicians in the mainstream, and he is not — he’s a socialist.” This theory was pretty much disproved a week and a half later, when Sanders tied with Clinton in Iowa, the heart of the heartland.

5. The Daily Beast’s Jonathan Alter, who supported torture in 2001, suddenly has concern for human rights after Sanders praises Cuba’s healthcare system. 

After Jorge Ramos brought up Sanders' past comments praising the Cuban healthcare system, Jonathan Alter decided to tweet his outrage over Sanders' failure to mention the bad things about Cuba: "Bernie a lefty sucker for Cuban line on healthcare. If he got sick there, he’d medevac out. And where’s his concern for human rights there?" This is a rather bizarre instinct, which I addressed earlier this week over at FAIR. In no other context is one compelled to follow a compliment with an insult unless one is talking about America's enemies. One can praise Obama's healthcare plan without bringing up the thousands dead as a result of his drone wars. One can laud Lyndon B. Johnson's civil rights record without having to bring up the three million dead Indochinese as a result of his wars in Southeast Asia. But for some reason, Sanders pointing out that Cuba has positive aspects without bringing up its human rights record was offensive to Alter. This is especially risible since Alter infamously published a 2001 piece advocating torture, so it appears his concern for human rights comes and goes. 

6. Resident MSNBC loudmouth Chris Matthews randomly tosses out Soviet imagery while chatting with Clinton flack.

Chris Matthews, whose wife is running for Congress in Maryland using the same donor base as Clinton, seems to enjoy bringing up the socialist issue with Sanders more than anyone on cable news, including Fox News. In a discussion with Clinton spokesperson Brian Fallon before the New Hampshire primary, Matthews raised the socialist question and parroted Clinton surrogate McCaskill, saying, “[The GOP] has the hammer and sickle ready to plant it. Here’s the Republican ad next summer: Bernie Sanders is talking about ‘revolution, revolution.’ They’re going to put the hammer and sickle on that and play it.” He went on to speculate, based on nothing, “Running socialism in Pennsylvania? You’ll kill your party.”

7. New York Post goes full McCarthy, insist Sanders is a “hardcore Communist.”

Okay, this one is kind of cheating. Or at least, it would be if actual people didn’t actually read the New York Post and take it seriously. This piece of hysteria gets points for some of the greatest visual agitprop this side of Stalin:

Paul Sperry, who gave us such masterpieces as "'The Big Short’ is a $28 million campaign ad for Bernie Sanders” paints a paranoid tapestry of innuendo, calling every leftist group in the United States—and frankly the world—a "Soviet front," using McCarthy’s House Committee on Un-American Activities as a reliable source on more than one occasion. Read at your own risk.

8. Daily Beast’s Tim Mak peddles innuendo about Sanders' past using uninspired concern-troll framing.

Finishing off the the Daily Beast hat trick is national security reporter and consistent Sanders smearer Tim Mak, whose red-baiting, unlike Moynihan's, seems bored and half-assed. Nonetheless, he took a stab: "Bernie’s Past With the Far Far Far Left."

See the third "far" in "far far far left" is how you know it's serious. The Daily Beast was hot on the trail of the Manchurian septuagenarian and would not stop at two “fars” lest the reader be denied the full extent of the senator’s communist ties. Mak does the McCaskill, framing the article as a lists of concerns that could potentially be an issue. Of course, by writing the article he is making it an issue, but it’s a good way to introduce the evergreen panic of socialism without needing any newsy pretext. The piece ends up being somewhat sympathetic toward the end (not before all the talking points are hit), which leads one to believe that the Daily Beast’s hatchetmen, like most of America, doesn’t actually care much about Sanders' socialist sympathies.

Adam Johnson is a contributing analyst at FAIR and contributing writer for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @AdamJohnsonNYC.

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