Anderson Cooper, Worth Tens of Millions, Doesn't Relent on Attacking Bernie's Socialism

Who was the richest person in CNN’s Democratic presidential debate?

The richest person in the debate on October 10 was not a candidate. The richest person on that Las Vegas stage was CNN moderator and Vanderbilt heir Anderson Cooper, whose $100 million net worth is greater than all the candidates’ worth combined (about $84 million). In a very real, if unspoken sense, this “debate” was more like an exclusive club interview with Cooper vetting the applicants for their class credentials.

These class aspects of the debate went unmentioned. In American politics, class issues have traditionally gone unmentioned. The tacit understanding is that if you have the bad taste to ask, you have no class. If you have class, you will have the right opinions. This year is different because of Bernie Sanders, whose popular appeal is that he is so clearly the scion of no great wealth and even less pretension. Sanders is calling for a social revolution against the ruling class of millionaires and billionaires, yet even he did not publicly object to having multi-millionaire Anderson Cooper running the show. Sanders likely understands that his best chance to win is not to confront the rich, but to surround them with everyone else whose net worth is more like his ($700,000) or less.

Net worth is notoriously hard to pin down with any accuracy, but ballpark figures are good enough at the highest levels, even if the numbers usually come from the candidates themselves. In a candidates’ net worth listing published October 13, the Democrats were evaluated as follows (with an alternative set of estimates in parenthesis):

  • Hillary Clinton: $45 million ($31.2 hers, with Bill Clinton $111 million)
  • Lincoln Chaffee: $32 million ($31.9 million, mostly his wife’s trust)
  • Jim Webb: $6 million ($4.6 million)
  • Bernie Sanders: $700,000 ($528,014)
  • Martin O’Malley: $-0- ($256,000)

By one recent measure, it takes a net worth of $1.2 million, minimum, to make it into the top one percent of richest Americans (usually accompanied by pre-tax income of more than $300,000 annually). A U.S. senator’s salary is $192,600, which is amplified significantly by perks and benefits.

Like most debate moderators, Anderson Cooper seemed most interested in promoting a food fight among the candidates. While he had snark for everyone, his most provocative and least conscionable jibes were saved for Sanders, served up with class-based relish.

What does yellow journalism red-baiting sound like? Cooper started with the lurking horror of every unjustifiably rich person: “Senator Sanders. A Gallup poll says half the country would not put a socialist in the White House. You call yourself a democratic socialist. How can any kind of socialist win a general election in the United States?”

How could such a horror happen in America? That’s the question he seems to be asking. But to ask it that way, Cooper has to be deceitful and spin the Gallup poll to fit his meaning (Cooper’s spin reflects the conventional coverage of the poll at the time). The real news from the June 2015 poll was that 47% of Americans were OK with electing a “socialist” (not further defined by pollsters). That 47% is more than past polls, and those opposed to a “socialist” make up only 50%, a difference close to the margin of error. In other words, more than a year from the presidential election, Gallup finds America more or less neutral on the question of whether or not a candidate is “any kind of socialist.” For a Bernie kind of socialist, the simple answer to getting elected is to make the kind of progress in the next year he’s made in the past six months.

Cooper’s approach uses “socialism” as something that is by definition pejorative and comes out of a deep, common bias in the US. The American ruling class has cultivated fear of socialism for close to two centuries, not because it’s a threat to people’s freedom but because it’s a threat to the wealth and power of people like the 158 families funding most of the 2016 race for the presidency.

Anderson Cooper was not only born into wealth and power, he has lived the life of that class, as even his official CNN bio affirms. After attending New York’s Dalton School, Cooper graduated from Yale College in 1989 with a BA in political science and two summer internships at the CIA. He also studied Vietnamese at the University of Hanoi. Cooper kept his CIA experience in the closet until September 2006, when an unnamed website reported that Cooper had worked for the CIA.

Cooper responded on his CNN blog. He said the website didn’t have its facts straight, but cited no errors. His own facts are well fudged – “for a couple of months over two summers I worked at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia…. It was pretty bureaucratic and mundane.” Cooper doesn’t say what he did or even what years he was there (1987 and 1988, in the aftermath of William J. Casey’s directorship). 

When Sanders offered no direct answer to the question of how a “socialist” could win a general election, Cooper followed up: “The question is really about electability here, and that’s what I’m trying to get at. The Republican attack ad against you in a general election — it writes itself. You supported the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. You honeymooned in the Soviet Union. And just this weekend, you said you’re not a capitalist. Doesn’t that ad write itself?”

Cooper’s first dishonesty is asking the “electability” question only of Sanders. Yes, everyone assumes Hillary Clinton is electable, ­but O’Malley, Chaffee or Webb? They’re not even as close to getting nominated as Sanders. Why would anyone assume they’re electable in anything but a flip-of-the-coin sense? Cooper’s addressing the electability question only to Sanders may actually be a measure of how strong Cooper believes Sanders is.

When Cooper stated, “You supported the Sandinistas in Nicaragua,” he said it as if there were no question that supporting the Sandinistas was a bad thing. That’s the talking point on Breitbart, National Review and other right-wing sites. On Just Foreign Policy, Robert Naiman posted a prompt denunciation of Cooper for playing the knee-jerk, pro-war media honcho.

Bernie Sanders challenged Cooper on the issue of Hillary Clinton’s emails. His was an act of generosity and presidential stature. None of his fellow candidates had the courage or character to repudiate Cooper’s shameless red-baiting, not on Nicaragua and not on his next slander, “You honeymooned in the Soviet Union.”

Almost surely Cooper knew that statement was a low blow. Again Cooper was irresponsibly peddling another right-wing trope, used with similar hypocrisy by George Will and others. As a Daily Kos blog details, the Sanders honeymoon was part of a 1956 sister-cities program initiated by the Eisenhower administration. In 1988, Sanders and his wife Jane were married, marched in a Memorial Day parade, then headed off to the Russian city of Yaroslavl on their “honeymoon.” 

Cooper’s last remark was: “And just this weekend you said you’re not a capitalist.” On NBC, Sanders bristled when his interviewer asked if Sanders was a “socialist,” since Sanders has referred to himself a “democratic socialist” for decades. Sanders asked the NBC anchor if he ever asked others if they were capitalists, and the guy cowered out. He asked Sanders if he was a capitalist. And Sanders said, yet again, that he’s a democratic socialist.

Returning to his distorted framing bias, a “Republican attack ad,” Cooper asked, “Doesn’t that ad write itself?” Well, so what if it does? That just means Republican ad writers have as little integrity as Cooper, and maybe that’s what they’re all paid for.

As Sanders put in on CNN at the end of his opening statement: “What this campaign is about is whether we can mobilize our people to take back our government from a handful of billionaires and create the vibrant democracy we know we can and should have.”

We are at the beginning of what might be a long learning curve as we find out what our country is truly about. Bernie Sanders offers an opportunity to look at realities in broad daylight and make up our minds about them. Anderson Cooper is but one of a legion of self-serving, self-preserving propagandists who will do all they can to keep the Sanders message in the dark. 

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