Election 2016

CNN Whitewashes Sanders' Primary Victories; Denies Diverse Racial Makeup of Hawaii, Alaska and Washington

The latest media effort diminishes Sanders' campaign.

CNN is being called out for white-washing supporters of Bernie Sanders.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Lucas Bros

Bernie Sanders supporters are furious after CNN attributed the Vermont senator’s primary wins over the weekend to the “largely white and rural” makeups of Alaska, Hawaii and Washington—demographic claims that are exaggerated.

In an article titled “Takeaways from Western Saturday,” CNN’s Chris Moody wrote, “These caucus states—largely white and rural—are the type of places Sanders traditionally does well. In order to win the nomination, he must replicate this success in other, more ethnically diverse states that hold primaries, as he did in Michigan last month.”

There is a key problem, however: the claims are not true.

While Alaska is majority-white, one-third of its population is comprised of people of color, with a large native population (14.8 percent). CNN’s own Mona Basu noted in January that the diversity of some Alaskan neighborhoods “may surprise folks from the lower 48 who picture Alaska as a largely homogenous and snowy American extremity. But Alaskans are quite proud of their distinctive demographics.” 

According to the latest data from the U.S. Census, just 26.7 percent of Hawaii's population identifies as White. Meanwhile, 10 percent are native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, 37.5 percent are Asian, 23 percent are mixed race and 2.5 percent are black. “More than any other state, Hawaii stands out when it comes to its racial and ethnic diversity,” Pew Research Center wrote last year. “The Rainbow State has never had a white majority.”

Meanwhile, Washington is the seventh most diverse state in the country, according to this list.

Employees of Time Warner, which owns CNN, are major donors to Hillary Clinton, fueling concerns about CNN’s fairness to Sanders in its election coverage.

CNN’s spin is in step with a much broader media narrative, in which Sanders supposedly does not do well in states with racially diverse populations. This narrative comes in the midst of an election cycle in which Black Lives Matter protests have forced issues of racial justice into the forefront. These movements are demanding real solutions from all candidates, not superficial pandering to win votes.

Meanwhile, people of color who support Sanders are demanding that their identities be seen. That’s why Leslie Lee III, a black Sanders supporter who is from Louisiana and currently lives in Yokahama, Japan, started the hashtag #BernieMadeMeWhite.

“The common narrative in this election that Bernie has a ‘minority problem’ or that all his supporters are ‘bros’ is pervasive, and insulting to the POCs [people of color] and women who support [him],” Lee told Raw Story reporter Katie Halper. But, “it hit a peak… when Hawaii, the least white state in the nation, retroactively became white or ‘not diverse’ due to the fact that Bernie won it. So, I started ‪#BernieMadeMeWhite.”

The hashtag quickly took off on Twitter:

*Editor's Note: Article was modified to show that employees of Time Warner are major donors to Clinton.

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Sarah Lazare was a former staff writer for AlterNet and Common Dreams. She coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.