Monday, January 13, 2020

Politico Slams Sanders Campaign As Participating in 2020 Primaries (Updated Below)

Regular readers of this blog will have no doubt noted this author's rather profound disdain for Politico's treatment of Bernie Sanders. In the publication's "coverage" of the Vermont senator, every journalistic standard is routinely disregarded in what appears to any reasonable observer to be little more than a recurring effort to craft the crassest anti-Sanders propaganda and pass it off as "news."

They're at it again. Their latest anti-Bernie Sanders "scoop" landed this week, "Bernie Campaign Slams Warren As Candidate of the Elite."


Throughout the present presidential campaign, Sanders has refused to attack rival Elizabeth Warren. Even when repeatedly prompted to do so by "journalists," his answer was always the same: No. Warren, he said, is his longtime friend and political ally and he's not going to do that. He has even defended her. Warren has embraced the same policy toward Sanders.

Enter Politico's Alex Thompson and Holly Otterbein:
"Sanders' campaign has begun stealthily attacking Warren as a candidate of the upper crust who could not expand the Democratic base in a general election, according to talking points his campaign is using to sway voters and obtained by POLITICO."
At issue is this script allegedly provided by the Sanders campaign to its volunteers:
"The script instructs Sanders volunteers to tell voters leaning toward the Massachusetts senator that the 'people who support her are highly-educated, more affluent people who are going to show up and vote Democratic no matter what' and that 'she's bringing no new bases into the Democratic Party.'"
Right off the bat, it should be noted that, based on the description of the script provided by Thompson/Otterbein, the characterization of it as an attack is strictly tendentious. The script is complimentary toward Warren ("'I like Elizabeth Warren. [optional]' the script begins. 'In fact, she’s my second choice...'"). Polling extending back several months establishes that Warren supporters are all of the things it says. There have been a large volume of articles written on the subject. Back in July, Politico itself produced one of them. Its author was Holly Otterbein. The script accurately describes the following Warren has drawn. The data are entirely uncontroversial, the concerns they raise perfectly legitimate. In a sane world, drawing such contrasts would be seen as what it is: the entire point of a political primary.

Incredibly, at no point do Thompson and Otterbein offer any information on the provenance of the alleged script, not even to cite an anonymous source. From whence did it come? Was there any vetting of this source and if so, what was it? The article is silent. Which volunteers were supposed to be getting and using the script? Where is it being used? How widespread is its use? Not only does the article fail to address any of these questions--the script, in its telling, is just something from somewhere--it suggests that the authors don't even know.
"It is unclear whether the script is being used for phone calls or door knocking or both, or in which locations."
Throughout their piece, Thompson and Otterbein flat-out say this entirely unsourced script is being used by the Sanders campaign but can't actually document its use anywhere, and aren't even sure what it is! Then, there's this nugget:
"'We were told never to go negative or contrast with other candidates,' a person close to Sanders' campaign told POLITICO. 'Bernie would let us know when it was O.K.. So if that’s happening, he's aware.'"
That this source is apparently in a position to know about any such a script but clearly has no knowledge of it--if he did, that's what would be quoted--should have inspired a pause. The fact that volunteers were told not to do what the alleged script instructs them to do should immediately raise a range of questions about that document. Instead, the writers simply use the latter assertion, which may or may not be based on anything, to turn potentially exculpatory information into a damning indictment. A big portion of the article is devoted to asserting the script represents a significant shift in the race--the end of the non-aggression pact between Sanders and Warren--and teasing out implications from that, but the script itself is, as described, simply too innocuous to bear this interpretation and the extended punditry based on it is built on nothing.

Did the "journalists" try to contact any Sanders volunteers and ask about this? Their story gives no indication of any such thing but in its aftermath, scores of Sanders volunteers have hit Twitter, asserting that they'd never gotten anything like the alleged script and that it contradicted the instructions they had been given. ABC News reported that "several Sanders volunteers contacted by ABC News about the script said that they did not recognize such talking points." In a series of tweets, Eric Isaac of the Kings County Democratic Committee in New York--and a Sanders volunteer--offered an explanation of the origin of the document:
"A random user who's only ever posted once before posted that document in the Sanders volunteer Slack group. A moderator promptly removed it and stated that it was NOT a campaign source."
Issac writes that "Bernie is not sending his volunteers out to trash ANY candidate. We have a very strict code of conduct on how we MUST interact with voters if we want to be part of the campaign."

Issac's thread was widely circulated and Alex Thompson eventually responded to it, tweeting "Fwiw, this popular thread is not true. Attacking reporting and pushing misinformation is not just a right-wing phenomenon." Not a good look, nor was his trashing "Bernie trolls." In none of his tweets does Thompson establish any provenance for the alleged script--they're as blank on that as his article--and his defense of his story is just astonishing:
"I provided all the info to Bernie's camp before publishing & they didn't deny its authenticity. The doc had 'Paid for by Bernie 2020'"
Well, I guess that settles that, doesn't it?

PAID FOR BY BERNIE 2020.

See? This article was produced by the Sanders campaign too! For something Thompson now seems to think is critically important in establishing the origin of the document--it's the only piece of information to that end he's offered--he and Otterbein had failed to provide even that tidbit in their article.

Here's something that shouldn't have to be explained: regardless of what Politico "journalists" think, it isn't up to Sanders to prove he didn't kill Cock Robin.

Things That Shouldn't Have To Be Explained #2: The Sanders campaign can't deny a story if they've been given no story to deny. A nationwide presidential campaign is a vast enterprise involving hundreds of people. If Sanders says his campaign isn't using any such document then it turns out some low-level volunteer has been passing the script around the half-dozen members of the Northeast Bainbridge For Bernie group, Sanders is the one who ends up with egg on his face (and, per usual, days of negative press). Sanders alluded to this himself in Iowa City, Iowa on Sunday:
"Look, I just read about it. We have over 500 people on our campaign. People do certain things. I'm sure that in Elizabeth’s campaign, people do certain things as well. But you have heard me for months. I have never said a negative word about Elizabeth Warren, who is a friend of mine. We have differences of issues, that's what the campaign is about. But no one is going to be attacking Elizabeth."
Sanders reiterated that "Elizabeth Warren is a very good friend of mine... We will debate the issues. No one is going to trash Elizabeth." He called the whole matter "a bit of a media blow-up," and given the available facts, that's impossible to dispute. Nothing about the document except what it says has been established by the reporting--it's a scandal that the story was published in this form--and even if it turned out to be real, the heart of the story amounts to the accusation that Sanders is guilty of doing exactly what candidates are supposed to do in political primaries. Even if the document is exactly what Politico claims (but can't show), it doesn't really mean anything.

Something every political campaign brings out is dirty tricks. Is this one of them? A document manufactured by a rival campaign or interest? An unwarranted negative interpretation of an actual document fed, either directly or indirectly, to journalists by same? If Politico's reporters considered any of these questions, they give no indication of it. Isaac's narrative, which may or may not be accurate, strongly suggests the script is a dirty trick. Thompson said that account wasn't true but he offers no alternative to it. As far as his reporting is concerned, the script remains just something from somewhere, and an innocuous something at that.

Elizabeth Warren's immediate reaction to the original article was unfortunate; she embraced Politico's tendentious characterization and immediately went negative on Sanders:
"I was disappointed to hear that Bernie is sending his volunteers out to trash me. Bernie knows me, and has known me for a long time... Democrats want to win in 2020. We all saw the impact of the factionalism in 2016, and we can’t have a repeat of that. Democrats need to unite our party. We cannot nominate someone who takes big chunks of the Democratic Coalition for granted. We need someone who will bring our party together. We need someone who will excite every part of the Democratic Party, someone who will be there. Someone that every Democrat can believe in. I hope Bernie reconsiders and turns his campaign in a different direction."
This "unity" talk, of course, rings rather hollow in the face of the ugly invocation of the (false) Clinton cult narrative that Sanders was responsible for Donald Trump's election. That is, in fact, the most inflammatory charge in Democratic politics for the last few years and while no one should begrudge Warren the right to a reasoned defense of the campaign she's trying to build, this doesn't qualify, and by immediately going nuclear, she probably did herself a lot of harm. She then made things worse by sending out a fundraising letter repeating it: "Let’s be clear: As a party, and as a country, we can’t afford to repeat the factionalism of the 2016 primary." Other Warren surrogates poured on the flames as well. The New York Times reported that "a top Warren supporter in Iowa, State Senator Claire Celsi... said she was unsurprised that the Sanders campaign was leveling it. 'Doesn't surprise me about Bernie,' she said. 'He went straight to the gutter with Hillary. More of the same.'" Julian Castro, who recently dropped out of the presidential race and is now acting as a Warren surrogate, told Politico he was "disappointed that Bernie would go negative on somebody that he’s known for a long time, and worked with, and whose character he must certainly know is good."

Thompson/Otterbeing reported that Castro comment in their follow-up article, devoted to Warren's response to the initial controversy. It's another gratuitously combative piece. Sanders, the authors write, "seemed to attribute the script, which read 'PAID FOR BY BERNIE 2020,' to a rogue employee"--the first appearance in a formal article of that "paid for" line. They quote Sanders saying "[n]o one is going to be attacking Elizabeth," then counter it with "Not everyone on Sanders’ campaign staff fell in line, however," and quote remarks by national press secretary Briahna Joy Gray in which she wasn't attacking Warren, merely pointing out the hazards of nominating, in the face of Trump, a "candidate who people don't feel so strongly abt," which not only seems an obvious concern for those who want to defeat Trump but one it would be irresponsible not to consider. Making these arguments, evaluating them and picking a strong candidate is supposed to be the point of a primary.

The press loves conflict--it's what sells--but artificially manufacturing conflict isn't journalism. However problematic it may be, it is the right of Politico to be editorially hostile to Sanders and to progressives in general. Crafting what are supposed to be straight news reports around that hostility is much more problematic, and the kind of journalistic misbehavior that has so often entailed is certainly something that should be called out. Add this one to the pile.

--j.

---

UPDATE (14 Jan., 2019) - Today, Thompson/Otterbein are reporting in Politico that "the controversial talking points attacking Elizabeth Warren that Bernie Sanders' campaign deployed were given to teams in at least two early voting states on Friday, three Sanders campaign officials confirmed."

That's the sort of thing that should have been established before the original story was ever published. Having finally gotten this confirmation, the authors write that "some Sanders’ supporters claimed over the weekend that the campaign script wasn't genuine and that the story was false," which doesn't address any of the legitimate problems with their initial story or acknowledge that those problems generated legitimate skepticism.

Moreover, the vagueness that plagued their earlier work continues. "Volunteers and staffers used the script on Saturday while canvassing for votes, meaning the talking points were more official than what Sanders previously suggested after POLITICO reported on the language." They hadn't previously established it was official, only asserted it. Their new report is that the script was used by canvassers in two states--they provide no information on how extensively--and that it was sent out on Friday night, used for one day, Saturday, then discontinued that night. Does use of the script extend beyond that one day? Who knows? Not, apparently, Thompson/Otterbein. They say the script was issued by "the Sanders campaign" but don't get any more specific than that, then, according to two Sanders officials, it was withdrawn and replaced--more specific. The vagueness here is perhaps less important; Sanders is the candidate and he's ultimately responsible for his campaign, whether he knew what was up at the time or not. The new narrative, that the script was used for one day in two--or parts of two--states, takes an awfully small original tale and makes it even smaller. It could be that the script was more widely used and Thompson/Otterbein only went with this because that's the information they were able to dig up but the fact that the small scale of this usage is all they have even days later suggests that the authors, at the time of their original piece, didn't report on it being used anywhere because they didn't actually know it was being used anywhere.

The tendentiousness of the original piece is still firmly in place. The script is still described as controversial," as "attacking Elizabeth Warren" and containing "attacks on the electability of Warren." The piece says the script "described Warren's appeal as limited to the highly educated and financially well off," when the script had only actually noted that this was the following Warren had drawn--again, an entirely uncontroversial fact--and expressed concern based on this.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Fading, Failing, In Trouble: Bernie Sanders' American Crisis

In the relentlessly negative corporate press treatment of Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign, there has developed a number of genres. One consists of stories on the campaign that ignore the fact that Sanders exists--the Bernie Blackout redux. Another prolific one is stories that downplay or dismiss Sanders' chances. Still another is the one I'm going to highlight here: stories that portray Sanders as losing, as failing, as in disarray, as in trouble--Sanders in perpetual crisis.

The purpose here isn't to offer an exhaustive analysis of this phenomenon; there's simply too much of it--and too few hours in the day--for this writer to comprehensively cover it. To keep the material at a manageable level, I've opted to focus only on one aspect of this: headlines that declare Sanders to be somehow in crisis. Nearly all of them are from 2019. This is not, by any stretch, a complete listing of them. These kinds of headlines have been a running joke among progressives for much of this year but when, in September, the number of them really increased, it seemed a good idea to call some attention to them. This is the fruit of, cumulatively, maybe 90 minutes of casual Googling, most of it using Google's somewhat imperfect date parameters for the months of this year (usually set for two of them at a time).

Randy Bish cartoon, Westfield Free Press-Courier (17 June, 2016)

After the end of Sanders' 2016 primary campaign, his supporters founded a new group, Our Revolution, which described its mission thusly:

"Through supporting a new generation of progressive leaders, empowering millions to fight for progressive change and elevating the political consciousness, Our Revolution will transform American politics to make our political and economic systems once again responsive to the needs of working families."

Politico wasn't having any of that. On 23 Aug., 2016--the day before it officially launched--Politico responded with an article, "Bernie Sanders' New Group Is Already In Turmoil."

Politico returned for another round on 29 May, 2017,"Sanders Revolution Hits A Rough Patch."

On 21 May, 2018, as Our Revolution was endorsing progressive candidates around the U.S. for that year's elections, Politico struck again: "Bernie's Army In Disarray."

A few months later, on 8 Aug., 2018, more of the same: "Bernie and His Army Are Losing 2018."

On 19 Jan,, 2019, MSNBC contributor Jason Johnson appeared on MTP Daily and, asked about how Elizabeth Warren's entry into the race will affect Sanders' upcoming presidential campaign, offered this assessment: "He's done.... I was literally having this conversation with a good contact who's on the campaign. I was like 'I see Bernie Sanders launching his campaign and by August realizing he won't be in the top 5 in Iowa and dropping out.' I don't think he'll get that far."

On 19 Feb., Bernie Sanders officially entered the presidential race. I wrote at the time about how the Washington Post greeted this news with a flood of articles completely dismissing Sanders.[see Appendix] In his first day alone, Sanders raised a staggering $6 million, on his way to raising $10 million from 359,914 individual donors in his first 6 days.

On 21 Feb., in the middle of that incredible windfall, Clintonite-right columnist Froma Harrop boldly declared, "Bernie Sanders, It's Over."

That day, execrable alt-right outlet Breitbart was barking up the same tree: "Donald Trump: 'Bernie's Going to Start to Fade'."

The Week, 11 March: "Bernie Sanders Has Already Lost More Than Half of His 2016 Supporters."

CNN, 20 March: "Polls show Bernie Sanders Popularity Among All Voters Is Plummeting."

That was written by Clintonite-right pollster Harry Enten and was then picked up by delighted far-right outlets:

Newmax, 20 March: "CNN: Polls Show Bernie Sanders' Popularity Dropping."

The Daily Wire, 22 March: "Sad Socialist: New Presidential Polls Show Declining Support For Bernie Sanders."

On 16 April, the first-quarter fundraising numbers for the presidential candidates were released. Sanders led the pack with over $18 million.

CNN, 29 May: "The Incredible Shrinking ... Bernie Sanders?"

The Washington Post, 29 May: "Bernie Sanders Revolution Stalls."

Bloomberg, 10 June: "Is Bernie Sanders Finished?"

Harrop was back on 18 June: "Many Democrats Happy to See Bernie Sanders on the Downward Slope."

The same day, the New York Post approvingly editorialized and expanded on Harrop with "Why So Many Democrats Are Glad To See Bernie Falling and Other Commentary."

Fox News, 28 June: "Juan Williams: Warren 'Rising' As Sanders 'Fades' In 2020 Field." (28 June, 2019)

The Hill, 3 July: "Sanders Slips In Polls, Raising Doubts About Campaign."

CNN, 3 July: "Bernie Sanders 2020 Is In Big Trouble."

The Hill, 10 July: "Billionaire Democratic Donor: Bernie Sanders Is A 'Disaster Zone.'"

On 20 July, Gallup reported that Sanders was the 2020 candidate most liked by the public. This did nothing to slow the roll of these articles.

Politics USA, 8 Aug.: "Joe Biden Leads, Elizabeth Warren Surges, And Bernie Sanders Fades In Iowa."

Liz Peek column at Fox News, 3 Sept.: "Bye-Bye Bernie – Dems Won't Nominate Socialist Senator To Run Against Trump."

The Week, 5 Sept.: "Why Bernie Sanders Is Stalled."

Politico, 17 Sept.: "Sanders Campaign Wracked By Dissension."

A headline on Sean Hannity's site on 18 Sept. declares "Fading Bernie."

Vanity Fair, 18 Sept.: "Is Bernie Sanders Beginning To Flail?"

The next day, 19 Sept., Sanders became the first presidential campaign of the cycle to hit 1 million individual donors. That same day:

CNN, 19 Sept.: "Why is Bernie Sanders Stuck in Neutral?" That's Chris Cillizza--like CNN's Harry Enten, a very anti-Sanders commentator. His same piece, in video form, was put up elsewhere on CNN under the headline, "Has Bernie Sanders Run Out of Gas?"

The Columbus Dispatch, 19 Sept.: "Sanders Campaign Turmoil As Iowa Political Director Out."

National Review, 26 Sept.: "The Beginning of Bernie's End."

Politico, 30 Sept.: "Bernie Sanders Is In Trouble."


The Washington Free Beacon, echoing Politico, 20 Sept.: "Sanders Campaign in Disarray as Warren Rises."

On 1 Oct., the candidates released their third-quarter numbers; Sanders had raised $25.3 million--by far the most of the Democratic candidates. That same day in the Daily Wire: "Is Bernie Over? Sanders Campaign Might Be Nearing Its End."

Later that day, Sanders was taken to the hospital with chest pains; it was eventually revealed he'd had a heart attack. The next day (2 Oct.) the "conservative Christian" news site NOQ Report declared, "Bernie Sanders Is Done."

Sanders rebounded quickly, saying he "was back." On 10 Oct., CNN wrote, "Bernie Sanders Says He's Back. Is He?"

That question seemed to be answered on 19 Oct., when, in New York, Sanders held what became the biggest rally of the entire presidential cycle to date. Nearly 26,000 people showed up, topping even the crowds drawn by the sitting incumbent president.

And the next day, NBC was back to the usual: "Bernie Sanders Struggles To Rebound: Staffing, Strategy, Health."

These examples come from a wide variety of sources--straight news stories and op-eds, major news outlets and some smaller specialty operations, etc. Politically, they range from far-right to Clintonite-right (progressive outlets don't seem compelled to wallow in this).  Their root in anti-progressive ideology is really their only common feature. When it comes to presenting Sanders as in crisis, the Hillary Clinton brigade is indistinguishable from the white nationalists of Breitbart. Or Trump himself. They're all telling exactly the same story.

Whatever one thinks of these articles on their individual merits, this is, as a genre, gaslighting. Since the day Sanders announced his candidacy, he's has been a top-3 Democratic candidate. Month after month, poll after poll, he's been one of the leaders in the pack but this is the story the press is choosing, over and over again, to tell, a narrative that, being based in ideology, seems impervious to good news for the Sanders campaign, which I've sprinkled through this presentation. No matter what happens, he's failing, in disarray, losing, in trouble--basically, over.

That needs to change.

--j.

---

APPENDIX

The article in which I wrote about the Post's handling of Sanders' 2020 campaign launch is somewhat lengthy and deals with a lot of other subjects. Some of the articles, published by the Post in the first two days of Sanders' campaign, belong among those I've covered here. Rather than pull them out and insert rewritten summaries of them in the timeline above, I've simply reproduced them here in their complete context (alongside some articles that perhaps fall outside the relatively narrow scope of this one):

A few years ago in Harper's, Thomas Frank documented the absolute visceral hatred of Bernie Sanders that editorially emanated from the Washington Post during the 2016 primary season. The Post wasn't very happy with Sanders joining the 2020 race either. From virtually the moment the news was announced, the Post began generating a string of anti-Sanders op-eds and analyses:

"The Daily 202: The Biggest Challenge Facing Bernie Sanders 2.0," in which James Hohmann asserts that "most Democratic strategists, analysts and insiders see Bernie’s quest as quixotic." Hohmann compares Sanders to Rick Santorum, a fringe reactionary loon who carried out two unsuccessful Republican presidential campaigns. He drags out most of the cliche's of the pour-cold-water-on-Sanders-2020 press, offering the "Sanders is a victim of his own success" trope, the "Sanders will face more scrutiny" trope (in which he brings up the sexual harassment business from 2016), points out that Sanders is old, Sanders will "again take heat for past apostasies on immigration and guns," and so on. Hohmann dives into complete Clinton cult fantasy when he asserts that Sanders "enters the race with high negatives, limiting his upside potential... [M]any from the party establishment... blamed him for their defeat," and he quotes Hillary Clinton on the point! As I've covered so often it's become a trope of my own, Sanders is overwhelmingly popular in the Democratic party. The notion of "high negatives" is a flat-out lie. And yes, Hohmann goes here too: "Another factor that still annoys many Democrats: He is not a registered Democrat," which is hardly meaningful, as Sanders' state of Vermont doesn't have party registration. Hohmann concludes by pointing out Sanders' difficulties attracting African-American voters in 2016 (which is largely a myth--Sanders won young black voters but lost the more numerous and active old ones), and ignores the last two years of polling data, which has shown Sanders' popularity among African-Americans has hovered around 70% (it's at 68% in the most recent Harvard/Harris poll).

Eugene Scott does the same thing in "Bernie Sanders Struggled To Win Black Voters. It Could Be Even More Difficult In 2020."

Then, there's "Bernie, Your Moment Has Come--And Gone," in which David Von Drehle compares Bernie Sanders to Eugene McCarthy, who saw brief, flash-in-the-pan success in the 1968 presidential campaign only to pursue multiple subsequent--and wildly unsuccessful--presidential campaigns. "Sanders will find, like gruff Gene, that his moment is gone, his agenda absorbed by more plausible candidates, his future behind him. Only the residue of unslaked ambition remains."

"Bernie Sanders Is Probably Just Another One-Hit Wonder," in which Henry Olsen offers the Sanders "victim of his own success" cliche by analogizing Sanders to a musical act. "Sanders’s songs are not novel. Just as the Beatles begat a host of imitators, it seems that virtually every Democratic contender sings some sort of Bernie-inspired tune. He launches a new single, 'Medicare-for-all,' and suddenly most other Democrats are covering it." All that's required for Olsen to have a point is a world in which the Beatles are forgotten by history while everyone listens to the Monkees. He brings up Eugene McCarthy and Rick Santorum too.

"Bernie Sanders Is No Big Deal the Second Time Around," in which Jennifer Rubin just repeats some of the standard talk-it-down tropes, adding nothing original. It's mostly noteworthy because Rubin, a conservative, repeats the identity attacks of the Clintonite right.

Back in January, when Kamala Harris raised $1.5 million in the first 24 hours of her campaign, the press cooed. That matched Sanders' first-day haul from 2016, which was thought to be a record. Sanders 2020 promptly buried that record, raising $5.9 million from--also probably a record--223,000 donors (Harris had only 38,000 donors). Given that fundraising is one of the major metrics by which the corporate press measures success and viability, one would think this would inspire some humility by the journalists, pundits, outlets that had spent so much time pouring cold water on his campaign's chances.

Yeah, right.

Jennifer Rubin was right back with another cooler-full with "Why Sanders Money Haul Doesn't Mean Very Much," in which she assured readers that Sanders' "Democratic opponents shouldn’t be surprised or concerned." But she's a snowball--or a snowflake--in Hell on this one; here's what she has to say about Sanders raising nearly 4 times the previous record:

"For someone with nearly universal name recognition, an extensive donor list and a long run-up to his announcement, Sanders’s haul shouldn't impress knowledgeable political watchers."
And...
"(Should Joe Biden announce, I would bet his 24-hour fundraising total will dwarf Sanders’s total. A former vice president shouldn't have to lift a finger to trigger a flood of money.)"
...the petulance of which is just, well, you get the picture. Rubin goes on to argue that, suddenly, money isn't really that important in political campaigns, and gosh-darn it, Sanders can't win black voters.

Monday, September 16, 2019

On Medicare For All, CNN's Enten Is Ridin' With Biden

Corporate press hostility to the Medicare For All healthcare plan favored by progressives--and to pretty much everything else favored by progressives--is as inevitable as death and taxes, and on Saturday, Harry Enten ground out a tendentious CNN article that makes a complete hash of the issue at every turn. At this week's Democratic presidential debate, candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders pointed out that people like their doctors, not their insurance companies. Enten sets out to "correct" this under the headline, "Warren and Sanders Say Americans Don't Like Their Health Insurance. Polls Don't Back That Up."

Some background here: As part of his presidential campaign, former Vice President Joe Biden has been attempting to counter calls for M4A by propagating a "healthcare plan" that merely tinkers around the edges of the Affordable Care Act (and like the ACA, leaves millions of Americans with nothing). Biden has embraced Donald Trump's Orwellian mischaracterization of M4A as a thing that takes away health coverage from millions of people (because private insurance for the services covered by the program would be eliminated). Perhaps most egregiously, he's been falsely insisting that progressives want to repeal the ACA and leave people with nothing while they spend years trying, with a questionable chance of success, to pass a M4A plan. In this way, he equates the advocacy for M4A with Republican efforts to simply do away with the ACA. He presents himself as the defender of the ACA and Obama's legacy and says he prefers to build on the ACA instead.

M4A doesn't take away anyone's coverage, of course; it extends coverage to everyone. No one has even suggested the course of action re:passing M4A that Biden describes. M4A is meant to succeed the ACA and, progressives have argued, build on it, and it provides health coverage for everyone. The ACA's supporters don't see this sharp dichotomy Biden has tried to foster; more than 2/3rds of the ACA's co-sponsors in congress are now supporting M4A and Barack Obama himself has said M4A is a "good, new idea."[1]

Biden's entire narrative is just a politically-motivated fiction.

That brings us to Enten, who isn't interested in details like this. Rather, he seems to see his job as merely being to sell that Biden narrative. He leads by focusing on an awful question Kaiser asked in a new poll
"A new Kaiser Family Foundation poll finds that when it comes to expanding coverage and lowering health care costs 55% of Democrats and Democratic leaning independents prefer to vote for a candidate who does so by building on the Affordable Care Act. Only 40% want do so by voting for voting for a candidate who replaces the ACA with Medicare for All."[2]
Using the completely dishonest Biden framing of the issue, the only thing this question's responses revealed is the reason Biden is peddling that false narrative in the first place: if he can get people to believe it, more of them side with him. As progressives see it, they are building on the ACA with M4A. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have explicitly said so. One can certainly debate the soundness of that proposition--there are arguments to be made on both sides--but the decision to represent the issue in the way Kaiser did is strictly ideological. It's choosing a side and pretending as if the other doesn't exist.  Besides being so problematic in itself, this also makes mincemeat out of the results. Those who don't see their advocacy of M4A as some effort to do away with the ACA--at a time when the ACA is at the height of its popularity--will be resistant to characterizing their own view as doing so. Kaiser generally does excellent work when it comes to the polling on these matters. That question was definitely an exception. Enten, who never does excellent work on anything, understands all of this. He's a pollster. He doesn't question the reasonableness of framing the issue in this way though, merely goes with it as if it's a legitimate measure of what people think. It reaches the conclusion he prefers.

Though Enten's headline sounds rather immediate, he primarily relies, for its conclusion, on a Kaiser poll from over 6 years ago:
"It turns out that Kaiser posed this question to Americans back in 2013 'Do you have a generally favorable or generally unfavorable opinion of your own health insurance company?'

"In that poll, 72% of Democrats they had a favorable view of their health insurance company. That's triple the 24% who said they had an unfavorable view."
Some points:

--That same poll found that a plurality of respondents--49%--had a negative opinion of health insurance companies in general, with only 43% saying they had a positive view of them.

--Significantly, the poll also suggests that opinions about insurance companies are tied to the extent to which people have to deal with them. Among those who had tried to purchase insurance in the three years previous to the poll, 59% expressed an unfavorable opinion of the companies.

--Enten misrepresents the finding about those who have a favorable opinion of their health insurance; that question was asked of the insured, not of "Democrats."

--Maybe most importantly, while that overwhelming majority did say they had a favorable view of their own insurance company, the same poll also asked respondents what was most important to them in an insurance plan, and at the top of the responses sits choice of doctors, coverage for a wide range of services, being able to go to the hospital you prefer without paying more, etc.--all things also provided by M4A. Progressives have argued that when people say they like their insurance coverage, this is what they're actually valuing, not their insurance company itself--they like having health care, not necessarily private insurance--and this data suggests that is correct. Enten never outlines any of this, the very argument advanced by Warren and Sanders; he just represents the poll as refuting Warren and Sanders!

It gets worse:
"Polls like the one I just cited indicate that the candidates who favor a public option hold the majority opinion within the Democratic Party."
Though Enten forgets to mention it while making that kind of sweeping statement, the same Kaiser poll with which he began asked about this and found that very large majorities of Democrats support both "Medicare For All" and the "public option" approach, and by lopsided margins.:


To note the obvious, that's going to be mostly the same people supporting both. Most Democratic respondents don't see them as either/or. They see both as policies that would improve healthcare. The public option performs slightly better among them because it also draws in some people who aren't comfortable with M4A and is probably seen as more immediately doable, as that's how it's rather relentlessly sold to the public. That puts the ball in the court of M4A advocates to explain their idea and make a case for it being the best. Most Americans have already accepted the premise of the policy, that health care is a human right and that it is the responsibility of the government to ensure people have it.

Enten never acknowledges that. He never acknowledges M4A's overwhelming popularity among Democrats either, though he does try to undermine it and suggest it--whatever it is--is all a mirage:
"Our CNN poll from late June directly posed the question to potential Democratic primary voters. We asked whether there should be a national health care plan and whether it should replace private insurance. The plurality, 49%, said there should be a government health care plan but it shouldn't eliminate private insurance. Just 30% said there should be a national health care plan and it should eliminate private insurance. A mere 13% didn't want a government run health care plan."[3]
To elicit those responses, that CNN poll specifically asked, "if the government instituted a national health insurance program for all Americans, do you think that program should or should not completely replace private health insurance?" But Medicare For All doesn't "completely replace private health insurance"; it replaces private health insurance that duplicates coverage provided by the M4A program. Insurance companies could continue to offer coverage for services outside those covered by M4A. "Completely replace" misrepresents the policy in a prejudicial way and is also very strong language, both of which queer results--again, all things Enten, as a pollster, knows. If--perish the thought--one suspected Enten was dishonest, one may even suspect he left that "completely" out of his recitation of the results on purpose.

Medicare For All has enjoyed majority public support for years now and Democratic support for it is staggering. That CNN poll also asked, "Do you think the government should provide a national health insurance program for all Americans, even if this would require higher taxes?" Even with that "taxes" language, 56% of respondents, 87% of Democrats and 85% of Democratic leaners answered in the affirmative. What people mean when they say they support "Medicare For All" is obviously a legitimate question. It just isn't one with which Enten, while pretending to address the matter, ever properly engages.

In July, Morning Consult released the best recent poll we have on this. It asked respondents if they would support a Medicare For All system, a M4A system that diminishes the role of private insurance and a M4A system that diminishes the role of private insurance but allowed you to keep your doctor and hospital. The results:



The third option, which is the most accurate and detailed description, polls the strongest across the board, and the results add weight to that progressive argument around which Entent attempted an end-run, that when people say they like their insurance company, they're really just saying they like their doctors, hospitals, etc. Enten doesn't reference the Morning Consult poll.

Enten wears his purpose on his sleeve perhaps most prominently in his big finale:
"This polling ... might also explain why Biden continues to lead the Democratic race. He's closer to the median voter on the marquee issue this primary season than either his two leading competitors Sanders or Warren.

"If Sanders or Warren win the nomination, it will be in spite of their health care positions, not because of them... Perhaps the best hope for Sanders and Warren is to not make health care personal... But when you propose eliminating private insurance, it's pretty hard not to make it personal to the many voters who rely on it."
Enten sells himself as a "data journalist" but while that label conjures images of some disinterested scientist who carefully crunches numbers and draws conclusions from them, Enten is selective in his use of numbers, outright terrible in his analysis, sloppy in his writing and what he's peddling under that "data journalist" label is, more often than not, just unacknowledged ideology.

--j.

---

[1] It isn't really a new idea--such systems first began appearing in the 19th century. It isn't new for Obama either. In 2003, before he was elected to the U.S. Senate, Obama himself supported it.

[2] All the weird errors there--duplicating words, leaving out words--are in the original.

[3] By the way, the CNN poll in question is located here; the link Enten erroneously provides goes to a story written months before the poll had even been conducted.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Politico's Latest Anti-Sanders Flight of Fancy

Politico, one of the many corporate media mouthpieces for the Clintonite right, has fired off its umpteenth hit-piece against progressive senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, a toxic treatise entitled, "Ex-Clinton Staffers Slam Sanders Over Private Jet Flights." The thrust of the piece, by Daniel Lippman, is that while Sanders crisscrossed the U.S. on behalf of Hillary Clinton in 2016 and other Democratic candidates and causes in the years since, he's displayed an enthusiasm for chartering private jets, characterized by "journalist" Lippman as "carbon-spewing" in a bid to portray Sanders as hypocritical based on the senator's criticism of the fossil-fuel industry. But if Lippman made any effort to either get these Clinton staffers to document their charges or to investigate them himself, he gives no indication. Former Sanders staffers quoted in the article offer a reasonable and entirely plausible explanation for Sanders' use of private jets but Lippman runs with the Clinton staffers' entirely unsubstantiated charges and characterization.

Lippman writes that, in his 2020 bid for the presidency, Sanders faces
"hard feelings that remain to this day after the contentious 2016 Democratic primary. Many in the party continue to believe the Vermont senator played a role in contributing to Clinton's defeat in November because of his criticisms of her prior to the general election, and his refusal to concede earlier when it appeared he had little mathematical chance of securing the party nomination."
Is this true, or is this merely a view held by a relative handful of extreme Clinton partisans like the Clinton personality-cult that hangs out on Twitter and obsessively repeat such claims? Sanders' favorability polling over the last two years has shown that he is overwhelmingly popular with Democrats--around 80%--while Dems with a "very unfavorable" view of Sanders have hovered between only 3-7%. The latest Harvard/Harris poll from the end of January puts that number at 6%, with an additional 10% expressing only an "unfavorable" view, while 76% of Dems viewed Sanders favorably. Via his set-up, Lippman arguably both misrepresents this state of affairs and privileges a view held by what is, in reality, an extreme minority. This "many in the party," he writes, "are eager to point out Sanders' flaws and examples of what they perceive to be examples of hypocrisy now that the one-time underdog rates as one of the front-runners in the crowded Democratic field."

And Lippman is apparently eager to assist them. Lippman uses this remarkable comment:
"'I'm not shocked that while thousands of volunteers braved the heat and cold to knock on doors until their fingers bled in a desperate effort to stop Donald Trump, his Royal Majesty King Bernie Sanders would only deign to leave his plush D.C. office or his brand new second home on the lake if he was flown around on a cushy private jet like a billionaire master of the universe,' said Zac Petkanas, who was the director of rapid response for the Clinton campaign."
If one didn't know anything else, that seems like the sort of thing that may force a journalist to consider the possibility that this is just some hack with an axe to grind who may just be crooking him, eh? Lippman instead uses it to establish the tone of his piece. Petkanas' characterization is, of course, entirely at odds with Sanders' persona. Indeed, while the Clintons, who have made hundreds of millions of dollars over the years, have an estimated net worth of $45 million, fly cushy private jets everywhere and live a lavish lifestyle of which most Americans can only dream, Sanders was one of the least wealthy senators--hardly some Master of the Universe. Eleven days before this Politico piece ran, Petkanas himself had authored an op-ed for NBC in which he'd rather laughably suggested that Sanders had faced no serious criticism during the 2016 primary campaign--a favorite chestnut of the Clinton personality cult--and gloated at the idea that now, Sanders will face the same scrutiny as Clinton.[1] All things that should give a journalist pause.

After Sanders dropped out of the 2016 race and endorsed Clinton, he went to work as a surrogate for her campaign, traveling the U.S. in an effort to drum up the vote for her. The tale peddled by the Clinton staffers who talked to Lippman is that Sanders insisted on chartering expensive private jets as his "preferred mode of travel," causing tension with the Clinton campaign that preferred Sanders to travel on cheaper commercial flights. "We would try to fight it as much as possible because of cost and availability of planes, but they would request [a jet] every time," said one of Lippman's sources. "To the Clinton staff," Lippman writes, "the issue of the senator and the private jets became so cumbersome that it turned into 'a running joke in the office,' said one former Clinton staffer."

The story told Lippman by Sanders' staffers is straightforward:
"Sanders spokesperson Arianna Jones said it was physically impossible to get to all of the event locations in such a short period of time without chartered flights, especially since the senator was traveling to many smaller markets with limited commercial air travel options.

"'That’s why chartered flights were used: to make sure Sen. Sanders could get to as many locations as quickly as possible in the effort to help the Democratic ticket defeat Donald Trump,' she said. 'Sen. Sanders campaigned so aggressively for Secretary Clinton, at such a grueling pace, it became a story unto itself, setting the model for how a former opponent can support a nominee in a general election.'

"In the final three months before Election Day 2016, Sanders held 39 rallies in 13 states on behalf of Clinton’s campaign, according to Jones, including 17 events in 11 states in the last week alone."
That's entirely plausible (and the undeniably grueling pace of it speaks to Petkanas' characterization of these events as well).

All of this air travel was to meet a schedule set by the Clinton campaign itself. Was Sanders gratuitously requesting private jets to meet it or was he only making such requests when commercial flights wouldn't cover it? That's not an unknowable question. Commercial flight schedules can be checked against the campaign schedule easily enough.

More to the point, if the Clinton staffers' allegations are true, they should be able to produce documentation to show where Sanders was insisting on private jets when commercial flights were available.

The credibility of their entire story hinges on this, but if Lippman ever even requested such documentation, he gives no indication of doing so. If he ever investigated the matter himself, he gives no indication of doing so. Lippman provides no documentation whatsoever for the Clinton staffers' claims. Without this, there is no story. But Politico ran Lippman's article anyway, smearing Sanders without a shred of evidence that this tale being pitched to its "journalist" was anything more than a bunch of bullshit being spun by rabid Clinton partisans with an axe to grind. That they may have coordinated this narrative would be a story in itself--former Clinton staffers conspiring to smear the current Sanders campaign--but that apparently isn't a story in which Politico is interested.

Politico's Daniel Lippman, #stillwithering

Here's something else to make you smile: Petkanas is the only Clinton staffer willing to go on the record with these allegations. The only other Clinton staffer willing to put his name anywhere near Lippman's article was former Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook, who apparently wanted no part of the Sanders-bashing. "We needed all hands on deck, including Bernie," Mook said in his only statement on the matter, "and we were grateful for his support and the generous amount of time he gave the campaign." All of the Clinton staffers making these allegations would only do so only behind the cloak of anonymity. By contrast, all of the Sanders staffers quoted by Lippman were willing to go on the record.

Why would the Clinton staffers be granted anonymity in this matter in the first place? They aren't deep government operatives discussing national security secrets and in fear of legal retribution should they affix their names to any of this. The inflammatory nature of their charges and the fact that they're completely unsubstantiated makes the grant of anonymity even more inappropriate.

The hapless reader has to dig 30 paragraphs into the story before encountering this:
"Private jet travel on the campaign trail is not uncommon--either for candidates like Clinton or a top surrogate tasked with stumping for them. Often it is the most efficient mode of transportation, particularly when events are in locations where commercial air travel options are limited.

"One veteran Democratic operative who oversaw surrogates for past presidential campaigns said providing private planes is standard practice for the most important surrogate of a presidential campaign in the general election.

"In addition to Sanders, the Clinton campaign footed the private plane bill on occasion for several top celebrities, among them Beyonce, Jay Z and Katy Perry. But as a rule, when political surrogates made requests for private jets, the campaign’s answer was no--except when it came to Sanders, said one former Clinton staffer."
The cost of Sanders' private flights during the 2016 campaign is pegged in the article at $100,000. To put that in perspective:
"The Clinton campaign itself spent a total of $15.9 million on jet charter company Executive Flightways in the 2016 campaign, according to a review of FEC records. That money was used to ferry Hillary Clinton, former President Bill Clinton, vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine, Sanders, major celebrities, and Clinton’s traveling press corps."
Unmentioned in the article, though reported during the campaign, is the fact that Clinton insisted on flying back home every night while "on" the campaign trail--sleeping in her own bed in her Westchester County, N.Y. mansion then starting over the next day.

Toward the end, Lippman, writing in his own voice, returns to the charge of hypocrisy against Sanders, now treating the entirely unsubstantiated claim that Sanders has a "penchant for private jet travel" as an established fact:
"The revelation of Sanders’ penchant for private jet travel, both in 2016 and in the subsequent years, could surface as an issue for him since he often demands the U.S. do its part to fight global climate change--to which CO2 emissions from aviation is a contributor."
The notion that Sanders--or anyone concerned about climate change--is somehow hypocritical if they don't take a vow of poverty and walk across the country, eschewing all modern means of travel, is unworthy of the the bandwidth wasted to transmit it. Lippman reports that last year, Sanders spent "$342,000 on Apollo Jets, a private jet service," money that "was used primarily to pay for a nine-day, nine-state tour to support Democratic candidates across the country" (Sanders spokesman Arianna Jones says "the campaign purchased carbon offsets to zero out the emissions produced on the trip."). He also notes Sanders' 2017 participation in the DNC-organized "unity tour" across 8 states, for which Sanders paid the bulk of the cost.

Though Lippman doesn't make note of it, Sanders has, in fact, spent the last 2 1/2 years on constant tours across the U.S. on behalf of Democratic causes and candidates--those that will confront the threat of climate change. It's been an extraordinary effort unmatched by anyone in politics. But in politics, it seems--at least when it comes to certain Democratic insiders--no good deed goes unpunished.

It's a matter of public record that Sanders campaigned for Hillary Clinton in 2016 much harder than Clinton ever campaigned for Obama in 2008 and delivered a larger share of his voters to her than she did her own to Obama. For his troubles, Sanders has gotten little more than grief. If one discusses public affairs on Twitter, it's a regular occurrence to encounter Clinton cultists who insist Sanders did next to nothing to assist in Clinton's election. This fiction has been fed by Clinton herself, who goes around in the press saying things like this:
"When I lost to Barack Obama, I immediately turned around, I endorsed him, I worked for him, I convinced my supporters to vote for him. I didn't get the same respect from my primary opponent."
The press has refused to scandalize such comments and Sanders has done little to respond to them, so it's appropriate to end on the words of Sanders' 2016 spokesman Michael Briggs, quoted by Lippman. He says some things that have needed to be said for a long time now, describing Clinton and her staff as "total ingrates":
"'You can see why she’s one of the most disliked politicians in America. She’s not nice. Her people are not nice,' he said. '[Sanders] busted his tail to fly all over the country to talk about why it made sense to elect Hillary Clinton and the thanks that [we] get is this kind of petty stupid sniping a couple years after the fact.'

"'It doesn’t make me feel good to feel this way but they’re some of the biggest assholes in American politics,' he added."
To that, one should add press outlets who, in their fervor to tear down a progressive presidential challenger, uncritically parrot those same assholes.

--j.

---

[1] In the real world, Sanders was subjected to an endless barrage of negative--and typically scurrilous--attacks by the press throughout 2016 (as soon as the "Bernie Blackout" of 2015 began to life). The idea that he faced no criticism was debunked at the time, but has taken on a life of its own as an ubiquitous talking-point among the Clinton personality cult on Twitter. In his article, Petkanas offered "here's what voters missed" about Sanders, then went on to cover a handful of issues, mostly Sanders' votes against a handful of gun-control measures, that were, in fact, extensively covered throughout 2016. Petkanas also writes of Sanders' "relentless attacks on Clinton... over the 1994 Crime Bill"; in reality, Sanders never attacked Clinton for that bill, for which he, himself, voted.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Stupid Press Tricks 2: Chillin' the Bern

This is my 2nd "Stupid Press Tricks" piece, intended to offer a collection of short-takes on examples of press misbehavior that, individually, don't require or merit longer-form examination. Sort of an ongoing notebook...



For the last few years, Sen. Bernie Sanders has made it a point to deliver his own response to the State of the Union Address. Just last month, when Donald Trump used a televised address to the nation as an effort to foment the false notion that there existed a "crisis" at the U.S. Southern border, Sanders followed the official Democratic response with one of his own. Sanders' fiery, no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners dissections of Trumpian lies and nonsense and forceful defense of progressive values have stood in sharp contrast to the limp, pathetic, empty-platitude-packed official Democratic responses. Handling these responses is considered a thankless job and when it comes to doing so, Democrats, for whatever reason, just haven't been able to get it together. Sanders' are the real Democratic responses from the real leader of the Democratic party.

This year, when Dems announced they'd chosen former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams to handle their official response, it was hoped this would lead to a presentation more worthy of the time expended to broadcast it. Abrams is certainly far more formidable than the unfortunates chosen by Dems in both of the prior two years. Sanders, who had endorsed and campaigned for Abrams last year, praised her as "a great choice. I'm very much looking forward to her speech." For the third year in a row, Sanders planned to internet-broadcast his own response to the State of the Union Address following the official Dem response.

That's when the trouble started.

In my first "Stupid Press Tricks," I wrote about how part of the toxic legacy of Hillary Clinton is the weaponization of "identity" to attack progressives and how the Clinton cult "portrayed up as down, in as out and Sanders--a lifelong feminist and civil rights advocate--as a misogynist and a racist. Everything Sanders says or does regarding race or gender--and even a lot of things unrelated to them--is interpreted, usually ripped from vital context, through this lens and in a negative way," and--wouldn't you know it?--that happened again here. Clinton-cult Twitter jumped all over Sanders' announcement of his SOTU response to suggest he was trying to steal the spotlight from Abrams, upstage Abrams, slight Abrams, disrespect Abrams, and all of the above is used to continue the tired narratives about how Sanders has a "blind spot" regarding race and gender, "downplays" race and gender, is "insensitive" and/or "tone deaf" when it comes to race and gender, is a racist and sexist, full stop. Shane Ryan collected some of the early "greatest hits" of this latest leg of the cult's Slander Sanders Forever campaign and assembled them into an article at Paste, "The Bad Faith Bernie Sanders Attack of the Day: Bernie Is Racist  Because He's Responding To the SOTU."

Twitter is, unfortunately, a sewer of Clinton cultism and veteran users have come to expect this kind of response to pretty much anything having to do with Sanders. It's a daily drumbeat as relentless as it is transparent in its naked bad faith, carried out by people who despise Sanders for having the audacity to have stood in the way of their Queen's coronation in 2016. Theirs is a milieu that relishes absolutely wallowing in anti-Sanders lies and misinformation and as any veteran of exchanges with them can attest, debunking this rubbish only makes them wallow in it more enthusiastically. In this case (as is so often the case), their feigned outrage at Sanders was entirely selective. Along with Sanders, California Sen. Kamala Harris, Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and others issued their own responses to the State of the Union Address via social media or in press appearances after the event, but not one of these others faced so much as a word of criticism from those who so feverishly raged against Sanders. There wouldn't be any need to say much more about it than that except in this case--as often happens with anti-Sanders slanders--numerous major press outlets decided to pick up on and amplify the "controversy."

Vox's Zack Beauchamp set about trying to untangle the matter in "The Controversy Over Bernie Sanders' State of the Union Response, Explained." He gets it basically right when he writes, "this has become just another opportunity to relitigate the 2016 primary." Unfortunately, he goes out of his way to privilege, rather than question, the bad-faith attacks on Sanders and to grossly elevate those slinging them. He calls the matter "a petty fight... but it’s a revealing petty fight that shows just how deep the wounds from the 2016 primary remain in the Democratic Party--and how likely those divisions are to come back up if Sanders does, in fact, mount a 2020 run." But is it? Beauchamp gives that question a bit of a kick in the teeth when he writes that Sanders "remains a controversial figure in the party." Is this remotely true? One need only consult the polling regarding Sanders' favorability among Democrats; it has hovered around 80% for over 2 years now. The January Harvard/Harris poll has Sanders' favorability among Dems at 76%. At the same time, Democrats with a "very unfavorable" view of Sanders--that is, the ones who use these ginned-up "controversies" to obsessively rage against him--have only measured out between 3-7%. In that H/H poll, they're at 6% (with another 10% expressing merely an "unfavorable" view). Sanders is, in fact, largely beloved within the Democratic party and Beauchamp's assertion only leads one to question what he thinks is a reasonable threshold for "controversial" within the party.

Beauchamp, like pretty much everyone else who covered this, presents this controversy as representative of a serious divide in the party, as if there are large factions on both sides of it, which is a complete misrepresentation. That Sanders' rabid Dem critics, for all their noise, amount to little more than a margin-of-error faction--a lunatic fringe within the party--simply must inform any and all such assessments. If their rage against Sanders is even judged worthy of any coverage--and in most cases (like this one), it probably shouldn't be--that fact should inform the framing of the coverage. They're not representative of anything so profound as "how deep the wounds from the 2016 primary remain in the Democratic Party"; they're just a marginal faction that doesn't speak for anyone.

To put in perspective how marginal, 19% of Democrats oppose same-sex marriage,[1] several times that 3-7% and, in fact, more than the total 16% who express any unfavorable opinion of Sanders. For the party, repealing same-sex marriage would be as unthinkable as repealing the right of women to vote but there's stronger support for doing so than there are unfavorable feelings for Sanders. There are an endless array of other such tiny factions within the party--and every party--holding fringe, crank and/or marginal views. Now, of course, just because a view is fringe doesn't mean it's wrong but in this particular matter, the overwhelming and defining characteristic of these attacks on Sanders is their utter bad faith. Beauchamp's failure to properly contextualize the attacks while treating them as something far more significant than they are is a pretty striking journalistic failing, one repeated by every press outlet that picked up on this "story."

Near the end (and feeling an awful lot like an afterthought), Beauchamp does acknowledge the existence of those who see the
"criticisms of [Sanders'] record on identity issues as a cynical ploy from Democratic loyalists, who were willing to forgive Hillary Clinton for her comments about black youth and 'superpredators' in the '90s and overlook Joe Biden’s support for policies that have increased America’s mass incarceration problem, but turn readily to identity-based critiques of Sanders. It's bad faith all the way down, in their view: The critics just don't like him, either because he's an outsider or because he's a democratic socialist, and are looking for any excuse to discredit him."
But while providing plenty of room for the anti-Sanders attacks, Beauchamp attributes this view only to "Sanders supporters" and makes no effort to unpack it. He reproduces a Sanders tweet in which Sanders notes this will be his 3rd State of the Union response but takes no further notice of this, despite its direct bearing on the good faith of Sanders' attackers. He never mentions the lack of criticism of the other Democrats who delivered responses to the SOTU. He doesn't even acknowledge there were any other Democratic responses. Exasperatingly, he concludes by putting the attacks and defenses of Sanders on equal footing:
"Sanders critics see it as proof that Bernie hasn't really learned his lesson on race and gender; Sanders defenders see the critics as once again ginning up faux-outrage about something unimportant to discredit their guy."
Still, Beauchamp's very flawed work looks positively golden compared to others who wrote about the mater.

Joseph P. Williams of U.S. News & World Report certainly fails much more spectacularly with, "Is Bernie Sanders Stealing the Post-State of the Union Spotlight From Stacey Abrams?" (5 Feb.). Williams mostly just concerns himself with repeating the attacks on Sanders, which he does even when allegedly presenting the other side of the story:
"Political analysts, however, point out that this is Sanders' third independent State of the Union rebuttal, and deciding to give it is Bernie being typically Bernie: a little selfish, perhaps tone deaf, uncompromising when it comes to his political vision. His rebuttal to Abrams' rebuttal may not be a good look, but it's definitely on brand."
That's Sanders: Selfish, Tone-Deaf, Uncompromising Bad Looks R Us. The only two Sanders "defenders" Williams quotes are from conservative outlets, which he misidentifies (he describes the center-right Brookings Institution as "a center-left think-tank" and the very conservative Reason magazine as "centrist") and--wait for it--both also repeat the attacks on Sanders.

Aki Soga, writing in USA Today, repeats them as well and adds another layer of awfulness by portraying them as coming not from a fringe but from "progressives": "Bernie Sanders Faces Progressive Backlash Over State of the Union Response" (6 Feb.). Compounding this, Soga declines to quote any progressive defenders of Sanders, choosing, instead, to quote only conservatives, who weren't really defending Sanders but merely throwing elbows as the "progressives' attacking him. Soga does, at least, identify them as conservative.

The Root's Stephen Crockett Jr. provides only a somewhat extended treatment of the attacks on Sanders with, "Hey, Bernie Sanders Can You STFU After the SOTU and Let Stacey Abrams Shine?" (5 Feb.). He begins with an off-the-scale lie:
"I thought after the 'Bernie Bros.' reportedly ditched their liberal persona and voted for Donald Trump in an effort to 'bern' Hillary Clinton that everyone had learned their lesson and informally agreed to play nice."
In every survey, even the flawed one favored by the Clinton cult, over 80% of Sanders supporters voted for Hillary Clinton in the general. Crockett never gets any better.[2]

In the Washington Post, Eugene Scott writes, "Stacey Abrams Will Give the Response To the State of the Union. But Bernie Sanders Wants the Last Word" (5 Feb.), in which he says, "Sen. Bernie Sanders’s plan to deliver his own response was not well received, especially among people of color"--again, suggesting, absent any evidence whatsoever, that this is a very widespread furor. Even the anecdotal evidence of the anti-Sanders Twitter ranters won't back that dog--they're overwhelmingly white. Scott's conclusion is just as ill-considered:
"The current class of congressional Democrats is one of the most diverse in history in terms of gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation. The selection of Abrams as rebuttal speaker seems designed to honor and highlight that diversity. While it is understandable that many people want to push back on Trump’s ideas, Sanders’s effort to get the last word undermines that message."
Bernie Sanders is Jewish, part of one of the smallest minorities in the U.S., equaling only 1.4% of the population. When it comes to the warriors of weaponized "identity," that's a demographic that apparently doesn't matter.[3] Sanders is also one of only a handful of democratic socialists in congress, three of which were only just elected in 2018. Substantive political, rather than superficial, diversity doesn't seem to score very high with the identitarians either.

Chris Cillizza, one of CNN's regular Bernie-bashers, had to get in his own licks. In trying to talk down Sanders' presidential chances, "Why Bernie Sanders Isn't Helping His 2020 Prospects with His Own SOTU Response" (5 Feb.) takes a slightly different, though also excruciatingly tired, tack, basically a column-length version of the worn-out Clinton cult line re:Sanders, "He's not a Democrat!", Cillizza tries to Other-ize Sanders and make it seem as if the senator, by responding to Trump, is setting himself apart as "different" and "special" from the party. Like everyone else, Cillizza misrepresents the scale of the discontent with Sanders:
"Within a not-insignificant chunk of the Democratic Party, there is some leftover ill will toward Sanders for his role in the 2016 campaign and lingering doubts as to the firmness of his commitment to the Democratic Party."
Like Hillary Clinton, Cillizza suggests an electorate far more concerned with the superficial matter of what party-label a pol slaps on himself than the policies he advocates.
"Democratic voters in 2020 will have candidates who not only represent their own liberal views but also have aligned themselves with the Democratic Party their entire lives. And that may leave Sanders on the outside looking in."
Or maybe it won't.

In one cackle-inducing parenthetical moment, Cillizza acknowledges that Kamala Harris was also giving a response to Trump and tries to exempt her from the criticism of Sanders he's laying down.
"(Sidebar: Yes, I know California Sen. Kamala Harris, who is also running for president in 2020, is set to deliver a SOTU pre-buttal before Trump speaks tonight. But Harris isn't dealing with the same is-she-really-a-true-blue-Democrat that Sanders is. No one has--or will--question Harris' commitment to the Democratic Party and its principles. She's always been a Democrat. Sanders, well, hasn't.)"
Uh huh. Cillizza has pushed Harris' candidacy for months now.

The concluding irony of all of this huff and bluster is that Stacey Abrams, despite her obvious advantages over the other Dems recently assigned Trump-reply duty, went on to fail in her presentation, turning out yet another uninspiring platitude-filled dud to add to the pile, while Sanders' own response again proved the spectacularly effective counter.

As I covered in my previous article, CNN's ongoing "power rankings" of Democratic candidates have proven a farcical effort to manipulate public perceptions of the race. Allegedly a survey "of Democrats most likely to get their party's presidential nomination in 2020," the top-10 "rankings," prepared by Chris Cillizza and "data journalist" Harry Enten, are entirely untethered from any actual data on the state of the race. They're just a vehicle for Cillizza and Enten--and CNN--to promote their favored candidates, talk down the ones they don't like and, by doing both, try to make both a reality.

Thus while Kamala Harris is polling at 10% in a recent Morning Consult poll I'll use for comparisons here, Cillizza/Enten have yet again placed her at #1 in their rankings for February, a slot they've given her for months. Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders continue to dominate the top of the polls, with Sanders clearly the stronger candidate, yet Sanders is consigned to #6, sandwiched between Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar, both of whom finish with, respectively, 3% and 1% in that Morning Consult poll, while the uber-conservative Biden is ranked #2.

The arguments Cillizza/Enten offer for Sanders' poor standing are so nonsensical, it leaves the reader with the impression that they're just playing to hardcore anti-Sanders Dem Establishment partisans and don't even care that they're not making any real case.
"It's not clear, however, that Sanders can pick up support beyond his base."
In a race that may include as many as 30 or more candidates, that, it would seem, would be more than sufficient to win (and that's setting aside questions about the authors' notion of what constitutes Sanders' "base").
"He continues to poll well behind his 2016 primary showing despite having high name recognition."
It's impossible to believe that any serious analyst--or anyone who, say, dabbles in math--would be surprised by the fact that in a race crowded with so many candidates, Sanders isn't polling as high as he did back when he was one candidate in a two-candidate race. It's also impossible to believe anyone would think that necessarily pointed to any sort of serious problem for that candidate.
"Sanders is an independent running in a Democratic Party with other actual Democrats who are also very liberal. Finally, many Clinton fans still have ill will toward him after 2016."
As covered earlier, Sanders' favorability among Democrats is overwhelming. Democrats simply don't share the Clinton cult's obsession with Sanders' independent status when not running for president or its hatred of him. And a "data journalist" like Enten is certainly well aware of this.

Cillizza/Enten have been part of the vast corporate press chorus trying to goad former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke into joining the presidential race. This extraordinary effort has continued for months despite O'Rourke himself expressing virtually no interest in the prospect. Cillizza/Enten devote a significant chunk of their February rankings article to continuing this crusade. "If and when--and it feels more like a question of when than if at this point--O'Rourke decides to get into the 2020 race, he will fundamentally alter the contest in ways big and small."  If O'Rourke throws his hat in the ring, he "will become the central mover of the contest." O'Rourke "has star power and a grassroots backing that is the envy of the Democratic Party" (Sanders' much more impressive grassroots backing doesn't merit so much as a mention). O'Rourke's support as measured by Morning Consult is at 6%; Cillizza/Enten rank him the #3 Dem contender.[4]

Other press promotion of Harris' candidacy continues.[5]

Amie Parnes of the Hill offers a great example of an Echo Chamber Story, which she headlines "Harris Off To Best Start Among Dems In Race, Say Strategists, Donors" (17 Feb.), because calling it something like "Dem Establishment Likes Dem Establishment Candidate" would lay the entire enterprise a bit too bare. There's no actual news in the piece; it's just Dem Establishment insiders praising all things Harris (and throwing shade on her opponents) as Parnes acts as their stenographer.

The next day, Newsweek turned up with a rather surprising headline, "Kamala Harris Surges Into Lead Among Democratic Party Candidates" (18 Feb.). Given that Kamala Harris has, up to then, never led the Democratic race in a single poll, that would be some big news indeed. Katherine Hignett's lede only gives a hint of her game: "Kamala Harris has leaped to the front of an already-packed Democratic 2020 race, recent polls, political strategists and party donors have suggest." But then, things fall apart.
"Although recent polls show Harris lagging behind former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders, the California senator is first among Democrats who have announced their bids for the 2020 nomination in recent polls..."
Yep, no poll had actually shown Harris ahead. Rather, Hignett had just taken several polls that included a wide array of candidates, both announced and not, and ignored the results for those who hadn't yet officially entered the race. Among those who had entered, Harris was first. Polling, of course, doesn't work that way; if those other not-yet-announced candidates weren't in the theoretical race being surveyed, their support would have gone elsewhere. The rest of Hignett's piece is just an Echo Chamber rehash of both the Parnes piece from the Hill and the most recent Cillizza/Enten "power rankings" article.

In October, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that the world has only 12 years to contain climate change or face potentially devastating--and escalating--consequences. To address this crisis, progressives have called for a "Green New Deal"--a major government push to develop and convert to clean, renewable energy. On 7 February, freshman New York congresswoman (and Democratic rock-star) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez teamed with Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey to introduce an outline of this Green New Deal.

The reaction of the evening newscasts of the three major networks that night? The Green New Deal went uncovered and, in fact, entirely unmentioned. That "liberal media" at work.[6]

Last year was a bad one for conservative "Democratic" senators. Voters given a choice between Republican and Republican Lite sent several incumbent species of the latter packing. One was Claire McCaskill in Missouri, who, playing up how much she agrees with Trump and running against "crazy Democrats" (progressives), was defeated by Republican Josh Hawley. McCaskill spent a lot of December on a sort of Sour Grapes Tour. As Christina Cauterucci summarized in Slate (27 Dec.),
"Since she lost her bid for a third term as a U.S. senator from Missouri, Claire McCaskill has been trashing the left to anyone who'll listen. She's insulted Democrats who wanted her to be a more vocal critic of the president, Senate colleagues who questioned her opposition to banking regulations, and progressives who try to push their more moderate representatives to the left. In recent days, she’s expressed even more pointed ire for young women, abortion-rights activists, and voters excited by upstarts like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 'She's now talked about a lot,' McCaskill said of the 29-year-old incoming congresswoman from New York in a CNN interview that ran on Monday. 'I'm not sure what she's done yet to generate that kind of enthusiasm.'

"Calling Ocasio-Cortez a 'bright shiny new object,' McCaskill told CNN that Ocasio-Cortez, a democratic socialist who ousted a long-seated congressman in a primary upset, should pay attention to the 'whole lot of white working-class voters' who 'need to hear about how their work is going to be respected, and the dignity of their jobs.' She boiled down Ocasio-Cortez’s appeal to her 'cheap … rhetoric,' then remarked that 'getting results is a lot harder.'

"This potshot at a young woman of color who’d already become a favorite target of the right came just a few days after McCaskill told The Daily that she wished pro-choice activists who pressed her to be more vocal on abortion rights would 'shut up.'... 'Shame on them that they’re not working as hard as they can for me.'
Having lost, McCaskill was just full of terrible advice for Democrats on how to win. It was essential, she told the New York Times podcast, that Democrats not nominate a presidential candidate "so far to the left." Of the progressive practice of challenging conservative "Democrats," she was huffy (and taking another swipe at Ocasio-Cortez): "[I]t’s the people who defeated Republicans, in this election, that we need to be emulating, not the people who defeated Democrats in primaries."

Cauterucci, perhaps somewhat naively, writes, "It's anyone's guess what McCaskill expects to gain from this bridge-burning farewell tour, especially since she hasn't divulged any definitive post-Senate plans." But while most reasonable observers will see in McCaskilll's graceless sore-loser riot confirmation that both Senate Democrats and America is better off without her, it plays, in the current media environment, more like a job interview. Having shown herself willing to relentlessly trash the entire progressive project, McCaskill was promptly hired by "liberal" MSNBC as an on-air political analyst, where she'll be able to offer her insightful commentary on the coming presidential campaign.

CNN just made an effort to top even that, hiring Sarah Isgur, a longtime Republican operative. Not, as is usually the case, as an on-air pundit but as its politics editor, to helm CNN's coverage of the 2020 presidential campaign. While any news organization should place great value on a little thing called the truth, Isgur is a partisan hack whose demonstrated disregard for the entire concept couldn't be more complete. She has "pushed conspiracy theories about Planned Parenthood, was "in regular contact" with the guy pushing the Seth Rich conspiracy theory, peddled the intriguing statistic that '92 percent of jobs lost in Obama's first term belonged to women'," etc. Isgur regularly attacks the media in terms resembling Donald Trump. Media Matters has collected some of the anti-abortion misinformation she has spread over the years, as well as examples of some of her other lies and demagoguery. Isgur has worked for, among others, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Mitt Romney, the Republican National Committee and, most recently, Trump himself, as the spokesman for Trump's Attorney General Jeff Sessions. To get that last job, Isgur reportedly had to swear a loyalty-oath to Trump, whose reelection campaign she'll now be charged with overseeing. The one item not on her resume is anything having to do with journalism. As the Daily Beast noted, "it is almost unheard of for a high-profile operative with zero journalistic experience to land a top editorial role at a major news organization."

While dishing out lumps to CNN for its rather blatant promotion of Kamala Harris, one of the items I covered in my previous piece was the news network's decision, only days after Harris officially entered the race, to grant the candidate a solo townhall event from Iowa, the first contest on the Democratic calendar. For those who are into liberal democracy, the chance to hear from candidates in a longer form like that is, in the abstract, a good thing and something other press outlets should emulate. It was the context of that particular event that made it so snipe-worthy. In the aftermath of the event, CNN immediately made that context even worse, by offering a press release that claimed the show had been "the most watched cable news single candidate townhall ever." Go, Kamala, eh? Except this turned out not to be true; while the event set a record for CNN, the real record for such events is held by Donald Trump in 2016. Further, the Harris event finished in third place for even its own evening, behind both MSNBC's regular programming and that of Fox News.

Since Harris, CNN has continued its series of townhalls featuring presidential candidates.

The next featured former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, an utterly baffling choice in that, other than being a billionaire who can pay his own way through a campaign, he's someone without any national profile or measurable public support and has done absolutely nothing to merit this kind of attention. No one knows him and the few who do don't really seem to care but he is a very conservative fellow. He hasn't officially entered the race. He's presenting himself as an independent while staking out ground on the Clintonite right and selling himself via Clintonian triangulation tactics, slamming "extremists" from both the right and the left--especially the left--to position himself as the candidate of his own artificially-manufactured sensible center. His event was mostly notable for its unintentional comedy, as Schultz, obviously totally unprepared, spent a lot of the evening ducking and dodging direct answers to questions. The event was, predictably, a ratings flop.

Next up was Democratic Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, an event in New Hampshire, the first primary state on the Dem calendar. Her event showcased one of her long-running problems: she's dull as dishwater. Not only aggressively uninspiring, she tends, when asked a question and given the space to do so, to drone on and on without really saying anything--basically filibustering, as if trying to wear down the questioner. Klobuchar presented herself as the candidate to merely restore the pre-Trump status quo. Asked about the Green New Deal, she doesn't express support for it and instead launches into a long litany of pre-Trump environmental measures that Trump ended and that she says she will restore. Asked about Medicare For All, she doesn't dare outright dismiss it because of its popularity among Dems but brushes it off as something that could perhaps be done in the far future while presenting, as her alternative, technocratic tinkering with Obamacare, such as adding the public option Obama initially wanted, as more pragmatic things that could be done more immediately. Asked if she supports tuition-free higher education at public colleges and universities, she's a "no" on that one too; in the midst of a major student debt crisis, she merely suggests minor tinkering to try to lighten that load, backs an Obama plan, abandoned when Trump was elected, to provide for 2 years of community college and, perhaps most egregiously, presents the tuition-free 4-year plan favored by progressives as fairy dust and unicorns. "If I was a magic genie and could give that to everyone and we could afford it, I would." To unpack that, the federal portion of Bernie Sanders' College For All act comes with a price-tag of $47 billion/year. Less than a year ago, Klobuchar apparently had custody of that magic genie; she voted to expand the already obscenely bloated U.S. military budget by $82 billion--more than even Trump had requested.

For anyone entertaining any doubts, Klobuchar's townhall confirmed she's an instant also-ran who will probably wash out early. It bombed with viewers as well.

Soon, however, CNN goes for some real ratings. Its next townhall event will feature Bernie Sanders.

Four years ago, in April 2015, when Bernie Sanders entered his first presidential contest, the corporate press barely bothered to tell the public. As I wrote at the time, "if, while watching either the CBS Evening News or ABC’s World News Tonight, you’d sneezed, you could have missed their only mentions of Sanders’ announcement." ABC dispensed with it in 20 seconds, part of even that devoted to Hillary Clinton's reaction to the development. CBS correspondent Nancy Cordes threw in the only CBS mention of it during her wrap-up to an unrelated story about Clinton Foundation controversies. "The NBC Nightly News wasn’t much better," I wrote then. "Sanders' announcement was contextualized as a potential problem for Hillary Clinton on her road to the Democratic nomination. Correspondent Andrea Mitchell shoehorned a few words about Sanders and a pair of soundbites from the candidate into her report about Clinton’s political chameleonism over the years." For the evening newscasts of the three major networks, that was it--not a single segment dedicated to the subject. Every Republican campaign up to then, even the ridiculous long-shot ones, had been treated more extensively. It was the beginning of a phenomenon that would come to be known, as 2015 unfolded, as the "Bernie Blackout."

When Sanders formally entered the 2020 race on 19 Feb., the press had been trying to talk down his prospects for months. The reception he was given by the networks this time around wasn't exactly warm but it was a reception; 2015 barely qualified. Sanders gave a launch-day interview with CBS and the CBS Evening News led the broadcast that night with Sanders' announcement, the only one of the Big Three newscasts to do so. Correspondent Nancy Cordes' report was also the best of the three. ABC's World News Tonight, which had the worst record of the three when it came to 2016 cycle coverage of Sanders, offered a meandering hodgepodge report by Mary Bruce that began with Sanders, showed him talking about how his ideas are increasingly mainstream then suddenly veered off into mention of Elizabeth Warren's just-announced childcare proposal only to circle back around with, "but other Democratic candidates are blunt about some of these progressive promises" and show a clip of Amy Klobuchar's "magic genie" comment (CBS had used that clip as well). Bruce says Sanders calls himself a democratic socialist then says Kamala Harris "wants no part of that label." She points out that Sanders significantly outraised Harris on his first day but can't resist a parting cheap-shot:
"Still, this year, Sanders faces another hurdle; he's up against six female Democratic candidates while facing accusations from women who worked on his 2016 campaign about sexual harassment by male staffers. The senator has publicly apologized."
When made aware of that problem, Sanders acknowledged it, apologized, put in place protocols it's hoped will prevent any such things from ever happening again and there's no indication that any of those female candidates, many of whom are friends of Sanders, are going to try to weaponize it into an issue to use against him. The story was, by that point, over a month old, with no new developments. Bruce devoted most of her wrap-up to speculation about whether Joe Biden will run for president. A poor showing by ABC. The NBC Nightly News pretty much replicated its 2015 performance; feeling a lot like an afterthought, correspondent Hallie Jackson shoehorned a brief mention of the Sanders news into an unrelated report about the controversy over Donald Trump's efforts to construct a wall on the Southern U.S. border.

Almost immediately after Sanders' announcement, CNN's Chris Cillizza unleashed a new article attempting to talk down his prospects, "5 Reasons To Be Skeptical of Bernie Sanders' 2020 Bid." Among other things, Cillizza relies on some worn-out Clinton cult talking-points. The notion that Sanders was never "vetted" during the 2016 race, for example, was spawned during that campaign (and refuted then as well) and has been obsessively repeated on a daily basis by cultists on Twitter to this day. Cillizza:
"One of the secrets to Sanders' success in 2016 was that no one--most especially Clinton--thought he had any chance of going anywhere in the race. Clinton largely ignored him for the better part of 2015, allowing some problematic parts of Sanders' record for Democrats--most notably his voting record on guns--to go unnoticed."
The weasel-wording here is terrible. It's true that while the "Bernie Blackout" was underway, there wasn't a lot being reported about Sanders but Sanders' "voting record on guns" is ground that was very thoroughly covered in the latter part of 2015, as the blackout began to fade, and throughout the 2016 primary season after it had ended. By calling that "one of the secrets to Sanders' success in 2016," Cillizza is trying to delete that, as if it wasn't very loudly made a part of the public record, doing whatever damage to Sanders it could. He's also trying to delete Clinton's criticism of Sanders on the issue, which, contrary to Cillizza's account, began at least as early as August 2015, continued throughout that year and never abated until the primary season was over. Clinton's attacks were sometimes incredibly savage; she once asserted that Sanders cared more about gun manufacturers than the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre. Cillizza tries to send this down the Memory Hole as well, writing that "When the race began to tighten, Clinton gently prodded Sanders on guns and health care."[7] Cillizza asserts that Sanders also "largely flew under the radar of investigative reporters for major news outlets," but the press was criticizing Sanders on the issue of gun control before even the Clinton campaign.

Cillizza seems giddy at the prospect of Sanders being criticized and investigated but he's proceeding from an utterly false premise that this hasn't already happened. His implication is that there must be all sorts of bad things in Sanders' record that will be brought to light but the only specific things he mentions are Sanders' record on guns, which, in reality, has been examined to death, and how [Sanders'] wife's time as president of Burlington College could well come up." The link there is the one provided by Cillizza himself--it goes to a story reporting that Jane Sanders was cleared of all wrongdoing in that matter. Further, the effort to turn it into a scandal was the work of a Republican hack with a long history of making such big allegations against Dem figures that, upon examination, go nowhere.

Probably the most repeated Clinton cult talking-point is Cillizza's next--pointing out that Sanders isn't a Democrat. "[W]hy," he writes, "does Sanders feel the need to be an independent and describe himself as a democratic socialist? And in a field in which there will be lots and lots (and lots) of options for liberal voters, will they really choose someone who has spent almost his entire adult life as something other than a Democrat?" In a world in which over 40% of Democrats--defined as those who always support Democrats--are independents, is there a shred of evidence that this is any sort of liability?

Next, there's a variant on the "victim of his own success" trope so fashionable in Sanders stories this season:
"Sanders won't have the liberal lane to himself in this race like he did in 2016. In fact, the liberal lane is stuffed full of candidates--all of whom sound a hell of a lot like Sanders on policy. (This is not an accident.) Can Sanders win on a well-yeah-but-I-was-here-first argument? Or does he need something more, something beyond the ideas that energized his 2016 campaign?"
Another--clearer--way of looking at this: why would voters prefer one of the Bernie Lite candidates when the real deal is available? And, of course, no one ever asks the Bernie Lite candidates what it is they can contribute to a race in which they're copying bits of Bernie but Bernie himself is running.

Cillizza concludes by turning to identity":
"In the 2018 midterm elections, the increasing diversity of the Democratic Party was on full display. From the bevy of women elected to the House to the history making victories for two Muslim women and two Native American women to the candidacies of people like Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum, the message was clear: The Democratic Party's base is getting more female, more liberal, less white and younger.

"Aside from the 'more liberal' thing, Sanders doesn't fit any of those categories. At 77, he will be the oldest candidate in the field on either side. (Biden is 76.) Sanders simply doesn't look like the Democratic Party that scored across-the-board victories in 2018. What he does look like--demographically speaking--is the current occupant of the White House. Do Democrats want to nominate an older white man to run against an older white man in 2020?"
A few things to note: White men are the 2nd-largest demographic in the Democratic party, second only to white women. Once again, we get the "diversity" calculus that puts no value on Jews. No Jewish person has ever been nominated as the presidential candidate of one of the major parties, while 70-79% of American Jews vote Democratic in every election. The first Jewish candidate to win a presidential primary in U.S. history was--wait for it--Bernie Sanders, when he defeated Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire in 2016. Most of the new elected Democrats that Cillizza uses as his examples--Abrams, Gillum, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar (the two Muslim women) and Deb Haaland, one of the Native American women--were elected with the support of the Sanders-affiliated Our Revolution. How much sense does it make to wave the youth card at Sanders when, in 2016, vastly more young voters cast their ballot for him than for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump combined? Sanders dominated the youth vote across every other demographic. And is there a cheaper shot than rhetorically tying Sanders to Donald Trump?

A few years ago in Harper's, Thomas Frank documented the absolute visceral hatred of Bernie Sanders that editorially emanated from the Washington Post during the 2016 primary season. The Post wasn't very happy with Sanders joining the 2020 race either. From virtually the moment the news was announced, the Post began generating a string of anti-Sanders op-eds and analyses:

"The Daily 202: The Biggest Challenge Facing Bernie Sanders 2.0," in which James Hohmann asserts that "most Democratic strategists, analysts and insiders see Bernie’s quest as quixotic." Hohmann compares Sanders to Rick Santorum, a fringe reactionary loon who carried out two unsuccessful Republican presidential campaigns. He drags out most of the cliche's of the pour-cold-water-on-Sanders-2020 press, offering the "Sanders is a victim of his own success" trope, the "Sanders will face more scrutiny" trope (in which he brings up the sexual harassment business from 2016), points out that Sanders is old, Sanders will "again take heat for past apostasies on immigration and guns," and so on. Hohmann dives into complete Clinton cult fantasy when he asserts that Sanders "enters the race with high negatives, limiting his upside potential... [M]any from the party establishment... blamed him for their defeat," and he quotes Hillary Clinton on the point! As I've covered so often it's become a trope of my own, Sanders is overwhelmingly popular in the Democratic party. The notion of "high negatives" is a flat-out lie. And yes, Hohmann goes here too: "Another factor that still annoys many Democrats: He is not a registered Democrat," which is hardly meaningful, as Sanders' state of Vermont doesn't have party registration. Hohmann concludes by pointing out Sanders' difficulties attracting African-American voters in 2016 (which is largely a myth--Sanders won young black voters but lost the more numerous and active old ones), and ignores the last two years of polling data, which has shown Sanders' popularity among African-Americans has hovered around 70% (it's at 68% in the most recent Harvard/Harris poll).

Eugene Scott does the same thing in "Bernie Sanders Struggled To Win Black Voters. It Could Be Even More Difficult In 2020."

Then, there's "Bernie, Your Moment Has Come--And Gone," in which David Von Drehle compares Bernie Sanders to Eugene McCarthy, who saw brief, flash-in-the-pan success in the 1968 presidential campaign only to pursue multiple subsequent--and wildly unsuccessful--presidential campaigns. "Sanders will find, like gruff Gene, that his moment is gone, his agenda absorbed by more plausible candidates, his future behind him. Only the residue of unslaked ambition remains."

"Bernie Sanders Is Probably Just Another One-Hit Wonder," in which Henry Olsen offers the Sanders "victim of his own success" cliche by analogizing Sanders to a musical act. "Sanders’s songs are not novel. Just as the Beatles begat a host of imitators, it seems that virtually every Democratic contender sings some sort of Bernie-inspired tune. He launches a new single, 'Medicare-for-all,' and suddenly most other Democrats are covering it." All that's required for Olsen to have a point is a world in which the Beatles are forgotten by history while everyone listens to the Monkees. He brings up Eugene McCarthy and Rick Santorum too.

"Bernie Sanders Is No Big Deal the Second Time Around," in which Jennifer Rubin just repeats some of the standard talk-it-down tropes, adding nothing original. It's mostly noteworthy because Rubin, a conservative, repeats the identity attacks of the Clintonite right.

Back in January, when Kamala Harris raised $1.5 million in the first 24 hours of her campaign, the press cooed. That matched Sanders' first-day haul from 2016, which was thought to be a record. Sanders 2020 promptly buried that record, raising $5.9 million from--also probably a record--223,000 donors (Harris had only 38,000 donors). Given that fundraising is one of the major metrics by which the corporate press measures success and viability, one would think this would inspire some humility by the journalists, pundits, outlets that had spent so much time pouring cold water on his campaign's chances.

Yeah, right.

Jennifer Rubin was right back with another cooler-full with "Why Sanders Money Haul Doesn't Mean Very Much," in which she assured readers that Sanders' "Democratic opponents shouldn’t be surprised or concerned." But she's a snowball--or a snowflake--in Hell on this one; here's what she has to say about Sanders raising nearly 4 times the previous record:
"For someone with nearly universal name recognition, an extensive donor list and a long run-up to his announcement, Sanders’s haul shouldn't impress knowledgeable political watchers."
And...
"(Should Joe Biden announce, I would bet his 24-hour fundraising total will dwarf Sanders’s total. A former vice president shouldn't have to lift a finger to trigger a flood of money.)"
...the petulance of which is just, well, you get the picture. Rubin goes on to argue that, suddenly, money isn't really that important in political campaigns, and gosh-darn it, Sanders can't win black voters.

While cable news discussed Sanders' entry into the race on the day, it was a different story when it came to the much-higher-rated primetime shows, where, in a potentially quite troubling development, it seemed as if the "Bernie Blackout" may be back on again. In the three hours of CNN primetime from 8-11 p.m., the only mention of Sanders was in a brief parlay between Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon as the former handed off the evening to the latter. On MSNBC in the same timeslot, Chris Hayes did a segment on the news featuring two commentators who spent their time talking down his campaign (one of them, Michelle Goldberg, was a Hillary girl who, in 2016, published slimy anti-Sanders oppo research in Slate).[8] Rachel Maddow offered the latest look at the ongoing tragedy of what was once often a good show, spending her entire hour on Trump conspiracies and never even mentioning Sanders' name. Lawrence O'Donnell--never mentioned Sanders' name.

--j.

---

[1] Caveat: The poll on which I'm relying there is from mid-2017. A bit out-of-date, perhaps, but the most recent I found with a full demographic breakdown of Democratic yeas and nays.

[2] Seemingly aware of the disruptive effect on his own narrative of the fact that Sanders has delivered these responses for years, Crockett limply tries to dismiss this with a wave of the hand: "Sure, America’s favorite disheveled math teacher has always given his own response on Facebook Live since Trump’s been in office, but this year should be different."

[3] When Kamala Harris launched her presidential campaign in January, some press outlets used the identity card to declare her candidacy "historic." CNBC: "Kamala Harris 2020 Presidential Bid Marks An Historic Moment For American Politics." Bloomberg: "Kamala Harris Seeks To Make Historic 2020 Presidential Run." Vox described it thusly:
"Harris would be the first African-American woman and the first Asian-American woman to be a major-party nominee for president if she ultimately secures the Democratic nomination. With her announcement, she joins trailblazers including Shirley Chisholm and Carol Moseley Braun, two African-American women who previously vied for the Democratic ticket."
Were Sanders to win the Democratic nomination, he would become the first Jewish person to get the nomination of either major party but no one describes his candidacy in those terms.

[4] Cillizza/Enten strike their most amusing note with their declaration that Cory Booker "is--with the possible exception of O'Rourke--the most naturally gifted candidate in the field." For those who actually follow public affairs, of course, Booker is known primarily as a serial phony, a guy who habitually grandstands as a public spectacle, staging emotional, headline-grabbing stunts that inevitably blow up in his face as the cynical calculation behind them comes to light.

During the confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanagh's nomination to the Supreme Court, Booker, in perhaps the most notorious example of this, made a public show of releasing documents related to the nominee, which he asserted the committee was keeping secret. He boldly declared that by releasing them, he was violating committee rules and understood that he could be disciplined for this, even expelled from the Senate, but he was releasing them anyway, because he just thought they were too important to conceal from the American public. Clips of this show went all over the internet. A few hours later, it was revealed the the documents in question had been cleared for public release the night before and that Booker was well aware of this--his staff had helped clear them.

Only a few days ago, a Monmouth University poll asked residents in Booker's native New Jersey if he would make a good president. 42% said he wouldn't; only 37% said he would.

[5] In one particularly embarrassing piece of business, reporters assigned to cover Kamala Harris went on a shopping excursion with her in South Carolina, helping dress the senator then writing glowing tweets about it. Guess the outlet for which the journalist who recommended the "awesome oversized rainbow sequin jacket" worked?

[6] As a bit of a cherry on top, the always-kooky Newsbusters tried to spin this--the press ignoring the roll-out of a major progressive priority to address a major crisis--as an example of "liberal media."

[7] The Clinton camp's "gentle prodding" of Sanders on healthcare was the assertion that Sanders wanted to completely repeal Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare--everything--and leave those affected with nothing while he tried to pass Medicare For All, an absolutely outrageous lie that even some of Clinton's staunchest allies in the press felt compelled to condemn. Clinton's subtle take on Medicare For All was that it was something that will "NEVER, EVER COME TO PASS!!!"


[8] In Hayes' defense though, he landed an interview with Sanders on a subsequent night.