Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Super Misrepresentation of Superdelegates by UnSuper Press [Updated Below]

Much ink has been spilled in this presidential election cycle about the Democratic "superdelegates," party leaders and elected officials who make up about 20% of the Democratic party's delegates to its nominating convention. These delegates are conferred their super status by virtue of their position in the party and don't represent any actual voters in the primary and caucus process. At the end of the 1960s, party bosses and their smoke-filled back rooms had been cut out of the nominating process. The superdelegate system, adopted in the early '80s, was an effort to again allow these bosses to wield some influence over the party's nominations after Democrats had suffered some crushing defeats. It is, in this day and age, an anti-democratic anachronism.

In 2008, Hillary Clinton continued her primary fight against Barack Obama for four months beyond the point she could statistically win the nomination in the hopes of convincing the superdelegates to pull a Bush at the convention--to throw out the actual election results and anoint her the candidate. This season, Clinton--still neck-deep in the party Establishment and challenged by outsider Bernie Sanders--has racked up a large number of superdelegates who have expressed a preference for her and she and her surrogates have made a regular practice of including the supers in their accounting of where the race currently stands, part of Clinton's larger strategy of portraying her own nomination as inevitable. More significantly for our purposes here, the corporate press, acting as de facto Clinton surrogates, has largely done the same.

Including the supers in the running delegate count is extremely problematic in a number of ways. The most obvious is that it deliberately misleads news consumers about the state of the race, making it appear as if Clinton has earned those delegates and, worse, making it appear as if her lead is much larger than it actually is. No superdelegate has voted yet nor will any until the Democratic convention in the Summer. Between now and then, the supers are free to change their minds at any time and, historically speaking, have done so. Regardless of their initial preferences, the supers have always come to back the candidate who wins the primary process and, indeed, practically speaking, they simply have no other choice; if voters chose one candidate and the supers chose instead to make the loser the nominee, the party would implode. There is absolutely no rationale for press outlets including the supers in their running tally other than the desire to intentionally ply the public with misleading propaganda aimed at aiding the Clinton campaign.

Yet day after day, that's exactly how the state of the race is being reported. After Super Tuesday on March 1, Clinton had earned 611 delegates to Sanders' 410, yet this is the graphic on the state of the race offered by NBC News the next day[1]:

Moving forward, Clinton has, as of Wednesday, taken 12 states to Sanders 9, winning 770 delegates to Sanders' 551. Hardly an insurmountable lead, particularly with 29 states yet to vote, but in reporting the state of the race, CBS This Morning offered this graphic:

CBS notes its totals "include super delegates" but the uninitiated would have no idea what that actually meant.

On Monday, ABC's World News Tonight, which has been so deeply in the tank for Clinton as to be an unintentional parody, tried to bury Sanders with this report,[2] which asserted that "to win the nomination, he'd need to win every remaining state by 10 points!" [Emphasis in the original]. The accompanying graphic:

The curious "math" by which this entirely false conclusion[3] was reached involved, among other things, inclusion of those superdelegates, a fact correspondent David Wright declined to share with his viewers.

This sort of thing hasn't gone entirely unnoticed. Appearing on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show on 20 Feb.--well before any of the examples I've just cited had occurred--even so staunch a Clintonite as Democratic National Committee chief Debbie Wasserman Schultz noted that this sort of representation of the state of the race is "incorrect." A few days later, Jim Naureckas over at Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting noted the New York Times' inclusion of the superdelegates in its summation of the race and, more importantly, the fact that this is a new practice, something the Times declined to do during the last contested Democratic race in 2008. On Monday, Kevin Gosztola of Shadowland Press notes that the Times, the Washington Post, the Associated Press, MSNBC and Google are playing the same game of including the superdelegates. The Times, to its belated credit, recently ended this practice but this particular breed of pro-Clinton propaganda continues throughout the corporate press.



[1] The graphic not only inflated Clinton's delegates but, for whatever reason, shorted Sanders, not only failing to include his own supers but also leaving out some of his earned delegates.

[2] Correspondent David Wright deserves a few kudos for actually talking to Bernie Sanders, something that simply isn't done in these reports on ABC but the entire tenor of it was the usual pro-Clinton spin; attack-dog Clinton is shown looking forward to when she has the nomination and she hopes for a Sanders endorsement, Sanders' assertion that he can win the race is countered with the squishy "math" and false conclusion described above, and so on.

[3] All Democratic delegates are awarded on a proportional basis. A few healthy-margin wins in some of the bigger states would be sufficient to entirely erase Clinton's lead. Wright's claim was an absolutely outrageous lie that was offered for no other purpose than to demoralize Sanders supporters and make his candidacy seem hopeless.

UPDATE (22 March, 2016) - Two weeks and several contests later, the corporate press continues to publish and work from these fake delegate counts. As the race currently stands (prior to the conclusion of today's contests), Clinton has 1,163 delegates vs. Sanders' 844. Not an enormous lead, but today, Politico offers this:

Yesterday, Politico ran a noxious piece entitled, "Democrats to Sanders: Time to wind it down,' which references a series of Clinton-supporting Democratic politicians saying Sanders needs to stop criticizing Hillary Clinton:

"The subtext of these comments is the general view among Democrats that Sanders has no path to win. Clinton has nearly double the number of delegates that Sanders has, and she swept the Vermont independent in three distinct regions of the country last week."

Ben Adler, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review today, takes on this very bad press habit.

UPDATE (28 March, 2016) - ABC News has been embarrassingly pro-Clinton throughout the primary season. After Sanders utterly destroyed Clinton in three states on the 26th--winning over 70% in each--Good Morning America uncharacteristically ran a mostly straight report on the matter by Cecilia Vega, a correspondent whose work on the Democratic primary has been perpetually marked by ludicrously one-sided presentations. Even as she was reporting Sanders' victories, though, she couldn't resist trying to pour cold water on them. The Clinton campaign declined to officially comment on these wins and noting that should have been the end of Vega's inclusion of its point of view but instead, she dug up unnamed "Clinton aides" who reportedly said--shockingly--these wins don't change anything. Vega then asserted "Sanders would need to win 73% of the remaining delegates to clinch the nomination," and included this graphic:

Yet again, the "math" used to reach this conclusion includes the superdelegates in the count, without, in this case, even disclosing this fact to the viewers. Using this to frame the clip of Sanders that follows makes the candidate look utterly delusional when he asserts his campaign has a "path to victory" but in fact, the current delegate count stands as 1,243 for Clinton, 975 for Sanders, a difference of only 268. To put that in perspective, of the states that remain, California alone has 548 delegates.

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