Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Associated Press Tries To Decide the Democratic Contest [Updated Below]

June Surprise Dept. - As the presidential primary season winds down, the corporate press just couldn't resist giving Hillary Clinton one more gift. Last night, the Associated Press, in an exercise in journalistic malpractice that stands out as extraordinary even for this campaign, chose the eve of the last six big Democratic primary contests to declare Clinton the "presumptive nominee" of the Democratic party. The AP reached this conclusion by canvassing the party superdelegates and finding a sufficient number of them willing to express an initial preference for Clinton to put her over the threshold for victory. The tv news channels dutifully plastered the story all over the airwaves last night.

This comes just as Clinton was facing the prospect of ending the primary season with an embarrassing loss to challenger Bernie Sanders in massive California. The initial single-paragraph AP story was released at 5:20 p.m. Pacific time--just in time to make the evening news in California and the prime-time news shows in the East--with the full story appearing at 8:24 p.m. Pacific and its effect can only be to suppress the pro-Sanders turnout in California and in the five other states voting today. The AP's language is celebratory pomposity:
"Striding into history, Hillary Clinton will become the first woman to top the presidential ticket of a major U.S. political party, capturing commitments Monday from the number of delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination.

"Clinton's rise to presumptive nominee arrived nearly eight years to the day after she conceded her first White House campaign to Barack Obama. Back then, she famously noted her inability to 'shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling.'

"Campaigning this time as the loyal successor to the nation's first black president, Clinton held off a surprisingly strong challenge from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. He mobilized millions with a fervently liberal message and his insurgent candidacy revealed a deep level of national frustration with politics-as-usual, even among Democrats who have controlled the White House since 2009.

"The former secretary of state, New York senator and first lady reached the 2,383 delegates needed to become the presumptive Democratic nominee on Monday with a decisive weekend victory in Puerto Rico and a burst of last-minute support from superdelegates."
All hail the conquering queen, eh? The wording of that last paragraph is misleading; Clinton actually won Puerto Rico on Saturday, not Monday, and it didn't put her over the top.

And neither did anything else. Clinching the Democratic nomination requires 2,383 delegates; as of now, Clinton only has 1,812 to Sanders' 1,521. The party insiders designated as superdelegates--the ones the AP now asserts have put Clinton over the top--haven't, in fact, voted yet and won't until the Democratic convention at the end of July. They're free to change their mind at any point between now and then. News Reviews has covered the corporate press's ubiquitous practice of including the superdelegates in nearly every accounting of the Democratic race. As this writer noted in March,
"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."
The supers represent the party Establishment. Including them in the delegate count is not only a case of pro-Establishment bias, it seriously distorts the state of the race and, by extension, the race itself. Clinton was represented as already having a lead of hundreds of delegates before a single vote had even been cast. Throughout the process, the press applied the supers to the delegate count to make her lead, which has actually been rather small, appear insurmountable. Bombarding the public with this on a daily basis has made it look as if Sanders has no chance of winning, with all the accompanying effects of this perception on the ongoing election. It's the corporate press acting as an arm of the Clinton campaign, pimping that campaign's carefully cultivated narrative of her inevitability. The AP story from last night is the culmination of this sorry trend, one last intervention to help the conquering queen stride into history.

This superdelegate nonsense is, of course, only one of the infinity of ways in which the press has kept its collective thumb on the scales on Clinton's behalf. The coverage has, by and large, been a scandal, so one-sidedly pro-Clinton and anti-Sanders as to be comical. At first, Sanders' candidacy was almost entirely ignored. What coverage he did receive ranged from dismissive to openly hostile. The New York Daily News reflected the general tone when it called Sanders "a fantasist who's at passionate war with reality." When interviewed by the New York Times Magazine, he was asked, "Do you think it's fair that Hillary's hair gets a lot more scrutiny than yours does?" ABC News was running "news reports" on the Democratic race every night that were practically indistinguishable from Clinton campaign ads. In 16 hours leading up to the ever-important Michigan primary, the Washington Post ran 16 anti-Sanders stories. When they realized a positive story about Sanders' legislative record somehow made it onto the New York Times website, Times editors took it down, rewrote it in order to turn it into an anti-Sanders hit-piece then republished it, without ever indicating they'd made any changes at all. The Post ran a hard-hitting piece of investigative journalism wherein Philip Bump asserted that Sanders was lying when he was forever saying the average donation to his campaign is $27. Bump crunched the numbers and discovered that the actual average contribution is--wait for it--$29.14. Only yesterday, as Sanders took questions in California, a New York Times reporter actually asked if Sanders was "sexist" for running against Clinton, thus perhaps getting in the way of her becoming the first woman elected president.[1] While entirely consistent with the narrative offered by Clinton and her surrogates--that virtually any criticism of the candidate amounts to "sexism"--that ain't journalism. That particular (and particularly scurrilous) charge has only gotten worse as the campaign has continued (if there was another month to the primary season, Clinton's surrogates would be accusing Sanders of being a sexist for merely existing).[2] And on and on and on.

If you're one who subscribes to the Cult of Objectivity in journalism and thinks the news media are supposed to present the news in any sort of unbiased manner, you're appalled by what the AP did last night. Likewise, if you're one who thinks it isn't the job of the press to decide our political contests, you find the AP's actions both deplorable and indefensible. This writer must admit to being of a somewhat divided mind on all of this. I'm a radical. I don't believe in liberal democracy, not the U.S. version or any other permutation. My view is that the entire ball of wax is, fundamentally, a preposterous fraud and watching things like this, I'll confess part of me just wants to sit back and laugh at everyone who takes it seriously and thinks they have any real say in the matter. I have little use for the Cult of Objectivity; I'm a strong advocate of a press that stands up for the public and afflicts the powerful, exactly the opposite of the corporate press that exists now. My view on this is arguably anachronistic, an at-best-quaint 18th century idealization of what a news media should be. Our modern press is just another Big Money interest. It doesn't just stand up for the powerful, it's among them. For this element, no left candidate will ever be acceptable and every measure to defeat and destroy any who appear will be. The actions of the AP are deplorable. The rest of the press in repeating them are deplorable. Part of me just laughs but another, that bigger part that reacts with disgust at powerful interests who manipulate people to their own benefit, often to the harm of the people themselves, is compelled to rage against it. All of it. Maybe I'm just a chump.

--j.

---

[1] Though it parroted the AP story, the Times did raise an eyebrow about it, noting that "the timing of the A.P. alert... was unusual, coming on the eve of six primaries, including the big states of New Jersey and California on Tuesday."

[2] Throughout the campaign, Clinton surrogates constantly deployed a noxious smear against Sanders supporters, portraying them as frat-boy misogynists--"Bernie Bros." This was debunked almost immediately but has continued to ubiquitously circulate in discussions of the campaign, despite being just a repackaged smear from 2008 (when Obama's supporters opposed to Clinton were accused of being the frat-boy misogynists and labeled "Obama Boys").


Postscript: This year, Bernie Sanders attempted something that, while always theoretically possible, isn't, from a practical standpoint, particularly doable, a successful presidential campaign that represented and was financed by the public, rather than a handful of powerful interests. I've been impressed with how far he's been able to get--it's extraordinary, really. Consider this: Sanders' views reflect those of not only the overwhelming majority of the Democratic party but the overwhelming majority of the public and even, on many issues, of Republicans. He has the highest favorability of anyone in the race. He does far better than his opponent against Republican candidate Donald Trump. Yet it's Hillary Clinton, presently despised by 56% of the public, who is on her way to becoming the Democratic nominee. Stepping back further, Clinton and Trump are two of the most despised presidential candidates on record, both hated by huge majorities of Americans, yet if they sew up their respective nominations and no independent candidate appears, one of them is going to be elected President of the United States in November. Can there be any worse an indictment of American liberal democracy than the fact that, with a far better outcome available, these are the results it yields?


UPDATE (Wed., 8 June) - The final California polls were all showing a statistical tie, with the trend being Sanders rising and Clinton falling. This attempt by the press to call the contest before it happened had the expected result. turnout in CA crashed and Clinton won the state by over 12%, a margin over twice what even Nate Silver's pro-Clinton weighting system predicted (Silver had Clinton winning by only 5.1%).

To put that 12+% margin in context, the Real Clear Politics polling average goes back to mid-March and at no point from then until yesterday did Clinton had that dramatic a lead. The best she'd ever managed was a hair over 10% way back in April. The final polls in RCP's database all had the race at 2%. Huffpost Pollster had it even tighter over the last few months--from mid-March until yesterday, it had been a single-digit race (Huffpost uses some of the same polls as RCP, so there's some overlap).

Google reports that 3,442,623 voters participated in the California primary. This compares with 4,794,846 who participated in the last contested Democratic primary in 2008. This primary season, it should be said, has regularly featured much lower turnout than the often-record-setting 2008. How much the early call contributed to this we'll probably never know--it isn't something the corporate press are going to be particularly interested in investigating--but the polling evidence certainly suggests the effect was dramatic.

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