Saturday, December 29, 2018

There Are Reasons Elite Media Journalists Attack Bernie-- Starting With Who They Are


Yesterday, I tried to emphasize, when writing about that cheesy Martin/Ember analysis of the fight over the 2020 Democratic nomination, that the MSM speaks for the establishment and will always opt for the status quo or a status quo ante. A friend reminded me of Thomas Frank's Swat Team-- The Media’s Extermination Of Bernie Sanders And Real Reform from Nov. 2016 in Harper's. If you you're seeking immunization from MSM’s predictable distortions, Frank's piece is a great reminder of how much the "journalists" from the esteemed Washington Post and NY Times put establishment knives into Bernie with Hillary talking points, and are already getting those same knives out of the drawers hoping to nip Bernie's nascent campaign in the bud. Who could doubt Bezos is waiting in the wings, smiling and looking for payback for Bernie calling out Amazon’s wages and working conditions?

Frank said he was attempting to review the media’s attitude toward Bernie in order "to rescue a number of worthwhile facts about the press’s attitude toward Sanders. Just as crucially, however, I intend to raise some larger questions about the politics of the media in this time of difficulty and transition (or, depending on your panic threshold, industry-wide apocalypse) for newspapers." He began by reminding his readers that Bernie "ran for the nomination on a platform of New Deal–style economic interventions such as single-payer health insurance, a regulatory war on big banks, and free tuition at public universities. Sanders was well to the left of where modern Democratic presidential candidates ordinarily stand, and in most elections, he would have been dismissed as a marginal figure, more petrified wood than presidential timber. But 2016 was different. It was a volcanic year, with the middle class erupting over a recovery that didn’t include them and the obvious indifference of Washington, D.C., toward the economic suffering in vast reaches of the country. For once, a politician like Sanders seemed to have a chance with the public."

He wrote that he was "shocked" when he noticed that writers for the Post and the Times "take sides" like he had never seen before, "openly and even gleefully bad-mouthing candidates who did not meet with their approval." He wrote that he "felt like the news stories went out of their way to mock Sanders or to twist his words, while the op-ed pages, which of course don’t pretend to be balanced, seemed to be of one voice in denouncing" Bernie. He wrote that "what befell the Vermont senator at the hands of the Post should be of interest to all of us" and he asks that we take "into account who the media are in these rapidly changing times... for the sort of people who write and edit the opinion pages of the Post, there was something deeply threatening about Sanders and his political views. He seems to have represented something horrifying, something that could not be spoken of directly but that clearly needed to be suppressed.

Who are those people? Let us think of them in the following way. The Washington Post, with its constant calls for civility, with its seemingly genetic predisposition for bipartisanship and consensus, is more than the paper of record for the capital-- it is the house organ of a meritocratic elite, which views the federal city as the arena of its professional practice. Many of its leading personalities hail from a fairly exalted socioeconomic background (as is the case at most important American dailies). Its pundits are not workaday chroniclers of high-school football games or city-council meetings. They are professionals in the full sense of the word, well educated and well connected, often flaunting insider credentials of one sort or another. They are, of course, a comfortable bunch. And when they look around at the comfortable, well-educated folks who work in government, academia, Wall Street, medicine, and Silicon Valley, they see their peers.

Now, consider the recent history of the Democratic Party. Beginning in the 1970s, it has increasingly become an organ of this same class. Affluent white-collar professionals are today the voting bloc that Democrats represent most faithfully, and they are the people whom Democrats see as the rightful winners in our economic order. Hillary Clinton, with her fantastic résumé and her life of striving and her much-commented-on qualifications, represents the aspirations of this class almost perfectly. An accomplished lawyer, she is also in with the foreign-policy in crowd; she has the respect of leading economists; she is a familiar face to sophisticated financiers. She knows how things work in the capital. To Washington Democrats, and possibly to many Republicans, she is not just a candidate but a colleague, the living embodiment of their professional worldview.

In Bernie Sanders and his “political revolution,” on the other hand, I believe these same people saw something kind of horrifying: a throwback to the low-rent Democratic politics of many decades ago. Sanders may refer to himself as a progressive, but to the affluent white-collar class, what he represented was atavism, a regression to a time when demagogues in rumpled jackets pandered to vulgar public prejudices against banks and capitalists and foreign factory owners. Ugh.

...After reading through some two hundred Post editorials and op-eds about Sanders, I found a very basic disparity. Of the Post stories that could be said to take an obvious stand, the negative outnumbered the positive roughly five to one. (Opinion pieces about Hillary Clinton, by comparison, came much closer to a fifty-fifty split.)

...[T]he Post’s pundit platoon just seemed to despise Bernie Sanders. The rolling barrage against him began during the weeks before the Iowa caucuses, when it first dawned on Washington that the Vermonter might have a chance of winning. And so a January 20 editorial headlined level with us, mr. sanders decried his “lack of political realism” and noted with a certain amount of fury that Sanders had no plans for “deficit reduction” or for dealing with Social Security spending-- standard Post signifiers for seriousness. That same day, Catherine Rampell insisted that the repeal of Glass–Steagall “had nothing to do with the 2008 financial crisis,” and that those populists who pined for the old system of bank regulation were just revealing “the depths of their ignorance.”

The next morning, Charles Lane piled on with an essay ridiculing Sanders’s idea that there was a “billionaire class” that supported conservative causes. Many billionaires, Lane pointed out, are actually pretty liberal on social issues. “Reviewing this history,” he harrumphed, “you could almost get the impression billionaires have done more to advance progressive causes than Bernie Sanders has.”

On January 27, with the Iowa caucuses just days away, Dana Milbank nailed it with a headline: nominating sanders would be insane. After promising that he adored the Vermont senator, he cautioned his readers that “socialists don’t win national elections in the United States.” The next day, the paper’s editorial board chimed in with a campaign full of fiction, in which they branded Sanders as a kind of flimflam artist: “Mr. Sanders is not a brave truth-teller. He is a politician selling his own brand of fiction to a slice of the country that eagerly wants to buy it.”

Stung by the Post’s trolling, Bernie Sanders fired back-- which in turn allowed no fewer than three of the paper’s writers to report on the conflict between the candidate and their employer as a bona fide news item. Sensing weakness, the editorial board came back the next morning with yet another kidney punch, this one headlined the real problem with mr. sanders. By now, you can guess what that problem was: his ideas weren’t practical, and besides, he still had “no plausible plan for plugging looming deficits as the population ages.”

Actually, that was only one of two editorials to appear on January 29 berating Sanders. The other sideswiped the senator in the course of settling a question of history, evidently one of the paper’s regular duties. After the previous week’s lesson about Glass–Steagall, the editorial board now instructed politicians to stop reviling tarp-- i.e., the Wall Street bailouts with which the Bush and Obama Administrations tried to halt the financial crisis. The bailouts had been controversial, the paper acknowledged, but they were also bipartisan, and opposing or questioning them in the Sanders manner was hereby declared anathema. After all, the editorial board intoned:
Contrary to much rhetoric, Wall Street banks and bankers still took losses and suffered upheaval, despite the bailout—but TARP helped limit the collateral damage that Main Street suffered from all of that. If not for the ingenuity of the executive branch officials who designed and carried out the program, and the responsibility of the legislators who approved it, the United States would be in much worse shape economically.
As a brief history of the financial crisis and the bailout, this is absurd. It is true that bailing out Wall Street was probably better than doing absolutely nothing, but saying this ignores the many other options that were available to public officials had they shown any real ingenuity in holding institutions accountable. All the Wall Street banks that existed at the time of TARP are flourishing to this day, since the government moved heaven and earth to spare them the consequences of the toxic securities they had issued and the lousy mortgage bets they made. The big banks were “made whole,” as the saying goes. Main Street banks, meanwhile, died off by the hundreds in 2009 and 2010. And average home owners, of course, got no comparable bailout. Instead, Main Street America saw trillions in household wealth disappear; it entered into a prolonged recession, with towering unemployment, increasing inequality, and other effects that linger to this day. There has never been a TARP for the rest of us.

Charles Krauthammer went into action on January 29, too, cautioning the Democrats that they “would be risking a November electoral disaster of historic dimensions” should they nominate Sanders—cynical advice that seems even more poisonous today, as scandal after scandal engulfs the Democratic candidate that so many Post pundits favored. Ruth Marcus brought the hammer down two days later, marveling at the folly of voters who thought the Vermont senator could achieve any of the things he aimed for. Had they forgotten “Obama’s excruciating experience with congressional Republicans”? The Iowa caucuses came the next day, and Stephen Stromberg was at the keyboard to identify the “three delusions” that supposedly animated the campaigns of Sanders and the Republican Ted Cruz alike. Namely: they had abandoned the “center,” they believed that things were bad in the United States, and they perceived an epidemic of corruption-- in Sanders’s case, corruption via billionaires and campaign contributions. Delusions all.

...On and on it went, for month after month, a steady drumbeat of denunciation. The paper hit every possible anti-Sanders note, from the driest kind of math-based policy reproach to the lowest sort of nerd-shaming-- from his inexcusable failure to embrace taxes on soda pop to his awkward gesticulating during a debate with Hillary Clinton (“an unrelenting hand jive,” wrote Post dance critic Sarah L. Kaufman, “that was missing only an upright bass and a plunky piano”).

The paper’s piling-up of the senator’s faults grew increasingly long and complicated. Soon after Sanders won the New Hampshire primary, the editorial board denounced him and Trump both as “unacceptable leaders” who proposed “simple-sounding” solutions. Sanders used the plutocracy as a “convenient scapegoat.” He was hostile to nuclear power. He didn’t have a specific recipe for breaking up the big banks. He attacked trade deals with “bogus numbers that defy the overwhelming consensus among economists.” This last charge was a particular favorite of Post pundits: David Ignatius and Charles Lane both scolded the candidate for putting prosperity at risk by threatening our trade deals. Meanwhile, Charles Krauthammer grew so despondent over the meager 2016 options that he actually pined for the lost days of the Bill Clinton presidency, when America was tough on crime, when welfare was being reformed, and when free trade was accorded its proper respect.

Ah, but none of this was to imply that Bernie Sanders, flouter of economic consensus, was a friend to the working class. Here too he was written off as a failure. Instead of encouraging the lowly to work hard and get “prepared for the new economy,” moaned Michael Gerson, the senator was merely offering them goodies-- free health care and college-- in the manner of outmoded “20th century liberalism.” Others took offense at Sanders’s health-care plan because it envisioned something beyond Obamacare, which had been won at such great cost.

...Then there was Sanders’s supposed tin ear for racial issues. Jonathan Capehart (a blogger, op-ed writer, and member of the paper’s editorial board) described the senator as a candidate with limited appeal among black voters, who had trouble talking “about issues of race outside of the confines of class and poverty” and was certainly no heir to Barack Obama. Sanders was conducting a “magic-wand campaign,” Capehart insisted on another occasion, since his voting-reform proposals would never be carried out. Even the inspiring story of the senator’s salad days in the civil-rights movement turned out to be tainted once Capehart started sleuthing. In February, the columnist examined a famous photograph from a 1962 protest and declared that the person in the picture wasn’t Sanders at all. Even when the photographer who took the image told Capehart that it was indeed Sanders, the Post grandee refused to apologize, fudging the issue with bromides: “This is a story where memory and historical certitude clash.” Clearly Sanders is someone to whom the ordinary courtesies of journalism do not apply.

...What can we learn from reviewing one newspaper’s lopsided editorial treatment of a left-wing presidential candidate?

For one thing, we learn that the Washington Post, that gallant defender of a free press, that bold bringer-down of presidents, has a real problem with some types of political advocacy. Certain ideas, when voiced by certain people, are not merely debatable or incorrect or misguided, in the paper’s view: they are inadmissible. The ideas themselves might seem healthy, they might have a long and distinguished history, they might be commonplace in other lands. Nevertheless, when voiced by the people in question, they become damaging.

We hear a lot these days about the dangers to speech posed by political correctness, about those insane left-wing college students who demand to be shielded from uncomfortable ideas. What I am describing here is something similar, but far more consequential. It is the machinery by which the boundaries of the Washington consensus are enforced.

...Perhaps you have noticed that the paper’s two great ideas, combined in this way, do not really make sense. Let’s say that it’s true, as the Post asserts, that the American system won’t allow a president to achieve high-flown goals-- that such accomplishments are simply off-limits, even to a golden-tongued orator or an LBJ-style political animal. Okay. But what’s wrong with a candidate who talks about those goals? By the paper’s own definition, there’s no chance of them ever becoming law. The only person to be penalized for making such grand, hollow promises will be the politician herself, whose followers will be disappointed with her after she foolishly demands a hundred percent of everything (“purity, not compromise”) and is inevitably defeated by the system. Too bad for her, we will say. That was a really dumb way to play it. But why should we care what happens to her?

Indeed, this logic, applied across the board, would require us to condemn even the most pragmatic leaders. What are we to make, for example, of a politician who says we ought to enact some sort of gun control? Everyone knows that there is virtually no way such a measure will get through Congress, and even if it did, there’s the Supreme Court and the Second Amendment to contend with. How about a politician who goes to China and bravely proclaims that “women’s rights are human rights,” when all the wised-up observers know the Chinese system is organized to ensure that such an ideal will not be realized there anytime soon? And shouldn’t the Post be frothing with vituperation at the lèse-majesté of a candidate who once confronted a respected U.S. senator with the suggestion that politics ought to be the “art of making what appears to be impossible possible”?

Goal ThermometerThe reason the Post pundits embrace these tidy sophistries is simple enough. Knee-jerk incrementalism is, after all, a nifty substitute for actually thinking difficult issues through. Bernie Sanders ran for the presidency by proposing reforms that these prestigious commentators, for whatever reason, found distasteful. Rather than grapple with his ideas, however, they simply blew the whistle and ruled them out of bounds. Plans that were impractical, proposals that would never pass Congress-- these things are off the table, and they are staying off.

Clinging to this so-called pragmatism is also professionally self-serving. If “realism” is recognized as the ultimate trump card in American politics, it automatically prioritizes the thoughts and observations of the realism experts-- also known as the Washington Post and its brother institutions of insider knowledge and professional policy practicality. Realism is what these organizations deal in; if you want it, you must come to them. Legitimacy is quite literally their property. They dole it out as they see fit.
Anyway, strap yourself in for the ride and get ready to expect much more of it-- much, much more. And if you want to contribute to the 2020 Bernie campaign... that's what the thermometer on the right is for.

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At 6:12 AM, Anonymous ap215 said...

Kyle mentioned something similar with this piece.

At 7:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

After Reagan ended both the fairness and equal time doctrines and after 40 years of corporate profitizing and consolidation and the coincident politicization of the FCC, all journalists employed by media have either been culled or... re-educated.

The fact that you can even write the following indicates that we have NO free press. What we have is a cabal of corporate lackeys acting at the behest of their corporate Goebbels:
"I intend to raise some larger questions about the politics of the media in this time of difficulty and transition (or, depending on your panic threshold, industry-wide apocalypse)"

As usual, you're a little behind. the transition is over (by 2000) and we're in the apocalypse -- the total dearth of journalism in the corporate media. When Sirota and Taibbi can no longer sell their tradecraft for a living, we'll be Pravda.

There can either be profit or there can be political journalism. Very rarely can there be both.

At 8:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I applaud Thomas Frank for attempting to do something about the corporatist media. He's about the only journalist with access to the top publications to be doing so. He is going to find himself as ostracized as Bernie now is for his efforts, and I hope he's got something squirreled away to sustain him when said top publications shun his work in the future.

As 7:10 points out, " . . .we have NO free press. What we have is a cabal of corporate lackeys acting at the behest of their corporate Goebbels . . ." This post reveals why I try to tell people, both here and on other sites, that expecting the media to actually DO something about the ills of the nation and those causing the problems is a fool's errand. The reason is best illustrated by this pithy observation of A. J. Liebling: "Freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one."

It's not hard to substitute "corporation" for "man", and "media" for "press", but such alterations do not change the intended meaning of the comment: mass communication is corporate property. The fact that Harper's put Frank's essay behind a paywall is proof. The fact that this site exists on the Internet at all is largely due to the fact that the ownership rights necessary to take it off aren't yet secured by the FCC against us. That is coming, and soon. The overt reason will be to ensure that another Bernie can'l use it to rise and challenge the corporate candidates. It just won't be admitted publicly.

That media is just another corporate tool to be used against We the People isn't a secret. The Powell Memo insisted that capturing control of the media was vital for the corporate takeover of the United States, a goal which has essentially been achieved. About all that remains is for a growing police presence to ensure that We the People can't use our First Amendments right to peaceably assemble . . . Oh, wait.

I'm old, and debilitated by a life of working for a corporation to the point that I have been cast out. I'm now seen as being unable to continue to the employer's profit satisfaction. I can't be out in the streets and doing much to affect this decline of the fabled America with freedom and justice for all. We never really had that as a nation. The only real freedom, as I am in the process of finding out, is to die and decrease the surplus and unprofitable population and save the corporatocracy the trouble of killing me off.

The media would applaud me if I did. Check the obituaries.

At 10:03 AM, Blogger mainstreeter said...

Let's not forget Thom Hartmann throwing Bernie under the bus during the summer primaries in 2016, saying "Hillary has this"...Boca Brit stated WCPT has a gun pointed at his wallet which sums up how the dems fund media and the end results.

At 1:40 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

It's nice for the truth to finally come out. Bernie Sanders lost the Democratic Party nomination because Jonathan Capehart said bad things about him (BTW - you forgot to mention that Capehart was gay. You usually like to gay-bash a little in every post. I hope you bring this up sometime in the near future.)

So Jonathan Capehart's hapless screeds stopped Bernie from campaigning down south during the Super Tuesday primaries just like Putin forced all those poor, unemployed deplorables to vote for Trump against the woman who's only advice was to "suck it up"?

Quick question: Is Capehart more or less powerful than Putin?

At 1:47 PM, Blogger Jan said...

Bernie got a raw deal. Hillary and the dnc colluded against him it was a shame. She got her just deserts tho when she lost she also lost all that money that was laundered throu her foundation from the cabinet positions she sold off to her cronies so bernie got the last laugh

At 1:50 PM, Blogger Jan said...

Id say putin > capehart btw but a far as who has the biggest influence over us id say its a tie between the Koch jerks and Sorros

At 2:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

8:10, I'd wager that the media would allow DWT to remain. DWT does far more to help the corporate cause by exhorting its sheep to "hold your nose" because 'any blue must do'.

The blue side of the coin probably does more FOR corporate rule than does the red side.

The blue side is singly responsible for GLBA, CFMA, all the FTAs, most of the deregs and almost all of the refusal to enforce laws.

And what the 'craps are not solely responsible for implementing, they are certainly credited with refusing to remedy, even though the short periods where voters give them power, fixing all those things is at the head of the mandate.

yet instead of finding a movement that WILL fix shit, DWT tells us we must keep the status quo by electing more democraps.

They keep us reading by posting truths about how corrupt and feckless the 'craps are. But then we fall for the same exhortation anyway.

The corporations will keep DWT around. wouldn't you?


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