Beat The Press

The current dust-up between fellow Senators and Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren is an ugly thing. It boils down to a private conversation at Sen. Warren’s apartment, where, supposedly, Sanders claimed that a woman could not win the 2020 election. I don’t know the truth of what was said. A misunderstanding is likely. The following piece is not intended as an attack on Elizabeth Warren or her candidacy; she remains my second choice. The real villain of this story is neither Sanders nor Warren, but CNN. And their malfeasance in regard to Sanders and the left as a whole is typical in the American press. I present several instances of this below.

A week after Sanders emerged as the Iowa frontrunner, CNN, an anti-labor network which helped give Trump billions in free publicity, decided to run an unverifiable story a month before the Iowa caucus. All four of the sources they cite are either Warren reporters or heard Sanders’ comment from Warren herself. I do not claim here to know who said what in that meeting from 2018, and I accuse neither senator of lying. But I do know CNN’s coverage of this scandal was among the worst mainstream journalism I have ever seen: At the debate, which CNN themselves moderated, this gem of an exchange occurred:

Moderator: In 2018, you told her that you did not believe that a woman could win the election. Why did you say that?

Sanders: Well as a matter of fact, I didn’t say it…In 2015 I deferred in fact to Senator Warren. There was a movement to draft Senator Warren to run for president. And you know what, I said, ‘stay back’. Senator Warren decided not to run and I did run afterwards. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by three million votes. How could anybody in a million years not believe that a woman could become President of the United States?[…]

Moderator: Senator Sanders, I do want to be clear here. You are saying that you never told Senator Warren that a woman could not win the election.

Sanders: That is correct.

Moderator: Senator Warren, what did you think when Senator Sanders told you that a woman could not win the election? [audible laughter from the audience]

I suspect the laughter was an acknowledgement from the audience of the biased nature of the question. Understandable: It is truly incredible seeing CNN, one of the supposed pillars of American journalism adopting a line of questioning with the same amount of good faith as the phrase, “When did you stop beating your wife?”

A basic proposition: That corporations are self-interested firms that seek to maximize shareholder value. CNN is owned by telecoms giant Warner Media, formerly Time Warner, a regular on the Fortune 500. The Washington Post, as Sanders often points out, is owned by Amazon chief Jeff Bezos. It’s also worth noting that CNN hired a Republican operative with no journalism experience to lead its coverage of the 2020 race. With this ownership and these kind of people in charge of coverage, is it really conspiratorial to suggest that the billionaires’ pet news orgs would lean towards politicians and policies that benefit the wealthy?

It has become increasingly obvious to those of us on the left that the capitalist press will never, ever give the movement for a democratic, worker’s America a fair shake. Certainly, one could be forgiven for thinking CNN was openly taking sides and crossing their fingers for a Trump victory or that of a right-wing Democrat.

While the Warren/Sanders tiff represents the first foray of the Warren campaign into negative advertising against her socialist rival, her surrogates in the media have been at it for months. In October of 2019, a clip surfaced of an MSNBC segment, “The Contenders”, about the Democratic primary. Featuring a speech by Emily Tisch Sussman, Former VP of Campaigns for the Center For American Progress, it touched on Elizabeth Warren’s supposed superiority to Bernie Sanders:

I overheard someone say…basically at this point, if you are still supporting Sanders as opposed to Warren, it’s kind of showing your sexism, because she has more detailed plans and her plans have evolved. I thought it was an interesting point, and I think there may be something to it.

This audio is followed by nods and assents from Sussman’s two male cohosts. This assertion is so emblematic of the liberal press for multiple reasons: One, Sussman, at least in the clip, did not mention that her father is a billionaire, and therefore might have an ulterior motive for trashing his campaign. It’s also worth point out that Sussman’s former employer, the Center for American Progress, recently laid off the entire staff its news arm,, and hired non-union staff. If this doesn’t necessarily serve as an indictment of Sussman herself, it certainly does indict CAP’s ostensibly progressive liberalism. Crush labor, then bloviate on air about the horrors of the Trump administration.

Of course, I would be amiss if I didn’t mention the Gray Lady of liberalism herself, The New York Times. On Sunday they came out in support of not one, but TWO candidates for Democratic nominee: Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren. Here’s some choice bits from their so-reasonable-it’s-actually-insane reasoning:

  • On Klobuchar and foreign policy: “In 13 years as a senator, she has sponsored and voted on dozens of national defense measures, including military action in Libya and Syria. Her record shows that she is confident and thoughtful, and she reacts to data — what you’d want in a crisis.” Imagine thinking Libya — with multiple warring governments and a thriving slave trade after US missile attacks helped oust Muammar al-Gaddafi — is a foreign policy success. But the Times was a cheerleader for the Iraq War, so this continuation of their hawkish streak is hardly surprising.
  • On Bernie Sanders: “we see little advantage to exchanging one over-promising, divisive figure in Washington for another.” Here we see the galaxy-brained centrists continue their “Trump and Sanders are the same!” logic because they both have passionate fans. As opposed to Hillary Clinton, whose stands were notoriously rational. This is far from new material. Let’s not forget the Center For American Progress teaming up with the right-wing American Enterprise Institute to acknowledge the threat of “populism”. The most concise and accurate refutation to this is by Jacobin’s Liza Featherstone: Bernie and Trump are alike only in that they both frighten the folks at The New York Times.
  • On Joe Biden: “The former vice president commands the greatest fluency on foreign policy and is a figure of great warmth and empathy. He’s prone to verbal stumbles, yes, but social media has also made every gaffe a crisis when it clearly is not.” Here we see the media’s continuing refusal to acknowledge or even consider Biden’s declining mental faculties. And where was Biden’s “warmth and empathy” when it came to desegregation? Or his authoring of the now-notorious 1996 crime bill? His militarism abroad?
  • Imagine how “realistic” and “pragmatic” it is to choose TWO candidates in a race with no ranked-choice voting. Even if we were to take their endorsement at face-value, wouldn’t they be splitting the vote?

What are we to make of this? For a long time I hesitated on calling out these news outlets, because when they aren’t free-associating, evidence-free, about the left, they do really good work. The New York Times remains a gold standard of American journalism when they decide to do their jobs. Other times they hire Sydney Ember, with only a background in investment banking and marketing, to be their point person on Bernie Sanders.

So how are we to trust mainstream sources when they are corporate-owned and their most popular pundits include such luminaries as Rachel Maddow? Her night-after-night coverage of the Mueller Report, Russiagate, and promises of Trump in prison amounted to nothing except a brief statement from the Justice Department that, yes, the president is legally invincible and cannot be changed with a crime. Cool! Watergate was for nothing! Maddow is also author of Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth, which posits that oil empires helped bring about Putin and Trump. Fair enough. Extraction industries are dirty to the core and gave us such dynasties as the Bushes and the House of Saud. But it’s an oversimplification and one in which she makes some major oversights. Note that she points out the corruption surrounding  Equatorial Guinea’s oil boom but, to my knowledge, does not acknowledge Obama’s friendly dinner party with its fascist president, Teodoro Obiang.

Or Joy-Ann Reid, who, rather than admit she made homophobic statements in the past, suggested that Russia had hacked her blog to make her look homophobic. I, for one, find it difficult to believe that Reid’s show was such a threat to the Russian state apparatus that it would bother with cyberattacks in retaliation.

It’s these brave women that liberals would have us side with against that horrible misogynist, Bernie Sanders.

I should note at this point that this is no apologia for Putin and company. I too oppose Russia’s government. I oppose Putin because his regime is an authoritarian quilt of state, corporate, and intelligence concerns that kills, tortures, and imprisons dissidents, suppresses the poor, supports terrorism, has no concern for climate change, and whose overarching agenda seems to be the maximization of the power of the corporate-state apparatus. Incidentally, these are the same reasons I oppose the United States government.

I would like to conclude by saluting Democracy Now, Jacobin, Means TV, The Intercept, and other left news sources that are building an alternative to the mainstream media. Because it’s become increasingly clear that liberal networks like MSNBC, newspapers like The New York Times, and think tanks like the Center for American Progress have failed to cover left alternatives to the current system responsibly. The have a nasty habit of teaming up with the “responsible” anti-Trump Republicans, and are largely hawkish on foreign policy. In short, these liberals are as much of a facet of the American imperialist establishment as Fox News, the CIA, or the Republican Party. They too must be defeated if we hope to build a better society.