Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) recently spoke at the Free Library of Philadelphia, where he roundly criticized the mainstream corporate media, rightfully labeling it a threat to our democracy. Decrying the vapid emptiness of the 24/7 news cycle that works overtime to push misleading narratives and infotainment while ignoring the serious issues facing the American people.
“What media does and what media loves is conflict and political gossip and polls and fundraising and all that stuff. What media loves is to focus on the candidates. What the American people, I believe, want is for us to focus on them, not the candidates, not anymore.”
Speaking of his failed bid for the Democratic nomination, during which he won many of the states that would eventually go to Trump, he singles out different types of Americans that Trump spoke to, the Americans who feltnignored by out-of-touch Washington insiders like Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, and explains how the mainstream media was so wrong, and why that played out so poorly for our democracy.
We had media following me all over the place, what they call embedded media, from all the networks and major newspapers, but basically they did not write about what we were seeing in various parts of the country.
You got in Pennsylvania and in Vermont and all over this country, added together, millions of seniors, disabled veterans, people with disabilities. They are trying to get by on $10,000, $11,000, $12,000 a year Social Security. You can do the arithmetic as well as I can. You’re 80 years of age. You are sick. Social Security is your sole source of income, as it is for many people. Try to get by on $12,000 a year.
You are an older worker—and I think Trump really capitalized on this one. You are an older worker, 55 or 60 years of age. Half of the older workers in America, do you know how much money they have in the bank as they await retirement? Anyone want to guess? Zero! Try to think of yourself at 60 years of age. You’re going to retire in five years. Everything being equal, you’re probably making less in real inflation-accounted-for dollars than you did 20 or 30 years ago. You’re going to retire in five years. You’ve got nothing in the bank. How are you feeling about the establishment and what the Democratic Party has done for you or the Republican Party has done for you? You are scared to death.
And maybe, in fact, you’re one of the many millions of workers who actually once had a factory job with a union behind you, and you were making good middle-class wages, you had good benefits, you had a pension. But one day your employer told you that they’re shutting down that plant, because they can hire people in China for a dollar or $2 an hour, and now you’re making 50, 60 percent of what you made when you had that manufacturing job.
You can be a college graduate, somebody who saved and scrimped and went to college, left school $50,000, $60,000 in debt, and now you’re making $14 an hour. Again, do the arithmetic. You’re stuck with that debt, year after year after year. You’ve got a debt, but you don’t have the income to pay it off. I remember distinctly talking to a guy in Nevada who said that he took out his student loan 25 years ago. He is more in debt today than he was when he took it out, and he’s scared to death, literally, that they’re going to garnish some of his Social Security in order to pay that student debt.
I was in McDowell County in West Virginia, not a widely known area. It’s the southern part of West Virginia. But what makes McDowell County unique, what makes parts of Kentucky and that region unique, is they are part of a situation today where millions—this is quite unbelievable, but this is the despair that Trump spoke to—millions of white working-class people are dying today at ages younger than their parents. What modern history has been about, not only in our country, but all over the world, is that my generation lives longer than my parents’, my parents’ generation lived longer than their parents’. That’s been the trend, because of improvements in public health, improvements in medicine—cancer and so forth. We’re making some progress. And yet, unbelievably—and this is really unbelievable—millions of people today are living in such despair, for whatever reasons—and maybe Amy and I will discuss this—is that they are turning to opiates and heroin. They are turning to alcohol and getting all kinds of diseases associated with alcoholism. And they are turning to suicide—women and men. These are people who, if they’re lucky enough to have a job, it’s 10 bucks an hour, 11 bucks an hour. They’re not going anywhere. Their kids are not going anywhere. That is the kind of pain that somebody like a Trump spoke to.
I was in Pine Ridge in South Dakota, which is a Native American reservation. The life expectancy in Pine Ridge is equivalent to Guatemala, a poor Third World country. Unemployment is rampant. Poverty is rampant. You have—suicide is rampant in Pine Ridge.
What’s the point? The point is there are a lot of people hurting in this country. And their pain doesn’t get on CBS or NBC. And some of them, mistakenly, thought that Trump was talking to them. He talked a whole lot of stuff. We will see what, in fact, he delivers. But the main point is, please do not forget that, as we speak today, there are a whole lot of people in this country who are hurting.
So what does that say about a country when there’s almost no discussion of poverty, no discussion—almost no discussion of climate change, very little discussion of income and wealth inequality, no discussion of the role of the corporate media?
A study conducted by Harvard University examined ten different mainstream media outlets and found that coverage of policy issues – the choices and decisions a potential leader would make to better the lives of the American people – was almost entirely absent during the election.
Obsessed with fanning the flames of controversy and sensationalism, the pundits even took the spotlight away from the candidates themselves, with the candidate’s voices themselves accounting for only 6% (Trump) and 4% (Clinton)’s coverage. All the media wanted to cover was Trump’s convenient string of “gaffes” or Hillary Clinton’s “scandals,” which were certainly not scandals but the media insisted on treating them like they were until it became true. In their endless competition for ratings, the mainstream media fully abandoned any pretense at actually informing the American people, with some blatantly resorting to propaganda like
In their endless competition for ratings, the mainstream media fully abandoned any pretense at actually informing the American people, with some blatantly resorting to propaganda like FOX News and some simply refusing to treat issues with the seriousness it deserves, like that time an
alt-right neo-Nazi denied that Jews were people, and CNN’s response was to ask, ‘huh, are Jews people?” Their conduct this election was absolutely disgraceful ,and there is no sign of change anywhere ahead – except the possibility of losing free media as a whole and having it replaced with Russian-style state propaganda outlets.
By refusing to cover anything that ended up actually mattering in between hours of broadcasting Trump rallies straight up and Islamophobic fear-mongering about terrorism, they delivered Donald Trump the White House. Their conduct this election was absolutely disgraceful ,and there is no sign of change anywhere ahead – except the possibility of losing free media as a whole and having it replaced with Russian-style state propaganda outlets.
Senator Sanders is spot on in his assessment; only there’s no light at the end of this tunnel.
Watch Bernie’s remarks here, courtesy of Democracy Now! :
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.