SYNDICATED COLUMN: How the Media Manipulated the Democratic Primary

IMG_2255Though it might not always seem like it, the news media is composed of human beings. Humans aren’t, can’t be, and possibly shouldn’t be, objective. Still, there’s a reasonable expectation among consumers of political news that journalists of all political stripes strive to be as objective as possible.

At their minimum, media outlets ought to be straightforward about their biases.

They certainly shouldn’t have, or appear to have, their thumbs on the scales.

Unfortunately, all too often, it appears that the political system is rigged – and that the major media companies play an important role in gaming the system. That’s what has happened throughout this year’s Democratic primaries, in which the vast majority of corporate media outlets appear to have been in the bag for Hillary Clinton, the establishment candidate, against self-described “democratic socialist” insurgent Bernie Sanders.

Examinations of coverage have confirmed the impressions of cable news junkies that Sanders has been the victim of a blackout, thus depriving him of a chance to make his case to voters. When the chairwoman of the Democratic Party, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, scheduled the first round of Democratic debates at times the party hoped nobody would be watching – again, a seemingly obvious ploy to deprive Sanders of exposure – corporate media outlets had little to say about it.

Then there has been the media’s complicity in spreading Clinton campaign talking points that bore little relation to the truth.

MSNBC and other DNC-aligned media outlets kept pointing out that Clinton won 3 million more votes than Sanders. True, technically. But that’s pretending that caucus states didn’t exist. Sanders did better than Clinton in caucuses.

Most recently, they conflated pledged delegates – those won by a candidate based on votes cast – with superdelegates, the Democratic politicians and party officials who will be able to vote however they want at the convention this coming July. Back in November, an Associated Press survey found that Hillary Clinton – unsurprisingly – enjoyed the support of the vast majority of the superdelegates. Assuming that the superdelegates will not change their minds, the AP called the Democratic race for Hillary Clinton on Monday, the night before a set of important primaries, including California. Does anyone doubt that calling a race over as the effect of depressing voter turnout?

It’s impossible to quantify that effect, to know how many people didn’t bother to show up at the polls because they were told it was all over. In California, however, Hillary Clinton won 56% of the vote in a state where polls showed the two candidates neck and neck. (California’s state election officials also did their best to keep voters away from the polls.)

As a journalist, I’m reluctant to categorically argue that the AP ought to have held its statistical analysis of the race until after Tuesday’s vote. News ought not to be suppressed. When you have it, you ought to report it. Similarly, I’m not sure that the New York Times was wrong to report the AP story. However, I do question the editorial wisdom of running it as a banner headline. The United States is a democracy. We elect our leaders based on votes actually cast by real people, not polls. Even after Tuesday’s vote, Hillary Clinton still didn’t have enough pledged delegates to claim the Democratic nomination. Since those superdelegates aren’t going to vote until July, she won’t be able to really claim the nomination until then.

Agreed, it’s a silly system. But it’s the system the Democrats have. They – and the media – ought to abide by it. Besides which, think how embarrassing it will be if the Justice Department indicts Hillary between now and July. There’s a lot to be said for leaving things hanging.

The thing that disgusts me most about this system – besides the perpetual state of war, the manufacturing of mass poverty, the prison industrial complex, the miserable state of the justice system, the fact that it’s impossible to make a decent living working 40 hours a week – is that it doesn’t even pretend to follow its own rules in a consistent way. Consider, for example, how the New York Times couldn’t wait to report its “Hillary Clinton becomes first woman nominee from a major political party” story until after the primaries in California et al. Would one or two days have made a big difference? (Well, yes. Sanders might have won California.) If the idea is to get the story out first, no matter what, even if it suppresses the vote, I can respect that. But then they ought to be consistent.

It was a very different story back in 2004. A few weeks before the general election in November, the New York Times researched and came to the conclusion that George W. Bush, the incumbent, may have cheated in at least one of the presidential debates against Sen. John Kerry. Photographs of the debate clearly showed a suspicious bulge in Bush’s shoulder; the Times did report the story as a light he-says-she-says piece. But then experts concluded that the tongue twisted former governor of Texas had been using a receiver paired with an earphone in order to get advice and retorts to carry from an unknown co-conspirator.

Editors at the paper decided to hold a serious exposé until after the election so that its coverage would not affect the results. Then they killed it. Four more years of Bush followed.

Actually, the corporate media’s policy is brutally consistent. If holding a story benefits the forces of reactionary conservatism, it gets held. If releasing it does so, it gets released. Time after time, the system exposes itself for what it is.

(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. His next book, the graphic biography “Trump,” comes out July 19th and is now available for pre-order.)

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5 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: How the Media Manipulated the Democratic Primary

  1. There is one consistent unwritten rule about the media. They will never mention that the media themselves are part of the story, that there are decisions about what, when, and how to report things taken by actual human beings. While everyone knows that candidates play to the media.

    I find that someone like Ted who because he is outspoken about where he is coming can actually channel other viewpoints and so is actually getting much closer to the ideal of objectivity than those tools that play follow the herd. While the votes were still being counted, the AP did a press release saying Clinton won California. Not by how much. Just won. No references. Major newspapers then said that Clinton won California because AP says so. The same papers would have qualified a Sanders win there by pointing out the proportional system and margin of victory.

    It is especially informative to read newspapers in smaller countries in Europe which regularly run stories which do not make any sense in their local context. When I started reading the U.S. news it became apparent that they were just recycling some story that, say, one faction of the U.S. elite had floated to score points against another faction. All of this was lost in translation, nobody even was aware of the players involved or what the game was about. Just that since the NYT is running this so let’s copy and paste, what do you expect us to do, actual work?

  2. All the New York Times columnists said Sanders was a crazy idiot with absolutely no plan, and any of his proposals would wreck the US, and he was totally unqualified and was doing immeasurable damage. Clearly (they all said) there is only ONE person qualified and capable of handling the duties of the US presidency, and no reasonable person would ever vote for Sanders or Trump. And now we have a strange situation: Hillary has a majority of pledged delegates, but that majority is only a plurality of all delegates; however, counting all the Super delegates who said they will vote for her, she has a comfortably majority. The party leadership wants Hillary, so even if Bernie had a majority of pledged delegates, Super delegates would have been strongly encouraged to give the nomination to Secretary Clinton. But African-American, Hispanic, and women voters have spared the party leadership that task.

    Now, of course, the major newspapers all say, ‘Vote for Secretary Clinton. Trump will undoubtedly start a nuclear war.’

    Which I find strange. They say Trump is so inexperienced and volatile that he is almost certain to start the nuclear holocaust.

    Meanwhile, Secretary Clinton has promised that, as soon as she is elected, she will send the US military to remove the evil Syrian dictator who has been proven to have killed 300,000 innocent, peaceful, unarmed protesters, and the entire population of Syria desperately hopes the US will bring them the same peace, prosperity, and freedom that it brought Iraq and Libya, both of which Secretary Clinton worked very hard to liberate.. So good for Secretary Clinton, that’s clearly the right thing to do.

    Meanwhile, Putin has said he will not allow anyone to overthrow the legitimate Syrian government, which has struggled against the evil jihadists who have killed 300,000 innocent Syrians, including both civilians, children, and the armed forces and police who were trying to protect them. This has been clearly proven to be true, and Putin has said that nothing will mitigate his resolve.

    Hillary says the evil dictator MUST be removed, and she will do whatever it takes..

    But we must NOT elect Trump unless we want a nuclear holocaust.

  3. ” think how embarrassing it will be if the Justice Department indicts Hillary between now and July. ”

    Embarrassing? Well, yes – but for whom?

    Law enforcement types tend to be conservative – could it be possible that the Just Us Department has been deliberately dragging their feet until after the convention? Planning all along to indict Killary in late October when it’s too late for the dems to groom anyone else?

    Then along came Scrooge McTrump – and their carefully laid trap is going to catapult him into the Oval Office instead of their predetermined figurehead. So, yeah, that’s pretty embarrassing.

  4. “As a journalist, I’m reluctant to categorically argue that the AP ought to have held its statistical analysis of the race until after Tuesday’s vote. News ought not to be suppressed. When you have it, you ought to report it. Similarly, I’m not sure that the New York Times was wrong to report the AP story.”

    I disagree with you here, Ted. But, I think, in favor of your over all premise.

    If the story was more than propaganda then the FACTS should have been reported. The names of the survey takers, and all of the surveyed Super Delgate’s names, identifying and interviewing of all these heretofore anonymous power brokers.

    Lacking the commitment to put names to the story leaves the story, and AP, lacking credibility.

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