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Sanders writes: "Media shapes our very lives. It tells us what products we need to buy and, by the quantity and nature of coverage, what is 'important' and what is 'unimportant.' Media informs us as to the scope of what is 'realistic' and 'possible.'"

Bernie Sanders. (photo: Karen Bleier/Getty Images)
Bernie Sanders. (photo: Karen Bleier/Getty Images)

How Corporate Media Threatens Our Democracy

By Bernie Sanders, In These Times

28 January 17


This is a crisis we can no longer afford to ignore.

edia shapes our very lives. It tells us what products we need to buy and, by the quantity and nature of coverage, what is “important” and what is “unimportant.” Media informs us as to the scope of what is “realistic” and “possible.”

When we see constant coverage of murders and brutality on television, corporate media is telling us that crime and violence are important issues that we should be concerned about. When there is round-the-clock coverage of the Super Bowl, we are being informed that football and the NFL deserve our rapt attention. When there is very little coverage of the suffering of the 43 million Americans living in poverty, or the thousands of Americans without health insurance who die each year because they can’t get to a doctor when they should, corporately owned media is telling us that these are not issues of major concern. For years, major crises like climate change, the impact of trade agreements on our economy, the role of big money in politics and youth unemployment have received scant media coverage. Trade union leaders, environmentalists, low-income activists, people prepared to challenge the corporate ideology, rarely appear on our TV screens.

Media is not just about what is covered and how. It is about what is not covered. And those decisions, of what is and is not covered, are not made in the heavens. They are made by human beings who often have major conflicts of interest.

As a general rule of thumb, the more important the issue is to large numbers of working people, the less interesting it is to corporate media. The less significant it is to ordinary people, the more attention the media pays. Further, issues being pushed by the top 1 percent get a lot of attention. Issues advocated by representatives of working families, not so much.

For the corporate media, the real issues facing the American people— poverty, the decline of the middle class, income and wealth inequality, trade, healthcare, climate change, etc.—are fairly irrelevant. For them, politics is largely presented as entertainment. With some notable exceptions, reporters are trained to see a campaign as if it were a game show, a baseball game, a soap opera, or a series of conflicts.

I saw this time and time again.

Turn on CNN or other networks covering politics and what you will find is that the overwhelming amount of coverage is dedicated to personality, gossip, campaign strategy, scandals, conflicts, polls and who appears to be winning or losing, fundraising, the ups and downs of the campaign trail, and the dumb things a candidate may say or do. It has very little to do with the needs of the American people and the ideas or programs a candidate offers to address the problems facing the country.

According to a study of media coverage of the 2016 primaries by the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, only 11 percent of coverage focused on candidates’ policy positions, leadership abilities and professional histories. My personal sense is that number is much too high.

The “politics as entertainment” approach works very well for someone like Donald Trump, an experienced entertainer. That kind of media approach didn’t work so well for a campaign like ours, which was determined to focus on the real problems facing our country and what the solutions might be. For the corporate media, name-calling and personal attacks are easy to cover, and what it prefers to cover.

While I was still considering whether or not to run, I did a long interview with a very prominent national newspaper writer. Over and over I stressed that I wanted to talk about my assessment of the major problems facing the country, and how I proposed to address them. And for 45 minutes, that’s what the discussion was about. The reporter appeared interested in what I had to say, and I thought we had a good conversation. At the very end, as he was leaving, he said: “Oh, by the way, Hillary Clinton said such and such. What’s your comment?” I fell for it. Needless to say, that one-minute response became the major part of his story. And that occurred time after time after time.

On a CNN show, an interviewer became visibly angry because I chose not to respond to her questions with personal attacks against Secretary Clinton. The interviewer opined that I didn’t have “sharp enough elbows” to become a serious candidate, that I wasn’t tough enough. Identifying the major problems facing our country, and providing ideas as to how we could address them, was just not good enough.

In fact, I was gently faulted by some for having excessive “message discipline,” for spending too much time discussing real issues. Boring. The result of all of these factors is that while I was getting coverage, it was far less than what other candidates were getting.

In a Dec. 11, 2015, blog post for Media Matters for America, Eric Boehlert wrote:

ABC World News Tonight has de voted less than one minute to Bernie Sanders’ campaign this year.

In his article, Boehlert also reported that:

Trump has received more network coverage than all the Democratic candidates combined.

Republican Jeb Bush received 56 minutes of coverage.

On May 25, 2016, Media Matters for America discussed the coverage of poverty issues on the major television networks for the first quarter of 2016:

During the survey period, Sunday political talk shows on ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox Broadcasting, and MSNBC featured 27 segments focused on economic inequality and nine focused specifically on poverty. Interviews with Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) accounted for 16 of the 27 segments focused on economic inequality and six of the nine segments addressing poverty.

What does it say about corporate media coverage of the major issues facing our country when my candidacy, alone, accounted for the majority of attention (limited though it may have been) that network Sunday news shows paid to poverty?

On the other hand, from the beginning of the campaign to the end, there were major articles and TV coverage on all kinds of stuff that no normal human being was particularly interested in. When was I going to announce my intention to run? When was I going to announce my intention to drop out? When was I was going to endorse Clinton? Why wasn’t I spending more time shaking hands and kissing babies? Why did certain staff members leave the campaign? Why were the campaign staffing levels reduced? What did I have for breakfast?

I remember cringing when the car I was traveling in was pulled over in Iowa because we were speeding to an event, with a New York Times reporter in the back seat. The state trooper was professional and polite and gave us a warning. Not so the reporter, who, it goes without saying, made it a major part of her coverage.

Why is it that the mainstream media sees politics as entertainment, and largely ignores the major crises facing our country? The answer lies in the fact that corporate media is owned by, well, large multinational corporations.

These powerful corporations also have an agenda, and it would be naive not to believe that their views and needs impact coverage of issues important to them. Seen any specials lately as to why we pay the highest prices in the world for our prescription drugs, or why we are the only major country on earth not to have a national health care program? That may have something to do with the hundreds of millions of dollars each year that drug companies and insurance companies spend on advertising.

And let us also not forget that the leading personalities we see on television are themselves, in most cases, multimillionaires with very generous contracts. That does not make them evil or bad people. It just makes them very wealthy, corporate employees who bring to their jobs the perspective that very wealthy corporate employees bring.

Disney, the owner of ABC, has many thousands of employees in China manufacturing their products at very low wages. In the United States, they have utilized guest worker programs to fire Americans and replace them with low-wage foreign workers. Further, despite making huge profits, they pay the people who work at their theme parks here very low wages. I could be wrong, but I don’t expect that you will see programming tonight on ABC discussing the plight of low-wage workers here in the United States or, for that matter, in China.

Let me also give a shout-out to people who, with resources far more limited than their corporate competitors, try to inform the American people about the real issues facing our country. We received very fair coverage from Thom Hartmann, Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks, and Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! The folks at The Nation, In These Times, The Progressive, and a number of other smaller publications and blogs also worked extremely hard to allow us to convey our message to the American people. Ed Schultz, the Reverend Al Sharpton, Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes provided us with the very fair coverage we received on MSNBC. I was also pleased to have been on the Bill Moyers program on PBS on several occasions.

In my campaign for president, I received 46 percent of the pledged delegates, won twenty-two states, and lost some states by a few votes. In other words, we had a significant amount of support from ordinary people. On the other hand, I did not win 46 percent of the endorsements from the print establishment and the leading newspapers in the country. In fact, I won virtually none. In almost every state, the owners of the establishment newspapers supported Secretary Clinton.

I was very proud to have received the endorsement of the Seattle Times. Among all the major newspapers throughout this country, that was it. We received one major newspaper endorsement.

Who owns the media?

In 1983, the largest 50 corporations controlled 90 percent of the media. Today, as a result of massive mergers and takeovers, six corporations control 90 percent of what we see, hear, and read. Those six corporations are Comcast, News Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner and CBS. In 2010, the total revenue of these six corporations was $275 billion. In a recent article in Forbes magazine discussing media ownership, the headline appropriately read: “These 15 Billionaires Own America’s News Media Companies.”

No sane person denies that the media plays an enormously important role in shaping public consciousness and determining political outcomes. The current media situation is a very serious threat to our democracy.

The very first amendment to our Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press, the right of the people to express their points of view from the rooftops, to allow themselves to be heard. That is something I passionately believe in.

Unfortunately, as A. J. Liebling wrote back in 1960: “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” And the people who own the press, radio and television stations, and book publishing and movie companies are becoming fewer and fewer, with more and more power. This is a crisis that can no longer be ignored. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+76 # 1984 2017-01-28 14:28
Bernie: Will you please please start a new party so we can drain the swamp of both existing parties. PLEASE!
+4 # carytucker 2017-01-29 08:56
Quoting 1984:
Bernie: Will you please please start a new party so we can drain the swamp of both existing parties. PLEASE!

Sen Sanders will do no such thing. He is neither Moses nor anchorite. He's an updated New Deal Democrat acting in spaces where he's most effective, among friends, and among others he has opportunities to persuade. He does not find the Democratic Party irredeemable. After one week of Pres Trump, it's clearly worth reconstituting.
+6 # ljslotnick 2017-01-29 18:44
Sanders will not start a new party. He's waiting for significantly more momentum to build by Our Revolution, Brand New Congress, and other groups. These efforts obviously need more time to gel and develop leaders who can speak as forcefully and effectively as Sanders.
0 # Scott Galindez 2017-01-30 00:56
The Democratic Party is ripe for the taking...It will take a lot of work, but less work than building a new party in the rigged system...
+50 # Inspired Citizen 2017-01-28 14:44
Sanders wrote, "Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes provided us with the very fair coverage we received on MSNBC."

MSNBC NEVER mentioned "Bernie or bust" on the air until AFTER the convention. He's being much too kind to those two political hacks.

How DID we get the word out and build our movement? Social media. While it's not nearly enough to counter the dominance of corporate media, it's still a factor and should be noted: We Are The Media. That's a good thing, too, because the revolution will not be televised; and if it is, it'll be deemed "a problem" which is how Maddow referred to "Bernie or bust" when she deigned to mention it at all.

Most people I know don't watch the legacy media any more precisely because of how they treated Sanders' campaign.
+18 # grandlakeguy 2017-01-28 17:49
And do not forget Chris Mathews who constantly bashed Bernie!
I cannot even look at him on tv anymore because he is a big part of why we have a President Trump!
+9 # trottydt 2017-01-29 20:45
Quoting grandlakeguy:
And do not forget Chris Mathews who constantly bashed Bernie!
I cannot even look at him on tv anymore because he is a big part of why we have a President Trump!

The reason we have a "President Trump" lies squarely on the shoulders of the Democratic Party establishment; they completely failed to understand how the emotive power of "NEVER HILLARY" would drive behavior across the board and blindly continued with Clinton's Coronation.
0 # ojg 2017-02-01 01:32
Sorry but you and your ilk are the BIGLYEST part of why we have trump. But hey, at least we aren't knee-deep in world war 3 with crooked hitlary! Enjoy the next 4 years.
+1 # Robbee 2017-01-31 18:54
Quoting Inspired Citizen:
"Bernie or bust"

... was your personal, undemocratic attempt to blackmail superdelegates to vote bernie

bernie denounced all efforts to "disrupt" democracy - notably those allegedly done in his behalf!

insipid citizen never got the memo! - has learned nothing!

obama won over the superdelegates without blckmail - think about it! insipid! - this means you!
+64 # Johnny 2017-01-28 14:57
Exactly right. The six corporations that own 90 percent of the broadcast media in the U.S. decide not only what we will think, but also what we can think about.
+34 # REDPILLED 2017-01-28 14:58
In addition to all of the above, let's not forget "Operation Mockingbird", the CIA infiltration of corporate media from the 1950's:

US Govt Just Legalized Operation Mockingbird -- FBI Can Now Impersonate the Media
+51 # dotlady 2017-01-28 15:04
Thank you Bernie for the reminder about monopolies and concentrated wealth, which we should be impermissible. Another factor is the perpetual 24/7 news flow that has caused broadcasters to fill space with entertaining particulate matter rather than devoting it to thoughtful analysis or connecting of the dots. Add to that the insulting way characters on most sitcoms address each other and you see why someone with a half-formed mind like Trump seems normal.
+25 # Maybe 2017-01-28 15:31
I am firmly convinced that Donald Trump will get us into a war (and with all the wrong people.) And that may - just may - change the corporate media's focus. Otherwise, we the people, haven't a chance. If each of the 99% of the Ordinary People sent $5 to buy some control, we would fall extremely short of having what it takes to challenge what these behemoths control. It will take a catastrophe. And, sadly, it will be the 99% who suffer from a catastrophe.
+69 # reo100 2017-01-28 15:40
Thank you Senator!

We are still with you♡
+37 # bdeja 2017-01-28 16:42
Why has the left, except for one feeble attempt - AirAmerica, never really tried to own a main stream broadcast or print media network? Rupert Murdoch went over ten years in the red with his Fox network in order to establish a horrid right winged thing.
+6 # lfeuille 2017-01-28 18:10
There is no one on the left able or willing to go then years in the red. The left is pretty low on billionaires. The few that exist are closer to the center.
+8 # reiverpacific 2017-01-29 11:59
Quoting bdeja:
Why has the left, except for one feeble attempt - AirAmerica, never really tried to own a main stream broadcast or print media network? Rupert Murdoch went over ten years in the red with his Fox network in order to establish a horrid right winged thing.

'Cause there's NO real left in the US, as compared with Europe or even Canada. It just wouldn't be allowed!
There's still a pretty large residual population from the Cold War that are scared of anything left of center, who bury their heads in the sand a stick the ear-plugs in rather than let any truly left-sounding theorem pass through the concrete!
+8 # ronnewmexico 2017-01-28 17:42
Thank you Bernie!!!!

The truth of things does get out regardless.
Here in New Mexico due to a vast amount of unsubstantiated killings of civilians riots broke out and the city council chambers were actually taken over. A thing little reported upon nationally. One of the leaders a university professor.

The local media does a steady drum beat of lionization of the police despite the fact the DOJ has essentially taken over the dept of police and the city has lost 30 million and counting due to civil lawsuites related to wrongful death. It continues to this very day and includes positive propoganda about daily on visual media.

HOw did the demonstrations and take over occur….through Facebook twitter and ochestrated with the assistance of anonymous.

Like the tactics of the tsar back in that day in russia, ways are found around things when the necessity presents.

They think they control they do not. We do. Bernie speaks for us as well.
+3 # angelfish 2017-01-28 18:02
Not only am I ashamed to be an American, I am also ashamed to be a Human Being! Bernie Sanders is one of the FEW who LOVES this Country and her People enough to SPEAK out against the Knuckle-Dragger s! Elizabeth Warren and Al Franken are two others! I know there are MORE Decent people in this country than not! WHERE are they? WHY are they willing to let this Pestilence of Negativity and Regression take hold HERE, in what USED to be, a bastion of FREEDOM? Oh. I forgot. MONEY Talks...Decency WALKS.
0 # djnova50 2017-01-28 19:27
Senator Sanders, I really wish you would have called out MSM and other media outlets back during the primaries. You must have been aware of how unfairly the media, as well as the DNC had been treating you. If you had stood up and said enough is enough to the media and to the DNC, perhaps we would not have Trump as our current President. I do not watch MSM since where I live, a person has to have cable, satellite, or an aerial antenna in order to get anything on TV. For alternative sources for news, I watch The Jimmy Dore Show, Redacted Tonight, and the Sane Progressive. Sometimes I catch TYT Politics, as well.
0 # vicnada 2017-01-29 23:18
What? Were you not listening? Bernie Sanders called out the media and MSM constantly and forcefully during the primaries. There is little of what he says in this article that wasn't amply spread through his message on the stump. He has compressed this message here as a retrospective look at why what happened, happened as it did AND how our future depends on our changing this pattern.
+4 # chapdrum 2017-01-28 20:53
"When we see constant coverage of murders and brutality on television, corporate media is telling us that crime and violence are important issues that we should be concerned about." The beginning of Bernie's second paragraph (and the rest of it) goes precisely to a significant facet of our malaise.
+7 # wrknight 2017-01-28 22:33
It's one thing to complain about it, it's another thing to do something about it. There's only one way to stop it. STOP buying into it!

Don't subscribe or purchase newpapers and magazines owned by the major corporations. Don't watch the news on the major outlets (Nielson ratings will drop like a rock). Don't buy the products that advertise and pay for the media bullshit.

Subscribe to RSN and similar independent media. Check out the foreign news media (Canadian, British, French, German, Al Jazeera - even RT is better than CNN and most have English language versions).

Boycotting MSM will show up on their financial statements real fast. Without readers and viewers, advertisers will run like hell, and without subscriptions and advertising, revenues fall, profits fall, stock prices plummet and down she goes.

Wherever there is a customer, there will always be a seller. So long as you keep buying their shit, they will keep peddling it. Only you can stop it.
+1 # ahollman 2017-01-28 22:49
I fully agree with Sen. Sanders, but I'm surprised that after describing the problem so well, he ended with "This is a crisis that can no longer be ignored", and didn't move on from descriptive to prescriptive. Here then are some possible prescriptions:

1) Laws and FCC rules/regulatio ns once restricted cross-ownership (e.g. of both a radio station and a newspaper) and owner concentration (e.g. # of radio or TV stations) both within and among media markets across the country. No longer; most of those restrictions are gone. With a different President and a different House and Senate, those laws and rules can be changed to re-institute those previous restrictions, in order to preserve and increase the diversity of coverage and opinion that once existed within media.

At the same time, a technological revolution has given us vast increases in the broadcasting capacity of all major media and (at least in theory) made everyman his/her own printing press. The vast increase in quantity has been offset by a vast decrease in quality. No one knows how to remedy that without treading on freedom of speech and/or press. Even requiring people to identify themselves by actual name, rather than as "anonymous" runs up against a long tradition of anonymous protests dating back to Ben Franklin.
+3 # Global Local 2017-01-29 04:16
The majority of the American people is brainwashed!
+1 # Global Local 2017-01-29 08:00
The majority of the American people is brainwashed!
+9 # Winston Smith II 2017-01-29 11:32
I don't think there is any hope for the corporate owned mass media, or the family owned CIA servant media like the WaPo or NY Times.

Fortunately, the internet and social media are now more important for a majority of people. Trump got a lot of coverage on the mass media but his supporters were better informed (if I can even use that term) by social media and Trump's direct Twittrs.

Give up on mainstream media. It is just part of the entertainment industry. It is no longer even "info-tainment. "

There is a flourishing "samizdat" in the US. We need to use it and help it grow. RSN needs to abandon its censorship policies or it will go the way of CNN and the WaPo. No one will trust it.

As usual Sanders is spot on. It is just strange that the Sanders democratic socialist faction of the democrat party is actually the stongest. But the mainstream media still thinks the Clinton/progres sive faction IS the whole party. Like Trump's victory, there's rude awakening coming for these media cheerleaders for mis-rule.
+1 # CL38 2017-01-29 18:20
Mr. Sanders, we're still with you all the way, as we were during the 'election'. Keep on keepin' on. We're must stop this fascist takeover.
+6 # dusty 2017-01-29 18:25
Well, when I was young the radio and television press had to provide equal time to candidates so that riches wouldn't buy elections so easily and turn the over air media into lap dogs of the rich campaigns.
Let's get that back so that the media doesn't get to determine elections but the electorate do.
0 # JayaVII 2017-01-31 00:07
"On a CNN show, an interviewer became visibly angry because I chose not to respond to her questions with personal attacks against Secretary Clinton. The interviewer opined that I didn’t have “sharp enough elbows” to become a serious candidate, that I wasn’t tough enough."

Much as I admire Bernie ... that interviewer was right.

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