Have The National Media Dismissed Bernie Sanders?

May 28, 2015

Thousands of supporters gathered at Burlington's waterfront this week to cheer on Sen. Bernie Sanders as he officially kicked off his presidential campaign, but not everyone is taking the bid as seriously.

Some of the national news media have dismissed, minimized or even poked fun at Sanders' presidential aspirations.

At the Rutland farmers market on a recent Saturday, fans of Bernie Sanders were not hard to find. Chris Immel sells perennial plants here at the market, and he says Sanders has his vote.

"Well, I think he's pretty cool," said Immel.

As a small business owner, he appreciates Sanders' focus on income inequality. He thinks that message will work for a lot of Americans.

But in the news, he's heard the near-constant message that Sanders is an underdog.

"The media persuades people pretty well," said Immel.

Steve Hendricks doesn't think Immel is far off. He wrote about how the media has covered Sanders for the Columbia Journalism Review.

He points out that The New York Times handled Sanders' Presidential campaign announcement differently than it did other candidates in the race.

"If you look at The New York Times, for example, all of the other candidates who had declared for the presidency before then, whether Republican or Democrat, had been put on page one above the fold. Very prominent position. They got long news articles of 1,100 to, say, 1,500 words. Sanders was buried on page A-21. He hadn't even hit 700 words."

"If you look at The New York Times ... all of the other candidates who had declared for the presidency before then, whether Republican or Democrat, had been put on page one above the fold ... Sanders was buried on page A-21." - Steve Hendricks, writer

Hendricks says Sanders got uneven coverage, even compared to Republican Presidential candidates — there are now at least eight — who were polling at similar or lower numbers to Sanders.

Right now, Sanders is the lone challenger to Democrat Hillary Clinton. Hendricks says the press has all but declared her the winner. But he points out that's it's far too early to make that call.

"There is no basis in fact for someone who has the polling numbers that Bernie has, for someone who has raised the kind of money he has so far, so say that they can't win."

Sanders raised over $1.5 million dollars in the first 24 hours of his campaign, mostly from small donations. He's running largely on a platform that calls for more taxes on the wealthiest Americans. 

Hendricks says that may not sit well with some publishers.

"You start with the people who own the media. And not just the owners but the editorial boards and so on. And they are diametrically opposed for the most part to just about everything Sanders is running on. They clearly are not delighted to have Sanders advancing his agenda, let alone in the White House. And that trickles down."

"You start with the people who own the media. And not just the owners but the editorial boards and so on. And they are diametrically opposed for the most part to just about everything Sanders is running on." - Steve Hendricks

He says there's no smoking gun — no concrete evidence to suggest that attitude is driving coverage.

Besides, it isn't only journalists who doubt Sanders ability to win the Democratic nomination. Joe Trippi, a political strategist who ran Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign, says Sanders is facing tough odds.

He wonders if Sanders' message will play on a national stage.

"You look at the United States," said Trippi. "A lot of people would ask, 'Would the country not just nominate, but put in the White House somebody who has labeled himself in the past as a socialist?'"

"Socialist" is a label Sanders hears a lot. At this year's White House Correspondents dinner, President Obama joked that Sanders was a "pot smoking socialist."

"You look at the United States. A lot of people would ask, 'Would the country not just nominate, but put in the White House, somebody who has labeled himself in the past as a socialist?'" - Joe Trippi, political strategist

The national media coverage of Sanders does tend to include jokes. In the lead up to his announcement, the Washington Post ran a piece titled Great Moments in Bernie Sanders' Hair.

His signature white, unruly mane gets a lot of press, actually.

Steve Hendricks thinks that's OK — up to a point.

"I don't have a problem with the jokes about his hair, for example, said Hendricks. "The problem is comparative. You're hearing them about Sanders where you're not hearing them about other candidates."

But for Chris Immel, Sanders' hair isn't so important.

"He's a goofy looking guy. I've always been a goofy looking guy. You gotta deal with it. You know, he's himself. People are going to learn to appreciate that," said Immel. "These cookie-cutter looking guys that are all the time coming on, gets a little old to me. He's a real guy."