Bernie Sanders is being ignored by the mainstream media. Worse, he is being heavily overshadowed by such a pernicious figure as Donald Trump, a man who embodies the ugly side of American politics — a side that many pretend doesn’t exist.
The fact that what some have termed the “Bernie Blackout” is happening is uncontroversial; according to data accumulated by Andrew Tyndall of the Tyndall Report, ABC World News, NBC Nightly News, and CBS Evening News have devoted a combined total of 10 minutes of coverage to the Sanders campaign, as opposed to the 284 minutes devoted to the Trump campaign.
The fact that some are surprised that it is happening is, however, rather confusing. It appears that some harbor serious illusions about the nature of the American media in the 21st century.
Major news media outlets — particularly the major television sources, like CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC — do not exist to educate the citizenry; they exist to accumulate profit and to perpetuate a worldview that is conducive to the goals of their owners: major corporations.
To achieve these ends, they must attract as many viewers as possible, and sensationalism, outrageous yelling matches, selective coverage of events, and even outright lies are tried and true methods.
Once we move beyond this false conception of the mainstream media as a public servant, we can cease to be frustrated by its seeming dereliction of duty.
The reason Trump is given more coverage than Sanders and Clinton, then, is simple: He brings the ratings.
Yes, Sanders is getting just as much support in the polls as Trump. Yes, Sanders attracts as many people to his rallies — in many cases more — as Trump. Yes, there is data suggesting that, if they were to match up head-to-head, Sanders would win.
But, again, Trump brings the ratings, with the crucial side benefit of distracting from the issues that Sanders has placed at the center of his campaign — income inequality, corporate criminality, and climate change.
Sanders wants corporate money — and that would include money Time Warner, a contributor to the Clinton campaign, which owns CNN — out of politics. And he frequently derides the corporate media for what they are: Servants of power.
It is true that, in a genuinely democratic society, major news media outlets would act as watchdogs, ensuring that the public is able to understand the issues and make rational decisions based in fact. In such a society, it would be reasonable to expect somewhat balanced coverage of all candidates for the presidency, as Sanders’s campaign manager has called for.
Josh Nelson, adding to this call, writes, “The media’s obsession with Donald Trump has real consequences for our Democracy. Desperate for ratings, the cable news networks have decided to broadcast nearly-continuous coverage of Donald Trump’s campaign at the expense of giving real issues the coverage they deserve.”
But this, I think, is a remark that harbors yet another unwarranted assumption: Namely, that the United States is a “Democracy” in any meaningful sense.
As Sanders has emphasized throughout his campaign, the United States is democratic in name only, as large corporations are able to dominate the political process through their tremendous financial clout, while the public is left in the cold.
In order to understand the function of the media within the American political process, we must ask, as Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman did in their classic work Manufacturing Consent: What view of the world would we expect to emerge from news media outlets owned and controlled by massive corporations and wealthy individuals?
Under this framework, it makes perfect sense that the media would ignore Bernie Sanders. Why would they offer fair coverage of a candidate who repudiates everything they stand for?
There is a quote, often (wrongly) attributed to George Orwell, that applies rather well here: “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”
The corporate media is, in essence, the vehicle through which universal deceit is propagated. And, far from desiring revolution, the managers of the media are so committed to the status quo that they will effectively pretend that certain presidential candidates don’t exist.
This must cease to surprise us if we are to make meaningful progress.