Will the Media Again Rush to Declare Clinton the Winner of Tonight’s Democratic Forum?

Why TV’s talking heads discount Bernie Sanders

Joel Bleifuss

Bernie Sanders supporters at a town hall meeting in Phoenix, Arizona. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

In his inaugural editorial for the first issue of In These Times, in November 1976, Editor & Publisher James Weinstein wrote:

Sanders won the October 13 Democratic debate hands down, according to every major debate focus group. Yet that was not the conclusion of the media elites ,who declared Hillary Clinton the victor.

Corporate capitalism, this society’s system of property, investment, resource- and labor-allocation, is a political taboo. … It is [the major parties’] job to keep corporate capitalism out of — above” — politics, just as it was the job of the pre-Civil War Whig and Democratic Parties to keep slavery out of politics. They failed then because determined people brought the reality of slave power into the electoral arena, giving birth to the Republican Party.

So who are the determined people” of today taking the great issue of our time” and putting it into the electoral arena”? In These Times readers like Bernie Sanders, who during the Democratic debate was questioned by Anderson Cooper about his views on capitalism and answered thusly:

Do I consider myself part of the casino capitalist process by which so few have so much and so many have so little? By which Wall Street’s greed and recklessness wrecked this economy? No, I don’t. I believe in a society where all people do well.

That message resonates. On October 13, Sanders won the Democratic debate hands down, according to every major debate focus group. Yet that was not the conclusion of the media elites, who declared Hillary Clinton the victor.

Tonight, the Democratic candidates will gather, not for a Democratic National Committee-sanctioned debate” but an MSNBC-hosted Democratic Forum,” at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., to be interviewed individually by Rachel Maddow. The post-game show will no doubt provide an opportunity to discover whether the predilection of TV’s talking heads to declare Clinton triumphant was a temporary disorder — or, on the contrary, a permanent affliction. Heads, Clinton wins. Tails, Sanders loses.

The establishment’s affection for Clinton, the fêted favorite of corporate Democrats, comes as no surprise to Sanders. Ten years ago, in 2005, after he had declared his intention to run for the Senate, I asked Sanders, What role does the media play in exploring issues and setting the national agenda?” He replied:

The central issue is not just the right-wing slant of the corporate media. That’s obvious. … The far more important issue is what they don’t cover. To the average American today, the most important issue is why that person is working longer hours for lower wages and why his or her standard of living has declined over the past 30 years. But for much of the corporate media it’s a non-issue. … The reality of people’s lives is not reflected in the media, and therefore people begin to question their very existence, as if they were the only ones struggling hard. And as a result they think their problems are unique to them, and are not social or political problems that we as a nation can solve by working together. The result of that is that people lose interest in the political process, don’t vote or simply pay attention to the cultural issues that the right-wing propagates. … [T]he corporate media is certainly one of the main factors in the depoliticalization of our country and the low level of political consciousness.

According to recent Iowa polls, though Clinton is now ahead overall, Sanders leads Clinton 59 to 21 percent among independents who support a Democrat, and — most significantly for the future of the party—67 to 23 percent among 18-to-34-year-olds who are likely Democratic caucus participants.

In the 1970s, the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC), later joined by the New American Movement (NAM) — both groups with which In These Times’ founding staff were affiliated — bet on a strategy of realignment whereby the Democratic Party would become a force for social democracy. Poor naifs!

Still, 40 years later, we cannot help but recall their small-d democratic aspirations under the big-d Democratic tent as we watch Sanders rally the nation and, as he put it during the debate, mobilize our people to take back our government from a handful of billionaires and create the vibrant democracy we know we can and should have.”

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Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.

Democratic Rep. Summer Lee, who at the time was a candidate for the state House, at a demonstration in Pittsburgh for Antwon Rose, who was killed by police, in 2018. Lee recently defeated her 2024 primary challenger.
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