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Why Establishment Democrats Are Attacking Journalism On Their Preferred 2020 Presidential Candidates

Establishment Democrats are engaged in a concerted effort to smear and undermine journalism that examines any of their preferred 2020 presidential candidates. The effort aims to enforce conformity in the same manner that Democratic Party leaders coerced supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders into lining up behind Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016.

The most egregious example is the targeting of award-winning investigative journalist David Sirota, who produced a comprehensive report on former Democratic Representative Beto O’Rourke’s congressional voting record.

Four articles were published on January 3 by liberal pundits: one from Michael Tomasky for The Daily Beast, one from writer Nancy LeTourneau for Washington Monthly, one from Sady Doyle for Medium, and one from liberal consultant David Brock, who was “integral” to Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and founded the super PAC, Correct The Record.

All four specifically singled out Sirota’s journalism, despite the fact that the second largest newspaper in Texas, the Houston Chronicle, published an editorial recognizing he had raised valid questions about the state’s oil economy.

The push by establishment journalists and liberal pundits, with the support of many Democrats, serves one key function: to preemptively suppress opposition from the Sanders coalition, which challenged the party’s anointing of Hillary Clinton. They want to prevent activists from having the same impact they had in 2016.

On December 20, 2018, Capital & Main, The Guardian, and Newsweek co-published Sirota’s review of 167 votes cast by O’Rourke “in opposition to the majority of his own party in the House.”

Sirota contended many of O’Rourke’s votes were not “progressive dissents alongside other left-leaning lawmakers but were instead votes to help pass Republican-sponsored legislation. In many cases, Democratic lawmakers said that those measures were designed to help corporate interests dismantle Obama administration programs and regulations.”

“Consumer, environmental, public health, and civil rights organizations have cast legislation backed by O’Rourke as aiding big banks, undermining the fight against climate change, and supporting [President Donald Trump’s] anti-immigrant program,” Sirota noted.

By December 23, NBC News political reporters Jonathan Allen and Alex Seitz-Wald wrote a piece that cast Sirota’s journalism as a part of a “war” launched by “Bernie-world” on O’Rourke. They manufactured a questionable motive for Sirota’s journalism without any evidence whatsoever.

“While the vast majority of Democrats have an opinion about Sanders, that’s not true of O’Rourke yet, with 51 percent reporting they don’t have enough information to form an opinion,” they declared. “That explains the rush to define him in negative terms.”

Sirota was described as a “liberal activist and journalist who worked for Sanders many years ago.”

Which strongly implies that his reporting could not possibly be journalism in the public interest. He reported on a politician, who garnered significant attention for his Senate campaign against Texas Senator Ted Cruz, because Sanders needed to contain a threat to his 2020 ambitions.

The NBC News article prompted Joe Lockhart, former press secretary for President Bill Clinton, to lash out. “It’s time for Bernie to step up and call off the dogs. If not, he’ll play a high price for his bros.”

Lockhart maintained “singling [out] one individual who hasn’t even declared he’s running is more about playing politics [than] advancing the cause. Bernie supporters have every right to coordinate an attack on anyone. I just wish it was on Trump.”

It also prompted a response from Howard Dean, former chair of the Democratic National Committee. “Let’s be blunt. The reason Beto’s getting trashed on Twitter is because other wannabes see him as a threat to their ambitions. This probably helps Beto more than hurts him.”

Not one shred of evidence has been produced to give credence to the notion that Sanders gave a green light to attack any politicians that may be running in 2020 so he may have an easier time running if he launches a presidential campaign.

In early December, Sirota noted O’Rourke was the “#2 recipient of oil/gas industry campaign cash in the entire Congress,” according to the Center for Responsive Politics. This objective fact inspired bleating from Neera Tanden, director for the Center for American Progress and former aide to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

“Oh look. A supporter of Bernie Sanders attacking a Democrat,” Tanden wrote. “This is seriously dangerous. We know Trump is in the White House and attacking Dems is doing Trump’s bidding. I hope Senator Sanders repudiates these attacks in 2019.”

But the oil and gas campaign contributions matter. Sludge reporter Alex Kotch reported on December 10 that O’Rourke “accepted dozens of contributions” over $200 from oil and gas executives. He did not apparently refund them, and Kotch’s reporting led Oil Change USA to remove O’Rourke’s name from a “No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge” (backed by a coalition of environmental and democracy organizations).

***

The effort to discredit Sirota’s journalism is not limited to his scrutiny of O’Rourke’s congressional voting record. Ben Cohen, editor of Daily Banter, a website known for consistently punching anyone on the left that challenges Democrats, went after Sirota for questioning former vice president Joe Biden’s support for means-testing Social Security, which would weaken the program.

Why the sustained attacks on Sirota’s journalism? How come certain individuals tied to the Democratic Party find it so critical to 2020 to smear his work?

Sirota believes it has something to do with the political/media class and their hatred of Sanders and everything that he stands for. He worked for Sanders right out of college, and for 20 years, this made it difficult for him to obtain jobs in news media.

“I’ve done a lot of jobs for [Democrats] and for media outlets, but literally to this day, the only one that I get accusingly interrogated about is having worked for Bernie 20 years ago as a kid,” Sirota tweeted. “The bias and hatred against him is very deep and very real.”

Additionally, many of these people attacking journalism—without really engaging with the substance of the reporting—resent democracy in elections.

They do not view the free exchange of ideas about issues and policies as a part of a debate that can strengthen campaigns. Rather, challenging candidates creates a “debacle.” It lays the groundwork for Trump to recycle attacks against the eventual nominee.

Tomasky, who backed Hillary Clinton throughout the 2016 primary, wrote, “If the Democrats do to each other what was done in 2016—and right now, it looks like they will—then Trump will probably win.”

“Trump and Fox News and all his other supporters are going to run the slimiest, lyingest campaign of all time,” Tomasky argued. “If the Democrats spend 18 months handing him ammunition to use against their nominee in the general election, they’ll have given his campaign an incalculable lift. I say this not as a whack at Sanders, but just as a statement of fact: He made a number of criticisms of Clinton that Trump and the GOP picked up on, and he signaled to some voters on the left that they needn’t bother voting for her.”

These criticisms involved her ties to Wall Street, including the speaking fees she was paid for Goldman Sachs speeches. It involved her support for the Iraq War. It involved her past use of the racist word “super predators” to help President Bill Clinton pass a crime bill that had a devastating impact on minority communities. It involved her support for trade agreements that resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs. It involved her support for natural gas fracking, her inconsistent support for a $15 minimum wage, and her opposition to a “Medicare For All” healthcare system.

In essence, people like Tomasky argue journalists, activists, and voters should disregard any Democratic candidate’s support for war, Wall Street, trade agreements, and corporate interests, as well as any opposition to policies that could fight climate change and help working people. Not only should their records or stances on issues not disqualify them, but they should not even be brought up publicly to pressure them into becoming better candidates because if the candidates don’t evolve, these critiques will become liabilities.

This is how the status quo under President Donald Trump, aided by compromising by the Democratic Party establishment, grows increasingly worse. On top of that, such an attitude nearly guarantees the Democratic nominee will fail to offer a meaningful alternative vision that counters and defeats Trump.

Furthermore, establishment Democrats and friendly liberal pundits, who are fine with accommodating corporate power, are particularly incensed by Sirota’s journalism because it scrutinizes campaign contributions. They like to insist that corporate money does not necessarily affect a candidate’s votes.

Hillary Clinton responded to criticism of her paid Goldman Sachs speeches by claiming, “Anyone who thinks they can buy me does not know me.” She and others linked to the campaign regarded criticism of her speeches as sexist because male politicians had participated in similar engagements without facing condemnation.

For Washington Monthly, Nancy LeTourneau wrote, “Sanders supporter David Sirota claimed that there was something nefarious about the fact that Beto O’Rourke ranked number two on the list of top recipients of money from the oil and gas industry. Of course that is supposed to indicate that the former congressman is beholden to the titans of the corporations that he holds most accountable for climate change.” (Note how she marginalizes Sirota as a “Sanders supporter.”)

LeTourneau exaggerated Sirota’s reporting to make it seem like he had spiteful intentions. She smugly dismissed the issue of fossil fuel interests, even though executives of 100 corporations—particularly fossil fuel companies—are responsible for 71 percent of global emissions. Confronting corporate influence on politicians is key to saving the planet from becoming completely inhospitable.

Remarkably, the Democratic National Committee’s executive committee passed a resolution introduced by DNC chair Tom Perez in 2018 that encouraged donations from employee political action committees in the fossil fuel industry. It directly undermined a DNC ban on money from fossil fuel companies.

The resolution from Perez seemed intended to reassure workers at energy companies that the Democratic Party supports what they do, regardless of whether the companies they work for are responsible for pollution, environmental injustice, and other acts that disrupt the Earth’s climate.

At issue are the unions, which include workers who build pipelines. The Democratic Party does not want to lose their support by backing policies, like a ban on fracking, that may result in the loss of jobs. Yet, establishment Democrats and their defenders ignore the fierce urgency of now, how a transition from fossil fuel energy must be made to ensure the planet remains habitable for humanity.

Clinton delegates on the DNC Platform Committee, including Neera Tanden, all voted against having a ban on fracking in the party’s platform in 2016. The bloc consistently deployed what Dr. Cornel West, a Sanders surrogate, described as “neoliberal rationalizations of corporate power” to block a carbon tax and support for keeping 80 percent of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground to curb climate change.

The bloc of establishment Democrats opposed supporting a test that the government could apply to energy infrastructure projects so projects were rejected if they would contribute considerably to climate change. They also opposed halting the abuse of eminent domain by the fossil fuel industry.

As of January 2019, it does not appear anything has changed among the Democratic Party establishment. They refuse to back a Green New Deal backed by progressives, and they resent journalism that calls attention to their craven politics.

***

Journalism, like Sirota’s report on O’Rourke, is not intended to boost any particular Democratic candidate for the 2020 election. It is, however, intended to challenge a political class and group of pundits wed to the Democratic Party, who consistently lash out at those who reject the corporate status quo and demand more from elected representatives because of what is at stake.

Since the 2016 election, establishment Democrats have made it clear they have a low tolerance for journalism, whether it be coverage of emails from the Clinton campaign that were newsworthy or critiques of policies they want the public to believe are part of an influence campaign by Russia.

David Brock’s SuperPAC, Correct The Record, attacked what he viewed as “left-wing anti-Clinton brigades.” He admits the Clinton campaign saw this as “unwelcome assistance” because they feared it would alienate Sanders voters.

The many attacks against Sanders definitely turned off voters. Still, Brock maintains this “head-in-the-sand posture was ultimately self-defeating.” He would do it all over again.

Establishment Democrats and a select group of liberal media pundits have apparently learned nothing. So, they are using O’Rourke’s prospective candidacy to force unity among Democrats, like they did at the party’s national convention and throughout the Clinton campaign.

These elites are terribly insecure and feel threatened by those who promote a people’s agenda, which questions capitalism. They recognize an insurgent brand of politics has momentum. There are no staff positions in the next administration or consultant jobs for them if this faction prevails, and they are deeply afraid of becoming more despised and irrelevant to the 99 percent during the 2020 primary.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."