Senator Bernie Sanders clarified his critique of the Washington Post’s coverage of his presidential campaign. “We are taking on corporate America. Large corporations own the media in America, by and large, and I think there is a framework, about how the corporate media focuses on politics.”
“That is my concern. It’s not that Jeff Bezos [owner of the Washington Post] is on the phone every day; he’s not,” Sanders added.
Sanders never said anything about the Amazon CEO being involved in the daily news and editorial decision-making of the Washington Post. In fact, what he said was in line with his past critiques of corporate media.
In 1980, when Sanders was the mayor of Burlington, Vermont, he said, “Commercial television, as we know is owned and controlled by corporate interests whose only concern is profit. It makes no difference how many times during the hour are interrupted by commercials. It makes no difference what the content of the programming is. The function of commercial television is only to sell profits and make money for the people who own the stations.”
On August 12, in New Hampshire, Sanders sardonically told supporters that he talks about Amazon not paying their fair share in taxes all the time. “I wonder why the Washington Post, which is owned by Jeff Bezos, who owns Amazon, doesn’t write particularly good articles about me. I don’t know why.”
Media elites misinterpreted or twisted his remarks into a “conspiracy theory,” which led to a meltdown, with CNN correspondents largely encouraging colleagues in the industry to join in the backlash.
Chris Cillizza, CNN editor-at-large and former Washington Post employee, scolded Sanders in a post headlined, “Bernie Sanders should know better than this ridiculous attack on The Washington Post.” He compared Sanders to President Donald Trump and even argued citizens are uninformed so Sanders should be more careful about what he says.
“The problem for Sanders, Trump, and politics more generally is that many of the people who hear things like this from them don’t know better. They actually believe there is some sort of conspiracy between corporate America and the news media,” Cillizza wrote. “And when politicians—whether they are Sanders, Trump or anyone else in either party—stoke that sentiment, that’s dangerous. And bad for democracy. Full stop.”
Anne Gearan, the Washington Post’s lead reporter for coverage of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, appeared on MSNBC. She called it “interesting” that her boss, Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron, labeled what Sanders said a “conspiracy theory.”
“It echoes the kinds of criticism that frankly many Bernie supporters leveled at us during the 2016 campaign and continue to level at us, that we are somehow some kind of corporate machine that is arrayed against progressive ideas, which is as crazy as the idea that Bezos is telling us what to write,” Gearan declared.
Baron, staff of the Washington Post, and other media elites put Sanders in a position of proving a “conspiracy theory” that his campaign never alleged.
It is not a “conspiracy theory” to point out that media coverage of issues and politics is largely influenced by market forces. Media organizations in the United States are dependent on advertising. But the response of pundits to Sanders’ critique reflects what Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky presented in their 1988 book, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media.
“Institutional critiques such as we present in this book are commonly dismissed by establishment commentators as ‘conspiracy theories,’ but this is merely an evasion,” they maintained.
Herman and Chomsky contended, “Most biased choices in the media arise from the preselection of right-thinking people, internalized preconceptions, and the adaptation of personnel to the constraints of ownership, organization, market, and political power.”
The two scholars developed what became known as the “propaganda model.” They described the following ingredients, which created mass media propaganda: media consolidation, advertising, reliance on sources who were “agents of power,” media gatekeeping, and anti-communism.
Kevin Gosztola compiled many examples of the Washington Post’s corporate bias against Bernie Sanders. He then applied the propaganda model to the Washington Post to show how Sanders’ critique is well-founded.