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Media’s Near Blackout of Bernie Sanders Keeps Voters in the Dark

TRUTHDIG-Update: On Friday the Sanders campaign sued the Democratic National Committee, demanding that it restore the campaign’s access to key information on voters. Then, on Saturday, it announced that the committee agreed to do so.  The DNC denied the information to Sanders after learning that his campaign had accessed a master list without authorization.

Bernie Sanders’ strong, progressive and inspirational message is just right for a nation afflicted by poverty and a shrinking middle class. Yet he is having trouble breaking through mass-media disinterest in his candidacy and its obsession with Donald Trump.

“We just came out of the worst economic downturn in the modern history of this country, since the Great Depression,” Sanders said at a forum Sunday in Iowa, a state where Sanders, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley are competing in a Feb. 1 caucus.

According to RealClearPolitics.com, he went on to say at the Cedar Rapids event: “Millions of people lost their jobs, millions of people lost their homes, and millions of people lost their life savings. Today in America, you have a middle class which is disappearing. You have in some cases … life expectancy going down, massive despair. Is that reflected on television? Is the reality, the pain of America, reflected on television? The struggle people are making?

“Half of people 55 years of age or older have zero savings for retirement. Got that? You’re 57 years old, you got nothing in the bank. How do you think you’re feeling? You’re scared to death. See that on television? CNN? NBC? ABC? … Not so much. We are a country where millions of people are in despair. Black, white, brown. They want to see a reflection of their life, of their reality, in media, and in many respects, they are not. And then they say, ‘Who the hell is talking about me? Who knows about my life? Why should I vote? No one cares—no one even knows what’s going on in my life.’ So media becomes an important part of the reality of America, and I think we need some big changes there.”

Not even the televised debates are helping Sanders. He and O’Malley say that the Democratic National Committee’s debate schedule, by staging the events on Saturday nights, deliberately favors front-runner Clinton by reducing viewership—people usually want to go out that night rather than watch a political debate. The Democratic debate broadcast Nov. 14 on CBS was watched by 8.5 million people,  compared with the 18 million who saw Tuesday night’s Republican debate on CNN.

“When will Americans hear from our Party?” O’Malley tweeted. Sanders urged his followers to sign petitions to the committee calling for more debates, saying, “I know, and you know, that the best chance for this country is discussing the issues that matter. Republicans aren’t going to do it, so we need more Democratic debates—more than the four scheduled by the DNC before the Iowa caucuses. And I know that if Secretary Clinton wants more debates, we’ll get them.”

The next debate, the third, is scheduled for Saturday night on ABC.

The lack of television exposure for the Vermont senator makes grass-roots voter contact tremendously important. And Sanders’ effort to make that contact was damaged, at least temporarily, when the Democratic National Committee suspended his campaign’s access to its national voter database. 

The campaign was denied the data after members of its staff accessed a master list of voters, including the Clinton campaign’s, according to The Washington Post, which broke the story.

The list contains names of voters, their demographic and political backgrounds, their computer and media watching patterns and other information used by campaigns to contact and woo potential supporters.

All the Democratic campaigns have access to it, but a computer firewall is supposed to prevent campaigns from obtaining rivals’ data. The firewall apparently broke down while the company managing the master file was installing a software patch.

Without access to the database, Sanders volunteers will be handicapped in contacting voters before the Iowa and New Hampshire contests. The Sanders campaign has fired one data staffer, and the DNC has told the campaign that it will not be allowed access to the data until it provides an explanation of what happened as well as assurances that it has destroyed all the Clinton data it obtained, the Post said. At a press conference Friday, Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver denounced the DNC for what he called a “heavy-handed attempt to undermine our campaign.”

Despite his infrequent television appearances, Sanders is still very much in the race, polls at this early stage indicate. In New Hampshire, the RealClearPolitics average of polls has him ahead of Clinton 48 percent to 43 percent, with O’Malley receiving 4 percent. The latest Iowa Poll by the Des Moines Register shows Clinton leading Sanders 48 percent to 39 percent. As the paper put it, “Clinton is building her lead among Iowa Democrats, but rival Bernie Sanders hasn’t faded.” Clinton leads with 64 percent of older Iowans surveyed, and Sanders is supported by 58 percent of those 45 and younger.

Keep in mind that these polls are too early to be definitive. The furious campaigning after Christmas and New Year’s could change the numbers, just as happened in 2008, when Clinton finished third in the Iowa caucus and then beat the Iowa winner, Barack Obama, in the New Hampshire primary before eventually losing the nomination.

The Iowa survey shows the importance of young voters to the Sanders campaign. I’ve contacted several, using the roster of College Students for Bernie, which has organizations on campuses around the country.

One of the thoughtful email replies I received came from Ben Packer, 20, a computer science major at Dartmouth.

“In general we’ve seen an explosion of self-organized groups for Bernie for every constituency group imaginable, and College Students for Bernie is one of those—part of a general process where people wake up, look around, and connect with others who are doing the same,” he said.

“What makes College Students for Bernie unique is that chapters are developing at the various schools—our job has been to connect the chapters to each other and to the campaign, so that as the campaign develops and moves through each state they are greeted by an already organized small army of volunteers.

“Many chapters are also building coalitions and co-hosting events with other activist and politically oriented groups on campus as well as local non-collegiate groups (unions, etc)—a process we generally encourage. This is the part that excites me the most because of its role in the longevity of the movement, cross issue solidarity, and a broad political education.”

He said students are working on phone banks and doing other chores to identify potential Sanders supporters. “I’m told the college network is collectively making some 8,000 weekly calls,” he said. In New Hampshire, students will contact likely voters and register people at venues such as farmers’ markets.

“As for the issues that resonate with college students, it’s obviously hard for me to generalize—the easy answer is generational economics: we’re in the midst of a student debt crisis, and current students anticipate that burden and fear how it will force them to modify their desired career path—youth underemployment is high, and the overall economic outlook for how we will integrate into the workforce is not positive,” Packer said.

“For many students, and for me, it’s less tangible—Bernie is sort of our last hope for a political system that … we’re jaded and disaffected with, combined with a strong sense of urgency around climate inaction, increasingly visible police brutality and escalating poverty.

“Many of us were taught in middle and high school that America had [an] admirable … functioning, democratic system, and some of us believed it too. Most of us have never really seen it though—with gridlock, legalized corruption, layers of manufactured fakeness and propaganda—the call for a political revolution is the only thing that could keep us from slipping into total political apathy.”

Justen Teguh, public relations director of Tritons for Bernie at the University of California, San Diego, told me of phone-banking and doing other voter contacting work, as well as traveling to Nevada to campaign for Sanders for the Feb. 20 caucus there.

“In regards to our feelings about Bernie, we’re still just as excited for him as we were before,” Teguh said. “Some of us may be even more excited, if that’s at all possible. Many of us have been and are still fed up with the status quo, and Bernie has only gotten better in challenging perceptions that Americans haven’t had challenged in the past. We’re ready to push for a Bernie win in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, the Democratic nomination, and eventually, the presidency.”

I talked by phone with Burt Cohen, a former New Hampshire state Senate Democratic leader who now hosts the twice-weekly podcast “Keeping Democracy Alive.” 

“He has young people,” Cohen, a veteran of New Hampshire Democratic politics, said of Sanders.

“I’ve never seen young people [so] turned on.” Cohen also noted that New Hampshire’s largest union, the 11,000 member New Hampshire branch of the Service Employees International Union, has endorsed Sanders, who is talking of victory in the general election. “If we can win in Iowa, and if we can win in New Hampshire, we have a real path toward victory, to pulling off one of the major political upsets in the history of our country,” Sanders said recently at a forum in New Hampshire, NationalJournal.com reported.

If Sanders accomplishes that, it truly will be an upset for a man written off by the high priests of media and subjected to what amounts to a television blackout. He’ll be entitled to a hearty last laugh.

 

(Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for Truthdig, the Jewish Journal, and LA Observed. This piece was posted first at Truthdig.com) Photo: AP. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

  

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 103

Pub: Dec 22, 2015