Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair
A dead-end street with a lemonade stand
Where is the sky in upside down land?
That question is hard if you can’t see the stars
I’m really not sure, ask me tomorrow
— Yasiin Bey, “Education” (featured on the album “Bandana” by Freddie Gibbs)
Welcome to Bizarro World where up is down, black is white, and Bernie is Trump.
Here in this upside-down reality a man who explicitly fights on behalf of workers and the poor and against billionaires and the ruling class is literally no different than a billionaire member of the ruling class who runs concentration camps, kidnaps children from their mothers, incites domestic terrorists to target immigrants and people of color, and represents literal fascism in America.
Nope, no difference at all. Thanks MSNBCNNPR for ensuring that FOX isn’t the only serially lying corporate pig at the political media trough. It’s good to know that democracy and diversity of opinion exist in our contemporary media landscape; you can get right wing anti-Bernie talking points *AND* you can get far right wing anti-Bernie talking points. This is the “marketplace of ideas” we’ve heard so much about.
Well I’m a socialist, and I’m damn skeptical of markets and anything that might be called a “marketplace” because, more often than not, it’s a PR buzzword that obscures the ways in which capital exploits, undermines, and alienates workers. So, let’s peruse the wares on offer in this media bazaar and see if reality is as demented as what the corporate swine are oinking at us every day.
Bernie, Trump, and the “Enemies of the People”
The “Bernie is Trump” narrative has been resurrected once more this week. The corporate media is lashing out at Bernie for having the temerity to suggest that the endlessly negative media coverage about him might be due to those media outlets being owned by the very corporate billionaire class Bernie is directly confronting. Specifically, Bernie called out the Washington Post for its demonstrably biased coverage of his campaign by suggesting that maybe, just maybe, their editorial line is influenced by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s ownership of the paper. Gasp, how outrageous! The man is clearly Stalin incarnate.
So, as you might expect, Bernie was pilloried endlessly by all mainstream outlets for his comments, which included the following:
“I talk about that all the time and then 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. But I guess maybe there’s a connection. I guess maybe we helped raise the minimum wage at Amazon to 15 bucks an hour, as well. Maybe that’s why the Washington Post is not endeared to me. I don’t know.”
Bernie is here making a very clear political argument: A major media outlet which is deeply connected to power circles in both parties, and is owned by the richest man in the country, is employing clear bias to undermine the campaign of a presidential candidate who cost its owner billions of dollars. Moreover, Bernie is suggesting that the framing of stories in WaPo is deliberately designed to attack him rather than provide accurate and objective reporting.
Washington Post’s editor responded via CNN with a statement which read: “Contrary to the conspiracy theory the senator seems to favor, Jeff Bezos allows our newsroom to operate with full independence, as our reporters and editors can attest.” Wow, looks like Bernie just got pwned by WaPo, right?
Well, actually, it seems that WaPo editor Marty Baron might be the one who doesn’t understand either Bernie’s statement, or how media actually works.
Let’s look at world renowned linguist and giant of American political critique Noam Chomsky who, along with propaganda scholar Edward Herman, wrote the seminal critique of media propaganda in the US, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. Chomsky and Herman wrote:
“Institutional critiques such as we present in this book are commonly dismissed by establishment commentators as ‘conspiracy theories,’ but this is merely an evasion…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.”
If somebody wants to copy-paste that text and email it over to Marty Baron that might be helpful. Maybe handwrite it and kiss the envelope with lipstick lips? But wait, Chomsky and Herman got more for Marty and the hyenas of the corporate savanna:
“Censorship is largely self-censorship, by reporters and commentators who adjust to the realities of source and media organizational requirements, and by people at higher levels within media organizations, who are chosen to implement, and have usually internalized, the constraints imposed by proprietary and other market and governmental centers of power.”
So, with that in mind, and knowing what Sanders actually said, let’s take a sampling of the headlines:
Bernie Sanders, Sounding Like Trump, Goes After Amazon and Washington Post – NPR
Sanders blasts Bezos-owned Washington Post over bias in echo of Trump – FOX
Bernie Sanders should know better than this ridiculous attack on the Washington Post – CNN
Bernie Sanders’s bogus media beef – Washington Post
I could go on and on, but you get the point.
But the truly insidious part of this demonization campaign is not the suggestion that Sanders is spreading a “conspiracy theory” that money and power shapes corporate media narratives. Rather, it is the idea that Bernie is somehow the left-wing Trump.
Such suggestions, as seen in headlines above, are designed to seed the discourse, to plant in the minds of potential Bernie supporters the idea that the man is crazy and a liar. That somehow those workers who voted for Trump but who are very sympathetic to Sanders should think twice because Sanders will betray them just like Trump. That progressives who like Sanders should just support someone else because he’s just an old white guy like Trump.
The purpose is not to make a substantive comparison, but to create a false one that, repeated ad nauseam, will eat its way into the collective consciousness of the electorate, like a carnivorous earwig into our already Trump-addled brains.
Don’t think repetition of lies through mass media is effective? Here’s a poem I wrote a few seconds from now:
We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud
We’ll be greeted as liberators cheered by the crowds
Protect your kids, protect your mom
Hussein is al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda is Saddam
Mainstream news is real, it can never be fake.
Might I offer you a slice of some yellowcake?
The lies fed to the American public over and over, day after day, led to an incomprehensible crime against humanity in Iraq which cost over a million human beings their lives and devastated the Middle East, shaping many of the problems we see today.
I forged my politics in the fight against the Iraq War. I watched as the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, and the rest spewed lie after lie after lie as the dutiful stenographers to power that they are. “Unnamed administration officials” became experts feeding talking points to the media, much like the corporate pharma tapeworm @HoarseWisperer whose anti-Sanders talking points are featured on MSNBC without disclosing that he’s a bagman for Big Pharma, weapons manufacturers, and Wall Street.
As an activist, I learned from the experience of Iraq many of the lessons younger people on the left are learning today. Chief among them – The mainstream media is an extension of capital and the ruling class.
News outlets can do good journalism (as NYT, WaPo, et al often do), but that doesn’t change the institutionalized, profit-driven, corporate power structures they serve. And when anyone substantively challenges those power structures, they will undoubtedly be attacked by that same dutiful media.
Bernie’s got a target on his back because they know he’s a real threat. The Bernie crowd needs to realize that the media war has only just begun.