To the hundreds of thousands of supporters who flocked to his overflowing stadium rallies — and to millions of voters in the Democratic primaries — Bernie Sanders rated as an exceptionally serious and viable candidate for President.
The senator from Vermont would end up winning 23 state contests and revolutionizing small-dollar online fundraising. He raised more money from modest donors than any primary candidate in U.S. history.
But to the elite media pundits of the nation’s chattering class, Sanders and his message of economic and social justice amounted to little more than an annoyance that needed to be swept snappily aside.
Now we have — from long-time political analyst Thomas Frank — the evidence of that sweeping.
Frank has sifted through some 200 or so editorials, op-eds, and blog posts written about Sanders this past spring in the Washington Post, “the publication that defines the limits of the permissible in the capital city.” His final tally: The negative on Sanders in the Post’s punditry outweighed the positive by a whopping five-to-one margin.
The Post editorial board lobbed its first attack on Sanders policies in the lead-up to the Iowa caucuses. “Level With Us, Mr. Sanders,” the editorial’s headline read. Sanders couldn’t possibly be taken seriously, the Post editorial argued. His pie-the-sky ideas would never pass Congress.
Post columnist Dana Milbank followed up with a hatchet-job headlined, “Nominating Sanders Would Be Insane,” published shortly before the editorial board delivered still another body blow — titled “The Real Problem with Mr. Sanders” — that doubled down on the newspaper’s outright contempt for the Sanders left perspective.
This pattern would continue throughout the primary, over and over. The “Post’s pundit platoon,” notes Frank, “just seemed to despise Bernie Sanders.”
What explains the Post’s disdain? In this 6,000 word essay for Harpers, Frank looks closely at the impact class had on the journalists tasked with covering the progressively populist Sanders campaign. These journalists — mostly prosperous Ivy Leaguers who relish their roles as insiders — ended up functioning as “the house organ of a meritocratic elite.”
The issues these journalists deem serious, like deficit reduction and entitlement “reform,” reflect this class affiliation. The issues that reflect the priorities of Bernie’s working class supporters, they consider distractions — and worse.
Put simply: “Certain ideas, when voiced by certain people, are not merely debatable or incorrect or misguided, in the paper’s view: they are inadmissible.”
Included in this Post list of inadmissibles: single-payer health care, breaking up the behemoth Wall Street banks, significantly raising taxes on billionaires and millionaires, and a host of other issues that made of the core of the Sanders campaign.
Journalists once considered themselves part of the working class, muckraking outsiders who would rather dig dirt on politicians than cozy up to them. Over time, especially at top-rank outlets like the Post, the job shifted. Top journalists began considering themselves key cogs of an elite professional class.
This new Frank media analysis offers an astute follow-up to his most recent book, Listen Liberal. The book focuses on the class identity of politicians. This Harpers piece focuses on the media that support them.
In Frank’s framing, the unrepentant reign of the Democratic Party’s professional class rose up with Bill Clinton and continued along with Barack Obama. Bernie Sanders represented an unfitting, and altogether unwelcome, break from that reign, a coup that the professional class could not and would not allow.
Frank’s new piece ends with a lament on an irony: Most journalists today are actually living economically insecure lives. They have less in common financially with high-flying professionals in other careers than they do with the working class.
“The newsroom layoffs never end,” as Frank points out. “In 2014 alone, 3,800 full-time editorial personnel got the axe, and the bloodletting continues.”
Josh Hoxie directs the Project on Opportunity and Taxation at the Institute for Policy Studies and is co-editor of Inequality.org.