Throughout the primary season, smearing Bernie Sanders and his supporters established itself as a full-fledged media industry. Sanders, we were told, was an egomaniacal, sexist, old white man on a delusional and quixotic campaign promoting pie-in- the-sky policies like single payer health care, free college tuition, viewing Palestinians as people, and not destroying the planet. Exerting his male privilege, he bullied Hillary Clinton into nominally opposing a secretive, Frankensteinian trade agreement. He even forced her to embrace a $15 federal minimum wage with a sexist condescension that far outweighs the material benefits that would be reaped by women who make up the majority of the minimum wage work force.
In his Utopian quest, Sanders was more than happy to drag down the Democratic Party and thwart history, by opposing the candidate who could become the first female president of these United States. And he recklessly strung along an army of all white ‘Bernie Bros’ and some white women who had internalized misogyny. There were, simply put, no people of color who supported Sanders. It was that simple.
Little did we know, the media was actually pulling its punches. Once Hillary won the nomination and Vermont senator graciously and enthusiastically endorsed her, the gloves really came off. In a display of shameless schadenfreude, the media gleefully mocked Sanders supporters for being emotionally weak and cognitively damaged. If they wanted to hang around with the cool crowd, they had to remove their aluminum foil antenna from their heads, lick off their patchouli, and sit in the back, silent, hands-folded, and listening to the winners. Stinky, crazy, loud-mouthed losers, needed to get in line, sit down and shut up, immediately.
The media’s “Mean Girls” style contempt isn’t just for Bernie or Busters or Stein supporters. It’s for anyone who is, ever has been or ever might be one. Curiously, the criticism is much harsher than anything we see hurled at people supporting Trump… you know… the fascist whose potential presidency makes not supporting Clinton such an act of lunacy.
Let’s take a look at some schoolyard bullying and berating techniques the media is using that will do little to distinguish Democratic Party shills from you know who.
1. Ridicule people in pain.
Slate editor, Jeremy Stahl, was the schoolyard terror, lobbing Sanders supporters for being sad. In his piece, “Photos of Angry, Sad, Horrified Bernie Sanders Supporters During His Convention Speech”, Stahl compiled nine photos (none of which he took, as he’s more of a curator). Two of the selected photos have the same bummed out white guy and three of them have the same very sad white gal. There there was no shortage of photos of people of color with the Sanders Team in Philly (I know because I was there). But when your strategy is ridicule, why waste time on research?
And Stahl more than makes up for this with the witty descriptions he inserts under the photos such as, “Just please take me home now. I want to go home,” “poor souls,” “I mean, nobody died,” or my personal fave, “[Insert Celine Dion lyrics here.]” This blunt object hit piece wacks anyone who felt low watching their candidate officially leave the race, especially knowing that the DNC had employed dirty tricks to defeat him.
2. Subject people to deadly jokes
Stahl ends another piece, “Watch an MSNBC Host Confront Bernie Sanders Delegates About Denial,” with this zinger: “The Nile is a river in Egypt. Denial is a thing that some Bernie Sanders delegates are still apparently going through.” Though, hat tip to Stahl for unpacking for us the “de nial: it ain’t just a river in Egypt” classic.
3. Call people stupid often, even using evidence to the contrary as examples.
Stahl opens the same witty “denial” piece by promising his readers “fun.” The fun is watching MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle interview two Iowa Sanders delegates, “essentially asking them to justify the entire ‘Bernie or Bust’ movement’s raucous obstinancy [sic] on Day 1 of the Democratic National Convention.” Stahl dutifully transcribed some “highlights” of the interview, my favorite part being the following:
Ruhl: Bernie Sanders, he built the fire. He lit it and now he is saying ‘guys, time to put it out.’ Are you not listening to your candidate?
Delegate Larson: I would argue is that he is not saying that we put anything out. He’s saying we need to continue and fight harder.
Ruhl: For Hillary Clinton. He said it last night.
Larson: For progressive candidates. And we’ve made a lot of progress and we do have some faith that she has gone farther left and will support things that we care about.
Larson was not only intelligent but patient in his response to an interviewer who thought that Sanders’ convention message to his supporters had been, “Enough about the damn fire we started as a movement! Enough about the damn phoenixes and ashes. We’re gonna come together one last time, grab some hoses, and spray. We’re over.”
4. Taunt your victim, claim legions of supporters.
In all fairness, this rule is fairly counter-intuitive and it’s definitely not something they teach you at journalism school. So, I’ll cut Washington Post’s Callum Borchers some slack for writing a piece called, “Dear delegates chanting through DNC speeches: The media thinks you’re stupid.”
Speaking on behalf of “the media” and “journalists,” Borchers did not mince his words:
“Chanting is so hot right now at the Democratic National Convention, but the media is unimpressed.”
Those two clauses are amazing on their own but they are synergistic explosion of truth and knowledge dropping when combined. The problem, according to the very musical Borchers, “is partly because the rhythmic phrases disrupting speeches Wednesday night have been hard to understand, at times—and what’s the point of chanting, if not to deliver a message?” But the bigger issue, Borchers explains, is “journalists watching the proceedings consider the timing of these outbursts to be terrible.”
As he points out, “the criticism isn’t about substance; it’s about strategy. The analysis isn’t about the point pro-Sanders delegates were making. It’s that they picked a lousy time to make it.”
It’s pretty hard to dismiss Borchers precisely because he really gets these chanters and their message. He proves as much by citing the disapproval from the Pro-Sanders chanters’ natural allies like Joe Scarborough and Chuck Todd. But perhaps the greatest and more persuasive point that will definitely knock some sense into their heads was, apparently, a tweet from Nick Riccardi, who observed, “Panetta making mainstream case to kill terrorists and that HRC is the best to do that and is shouted down by ‘No more war’ chants”.
Now, I’m not sure if Riccardi was condemning the chanters, extolling them, or just reporting what they were saying when they were saying it. The important thing here is that Borchers reads this tweet as proof that the chanting backfired. Borchers clearly knows how to appeal to his audience, as we already know (see headline). But he really nails it here. If the chanters had known Panetta endorsing Clinton for her ability to mainstream the whole killing of terrorists thing, surely, these critics of militarism and war would have shut up and maintained their silence until the end of Panetta’s speech, at which point they would have erupted into applause, stormed the stage, hoisted Leon on their shoulders, before putting him down, and clearing a pathway, down which Panetta would run and be greeted by a lucky Berniac who would lift Panetta into the air as “The Time of My Life” crescendoed in the background to full volume. Alas, it was not to be.
5. Humiliate by careful selection of examples
The Daily Beast’s Nathan Place was refreshingly candid about his intentions in a post entitled, “Watch: ‘Bernie or Bust’ Movement’s Worst Moments at the DNC.” The header is just as nuanced, understated and ambiguous as the video mashup and the description, which opens with, “The words will live on throughout history. ‘To the Bernie or Bust people,’ Sarah Silverman pleaded against the booing throngs of die-hard Bernie Sanders supporters, ‘you’re being ridiculous.’”
In case any readers were confused about what the embedded video would show, Place urged, “Watch this video to see what she was talking about.” In case anyone chose to ignore his advice about watching the video, he was happy to summarize: “At nearly any mention of Hillary Clinton’s name, devoted Berniacs at the Democratic National Convention booed, jeered, and chanted against the very notion of supporting their party’s nominee. Then, after the night was over, several of the Bernie faithfultold MSNBC reporters they would not support Clinton in the general election.
‘I would vote my heart, not my brain,’ one said, before suddenly backtracking. ‘I mean, you know, whatever’.” The backtracker is a Black woman, so I congratulate the writer for acknowledging Sanders supporters are not, contrary to unfounded media narratives, all white. Too bad he chose to highlight a few seconds of fumbling out of the hours of footage.
Looking forward to the “Watch: ‘Bernie or Bust’ Movement’s Best Moments at the DNC” video.
6. Mock the disabled
Wonkette’s Alex Ruthrauff could barely contain his excitement over the “really stupid” statements from Sanders supporters who engaged in a media sit-in inside the media tent, which Ruthrauff claims was poorly organized and poorly planned. I’m pretty sure he could have demonstrated that without writing the following:
The Washington Examiner collected several quotations from erstwhile Berners, and many are really stupid ones. To wit:
“Today we were all denied access to democracy,” [Alonso] Statham continued. “Being in a wheelchair, I am used to being denied access to all sorts of things. But everybody here was denied access to democracy, denied access to the party.”
Alonso Statham said this to the free press, at a political convention to which he freely traveled after freely voting for Bernie Sanders.
Ye ole Wheelchair mocking! One of the most underused strategies of persuasion.
7. Repeat again…frequently…now with Jill Stein
Much of the narrative against Sanders and his supporters framed them as self-indulgent, stubborn, out of touch, privileged people. And as soon as the Democratic Sanders lost to Clinton the same story has been advanced against Jill Stein.
Stein-bashing sprouted months ago. In May, when a pro-Stein listener called into Dan Savage’s podcast Savage…well… savaged her:
Disaster will come. And the people who’ll suffer are not going to be the pasty white Green Party supporters—pasty white Jill Stein and her pasty white supporters. The people who’ll suffer are going to be people of color. People of minority faiths. Queer people. Women.
Don’t do it. Don’t throw your vote away on Jill Stein/vote for, bankshot-style, Donald Trump.
Such savagery seems pervasive and coordinated. Jordan Weissman’s recent article in Slate is titled, “Jill Stein’s Ideas Are Terrible. She Is Not the Savior the Left Is Looking For.” In his Bernie-bashing days, Weissman defended free trade: “The fact is, most of the world has seen its standard of living improve quite a bit in the era of free trade.” Now he attacks Stein’s economic policy by stating that “Stein probably just has no idea what she’s talking about.”
I get it. I, too, am often tempted to attack or mock the people who disagree with me. Really I am. There’s a part of me that wants nothing more than to spend the next three months writing and performing, “Our Woman in Tegucigalpa,” a musical-comedy, packed with intrigue and romance, about the Democratic candidate’s involvement in the Honduran coup.
But my opposition to Trump is stronger than this particular creative calling, so I refrain. Maybe the media should do that too.