Let’s begin with a thought experiment: What would happen if an aide from Bernie Sanders’ campaign announced that Sanders’ strategy going forward would be to “disqualify” and “defeat” Hillary Clinton with negative ads?
Can you imagine the backlash such a remark would garner in the media? The independent Vermont senator would be accused of bullying, sexism, and a whole mess of other horrible things. Still, this exact situation happened last month, but flipped. Instead of a Sanders aide it was a Clinton aide who made the remark to CNN.
Throughout this primary the Clinton campaign has done its best to tarnish Bernie Sanders with the behavior of his followers, claiming they are bullies and out of control — and it is all Bernie’s fault for using such divisive rhetoric. This strategy makes sense considering the independent senator from Vermont is far more trusted than Hillary Clinton when it comes to which candidate people think is looking out for them. It is good strategy — albeit a dishonest one. But, while the campaign is just doing its job to get the former Secretary of State elected, the media has failed us.
We’ve heard, time and again from commentators and journalists, the campaign’s narrative repeated. So-called ‘Bernie Bros’ are horrible; Bernie’s online supporters are harassing Hillary’s supporters; these unruly people are behaving badly due to the rhetoric used by Bernie Sanders, who should just step out of the way for President Hillary Clinton. Many talking heads have asked if Bernie is hurting the party by creating disunity and disruption. The New York Times recently ran an article titled “Bernie Sanders, Eyeing Convention, Willing to Harm Hillary Clinton in the Homestretch.”
The Nevada Democratic convention put this narrative on blast.
Sporadic reports of ‘chaos’ turned into a full blown scandal that resulted in the Nevada Democratic Party sending a warning to the DNC that the “violence” was a harbinger of what is to come in Philadelphia. The party went further to blame Bernie Sanders for the incident due to his rhetoric and message. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), a Clinton surrogate, also claimed that she felt ‘unsafe,’ and that she received death threats from angry Sanders supporters. It is worth mentioning here that as a prominent United States Senator, Ms. Boxer probably receives death threats regularly. It isn’t right, but it is a reality of holding public office at that level. It is also noteworthy that the videos of her from the event do not exactly convey terror — as she was leaving she blew kisses and goaded the Sanders supporters on.
The outrage began after 58 Sanders delegates were rejected due to administrative technicalities. Voting irregularities have abounded in this primary, most notably in states where Hillary Clinton won like Arizona and New York. In this case, those 58 delegates could have swung the result in favor of Sanders. The Nevada Democratic Party officials were then accused of changing the rules last minute to give Clinton more pledged delegates and ignoring the voice votes on the floor.
This anger turned into shouting and rattling of barricades, but not much else if the videos are to be believed.
Still, the Nevada Democrats’ complaints prompted longtime Clinton ally and DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to get involved. She called on Sanders and Clinton to denounce the “violence” supposedly caused by his campaign. In response, Bernie issued a scathing retort, and the situation has devolved from there. As my colleague Shane Ryan pointed out in a recent (satirical) piece, despite a lack of video proof in the over 20 hours of footage collected from the event, media outlets like The New York Times and NPR reported that chairs were thrown and the situation became ‘dangerous.’ Even Politifact, the fact-checker of The Miami Herald (which endorsed Clinton), in its takedown of the allegations of fraud at the convention, seemingly gave a pass to those who had made the chair-throwing claims:
“There’s no clear evidence of a chair being thrown, but the post-adjournment attitude was tense with Sanders delegates screaming obscenities and pushing back barriers between the crowd and the main stage.”
It took Snopes to come out and acknowledge that the allegations of chair-throwing were flat-out “unproven.”
The way this situation has been treated in the news is as terrible as it is predictable.
Throughout this primary there has been a double standard in how the two Democratic candidates are covered in the media — such was the point made with the thought experiment. Sanders is being held accountable for all of his followers while Clinton is not held to the same level of scrutiny.
As it so happens, the only real incident of violence motivated by the primary was from a Hillary supporter against a Bernie supporter. On May 14th, Wendell Pierce, a celebrity Clinton backer known for his work on the hit show “The Wire,” grabbed a female Bernie Sanders supporter by her hair and struck her in the head after a political discussion. However, the media has largely been silent on the matter. However, if Nevada was any indication, had it been a male Bernie supporter who committed battery (and probably assault) against a female Clinton supporter, it would be headline news for a week.
Still, the question is this: Are we to demand that Hillary Clinton apologize for the Wendell Pierce incident or condemn the violence of her most radical supporters?
Let's take another, less extreme, but no less upsetting example: I recently wrote an article documenting sexism on David Brock's Blue Nation Review Facebook page. BNR is Hillary Clinton's propaganda outlet. Every single article I found relating to Jane Sanders had sexist comments underneath. Here are my least favorites.
But fanatical Clinton supporters aren't just limited to BNR's propaganda pages. They're literally everywhere.
Should Hillary Clinton now have to condemn this behavior from her supporters? Is it really indicative of a larger trend of sexism and violence in her camp or platform?
Or another example: A few weeks ago my colleague and I reported that some Clinton supporters banded together to take down pro-Bernie Sanders Facebook groups by posting pornography. The groups were downed, but whether or not these efforts played a role is an open question. That said, there is no denying that there were such attacks. That incident then raised questions about an initiative from David Brock’s super PAC, Correct The Record, which just put $1 million on paid internet trolls. It isn’t hard to imagine the response Sanders or his allies would get if they similarly announced that they would essentially bankroll cyber harassment, and an event like the Facebook attack were to happen shortly after.
Should Clinton condemn the attacks? Are they representative of an intolerance for free expression within her campaign, platform, or rhetoric?
Brock, who is Clinton’s attack dog, actually encouraged ageism, an under-reported form of bigotry, when he called Sanders’ health into question, and demanded the Vermont Senator release a note from his doctor testifying to his good health. CNN’s Anderson Cooper went on to ask Sanders about his age at a townhall in early February. Ageist articles followed with titles like “Bernie Sanders is Too Old to Be President.” This line of attack clearly took hold on Clinton’s more fanatical online supporters (click image to enlarge):
It isn’t just the elderly who have fallen victim to ageism from the Clinton camp. The former Secretary, herself, has made ageist and demeaning remarks about millennials, accusing them of not doing their “research,” and simply wanting things given to them.
Is Hillary Clinton ageist? Are her supporters overall?
Earlier in the primary, some of Clinton’s celebrity surrogates (other than Mr. Wendell Pierce) said some outlandish things about female Bernie supporters. For example, Gloria Steinem dismissed Sanders’ millennial female supporters as merely “following the boys.” Madeleine Albright, with Clinton standing next to her laughing, said that women who don’t vote Hillary are going to a “special place in Hell for women who don’t help each other.”
Should Clinton apologize for these remarks and condemn identity politics?
I’ll leave it to my readers to answer these questions for themselves, but my point is simply this: Because there are fanatics in every single movement, the media has a responsibility to recognize who those people are, and not give them a megaphone. To do so — though it may mean more clicks or viewers, or higher ratings — misrepresents the larger group, and hinders our ability to have genuine political discourse. Even in reporting a story about an incident like what happened in Nevada, it is important to get all of the facts right before reporting.
Bernie Sanders, in telling the truth about our political system, and opening people’s eyes to the harsh reality that our government represents and responds primarily to the wealthy, has provoked the ire of the political establishment, which is comfortable with the status quo. The fact that there is so much power stacked against Sanders, makes it doubly important for news outlets to do their homework.