Black and white photo of Bernie Sanders gesturing as he talks

When Donald Trump used to call out the “fake news” for being biased during the 2016 presidential election, it was a not-so-subtle way for him to appeal to Bernie Sanders’ supporters who felt the same pain. The blatant bias shown towards anyone who challenged the media’s favored candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016 was so obvious that CNN contributors were eventually busted for feeding debate questions to the Clinton campaign. Heck, The Washington Post ran sixteen negative articles on Sanders within a span of sixteen hours. So the notion that media outlets were potentially biased against Bernie or anyone else was not completely far-fetched.

Naturally, as the 2020 presidential race kicks off, the question now becomes with Sanders running again, will the media’s anti-Bernie bias still exist? After all, if these major news outlets simply favored Clinton in 2016, certainly they wouldn’t have any lasting ill-will towards Vermont’s senior senator, right? Unfortunately, the media has already answered this question with a resounding “hold my beer.”

As the former Libertarian candidate for governor of Ohio, I don’t necessarily agree with Sanders on every issue (that being said and for full disclosure, I did register to vote for Sanders in Ohio’s 2016 Democratic primary so he could become the nominee.) However, I definitely understand Sanders’ frustration when confronting a rigged political establishment.

Whether it’s institutional bias within the Demcoratic National Committee or frivolous debate requirements, or news outlets that ignore and diminish your campaign, there are plenty of issues that third party candidates and politicians like Sanders have to deal with when we run. Independent voices and different ideas aren’t too welcome in forums that are organized by wealthy, moderate and corporate political interests.

However, as a Columbia Journalism School graduate, my biggest concern about Sanders’ treatment by the media is for the institution of journalism itself. While every reporter and political commentator is certainly entitled to their opinion, there is a line that should not be crossed. When Bernie is featured in anti-Semitic headlines and images by Politico, it’s a bit much.

When MSNBC shows polls that have Bernie in second place but they position him in fourth within the graphic, that’s just a basic lie. When “liberal” pundits say Bernie makes their “skin crawl” but can’t explain why, we’ve got ourselves a problem. What’s up with all the personal Bernie backlash? Even conservative news outlets keep their criticisms of Sanders to his policies.

Essentially, while we’re only a few months into the 2020 horse race, the same major news outlets that showed bias against Sanders in 2016 are already doing it again and are shocked when they’re called out by Bernie supporters or even the Senator himself. During a recent Democratic debate featuring some 20 candidates, Sanders had to push back against CNN moderator Jake Tapper for criticizing his “Medicare for All” healthcare platform, pointing out that the “healthcare industry will be advertising tonight on this program.” In a recent conversation with The Nation, Sanders said, “I think what we have to be concerned about in terms of the media is that you have a small number of very, very large corporate interests who control a lot of what the people in this country see, hear and read. And they have their agenda. That’s what they are.”

Yes, as Sanders and many readers of The Free Press already know, only a few major corporations own most of the media outlets in our country and they’re going to make their preferences known. The debate moderators on television and political pundits at The New York Times and Washington Post are just “millionaires paid by billionaires” as some of Sanders’ supporters have put it. Not to mention the Post is currently owned by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, who Sanders constantly calls out for paying zero dollars in federal taxes while average Americans struggle across the country. It’s a “coincidence” that has not been lost on Sanders, who said, “I talk about (Amazon’s taxes) all of 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.”

Sanders’ supporters do know why and four years later, they still aren’t having it. The question is, with billions of dollars to spend and unlimited airtime to say whatever they want, will the major media outlets prevail over Sanders’ grassroots movement again? More importantly, if they do, what will happen to the state of journalism in our country? After all, there’s only one good reason to have a fourth estate like our free press and that’s why it’s protected by the Constitution. It’s the same reason why it’s important for third political parties and candidates like Sanders to exist in the first place – to speak truth to power.

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