I expected the typical build-up.
Most of the day my phone pinged with alerts like this one from Politico:
“4 key questions about 2020 that Democrats are about to answer”
Then there was this one, also from Politico:
“Warren and Bernie’s awkward truce faces its biggest test yet: The longtime ideological comrades have resisted going after each other.”
I was able to ignore them–for a time.
After a while, I couldn’t take it anymore.
I finally tweeted this response to an Apple News alert inquiring whether Sanders and Warren would play nicely:
“Hey, #MainstreamMedia. @BernieSanders and @ewarren aren’t going to devolve into a cage match. They’re adults. Please don’t report tomorrow how disappointed you are over lack of drama. This reality-show reporting is ridiculous.”
Naturally, as the most progressive candidates seeking the 2020 Democratic nomination for president, all eyes are on Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
Knowing how beholden to almighty ratings the corporate media is, I expected CNN to have prepared some loaded, and even unfair, questions, as it did for an April town hall when Sen. Sanders was asked “How do you rectify your notion of Democratic Socialism with the failures of Socialism in nearly every country that has tried it?”
The corporate media’s disdain for Bernie is no surprise.
It may not loathe Sen. Warren as much, but it certainly is traditionally more accommodating to centrists.
And I was ready.
At least I thought I was.
Now, I used to watch WWF (now WWE) wrestling when I was in elementary school. The fact that it was all spectacle and no substance was part of the appeal. It was intended to be entertainment for the masses, and that’s exactly what it delivered.
I threw up a little in my mouth as soon as Tuesday’s “show” started.
As soon as 8:00 p.m. struck, I was right back there in elementary school watching WWF again.
See for yourself:
With phrases like “A fight for the heart of the party,” “determined to seize his second chance,” “going head to head,” and fighting for the same cause,” who wouldn’t want to tune in?
Then Sanders and Warren were introduced, and each made his and her way to center stage to be displayed and gawked at.
(I like to assume Sanders and Warren’s benevolent embrace threw moderators Dana Bash, Don Lemon, and Jake Tapper off guard a bit.)
The other candidates made their grand entrances into the spotlights, but it was no accident Sanders and Warren were trotted out first. In CNN’s milieu, they were the reigning champions supposedly battling formidable antagonists.
If that had been all, though, it would have been fine. This is corporate media after all and we are a visually driven, entertainment-obsessed society.
But then it got weird.
CNN displayed the candidates’ line up at the bottom of the screen. Center-stage: Sanders and Warren “Defending their ideals against a crowd of more moderate challengers.”
It was certainly no coincidence Marianne Williamson was shoved off far to stage left (ironic?).
Then the candidates delivered their opening spiels, scripted perfectly to land against their intended targets.
The first was former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, who wasted no time blasting Sanders and Warren:
“Folks, we have a choice. We can go down the road that Senator Sanders and Senator Warren want to take us, which is with bad policies like Medicare for all, free everything and impossible promises that will turn off independent voters and get Trump re-elected. That’s what happened with McGovern. That’s what happened with Mondale. That’s what happened with Dukakis. Or we can nominate someone with new ideas to create universal health care for every American with choice, someone who wants to unify our country and grow the economy and create jobs everywhere. And then we win the White House.”
If you think Delaney was randomly chosen to open the festivities, I’ve got a bridge to sell you. He’s polling at 0.8% and will likely not be in the race much longer.
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper didn’t name-drop, but the sentiment was the same when he said:
“I share their progressive values, but I’m a little more pragmatic.”
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar piled on with:
“Yes, I have bold ideas, but they are grounded in reality.“
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock also contributed a jab when he said:
“Watching that last debate, folks seemed more concerned about scoring points or outdoing each other with wish list economics than making sure Americans know we hear their voices and will help their lives.”
This was a full-throated assault designed to establish the night’s objective: ambush the progressives so the American public believes they’re just a couple of delusional utopian grandparents.
“Tuesday night’s Democratic debate was a CNN-engineered center-right ambush of Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren that was so ham-fisted in its conception and execution, it could have been drawn up by Donald Trump himself.”
But it didn’t work.
Sanders fired back, as did Sen. Warren, who proved she was not out to out-do her progressive colleague but support him by elaborating on his policies with her owd–and turning the tables when she fired back:
“We are the Democrats. We are not about trying to take away health care from anyone. That’s what the Republicans are trying to do, and we should stop using Republican talking points in order to talk with each other about how to best provide that healthcare.”
Judging by the pre-debate headlines, this is not at all what CNN expected.
Sanders and Warren weren’t at each other’s throats. They were allies.
And they were not about to fall into the moderates’ and moderators’ trap.
Sanders even predicted pharmaceutical industry commercials running during the limited breaks–before Jake Tapper cut him off.
Right on queue, big pharma did not disappoint:
SANDERS earlier tonight: “By the way, by the way, the health care industry will be advertising tonight, on this program —”
TAPPER: “Thank you, senator”
SANDERS: “Oh, can I complete that please?” pic.twitter.com/KmsdPzwlWK
— Dan Diamond (@ddiamond) July 31, 2019
Sen. Warren’s inquiry into John Delaney’s sincerity as a candidate was classic gold, and spot-on:
“I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for.”
John Delaney embodies precisely Sanders’ and Warren’s whole point about the for-profit healthcare industry: it has him made $65 million dollars.
He’s running for president to protect his wealth.
But it got better.
Of all the questions CNN could have approved to ask, of all the issues the American people care about, “Is Bernie Sanders too extreme?” is not one of them.
Yet that took up people’s precious time.
To say the whole thing was a disappointment is an understatement.
It was a screaming tragedy.
But what can we expect from obsequious entertainment networks posing as news outlets?
Despite being taunted as the “Clinton News Network” and “fake news,” CNN hired in February Republican spokeswoman and former Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Sarah Isgur, to serve its political editor.
Whether she had a hand in this week’s debates is not clear.
Her credentials for this position include, in addition to serving as Jeff Sessions’ spokesperson, working for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the Republican National Committee (RNC), and businesswoman Carly Fiorina’s brief 2016 presidential campaign.
She has never held a job as a journalist.
As Media Matters senior writer, Simon Maloy, posited:
“How on earth can a cable news channel have a political editor who can’t cover DOJ? The workings of the Justice Department are at the heart of some of the most critically important political stories of the Trump era. The Russia investigation and the special counsel’s office are going to be hugely important topics for the 2020 campaign, and Democratic candidates are likely going to spend considerable energy attacking DOJ policies that Isgur defended, such as Sessions’ legal assault on sanctuary laws for undocumented immigrants.”
Have the networks not learned anything from 2016?
In February 2016, former CBS executive chairman and CEO, Les Moonves, told the Hollywood Reporter:
“It [Trump’s candidacy] may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS…Man, who would have expected the ride we’re all having right now?… The money’s rolling in and this is fun…I’ve never seen anything like this, and this going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.”
Indeed, it was a terrible thing to say, if only because the truth hurts.
Moonves was merely articulating a heretofore unspoken axiom: it’s not about the issues; it’s about the ratings. It’s about the personality. It’s ultimately about the money.
And so, here we are again.
As Matt Taibbi writes in his book Insane Clown President: Dispatches From the 2016 Circus:
“They [right-wing and moderate media] are really just two different strategies of the same kind of nihilistic lizard-brain sensationalism. The ideal CNN story is a baby down a well, while the ideal Fox story is probably a baby thrown down a well by a Muslim terrorist or an ACORN activist. Both companies offer the same service, it’s just that the Fox version is a little kinkier.”
Chris Hedges nails it when he states:
“The corporate media ignores issues and policies, since there is little genuine disagreement among the candidates, and presents the race as a beauty contest. The fundamental question the press asks is not what do the candidates stand for but whom do the voters like.”
At a time when smaller, independent media agencies are folding, we risk losing dialog on the issues that most Americans care about.
Entertainment and capital have corrupted our media landscape ever since Ronald Reagan stopped enforcing the Fairness Doctrine in 1986.
Bill Clinton finally put it in its coffin ten years later when he signed the Telecommunications Act.
Unless the corporate media has an epiphany within the year, we are going to repeat the same embarrassing sideshow we saw in 2016.
Image credit: insertgeekhere.blogspot.com