Spinning US Voters to Stay Passive

As public anger toward America’s self-interested establishment bubbles into a boil, the mainstream media has grown frantic appealing to the masses to “stay sane,” reject populism — especially Bernie Sanders’s variety — and renew the establishment’s lease on the White House, as Norman Solomon notes.

By Norman Solomon

For a long time, as he campaigned for President, a wide spectrum of establishment media insisted that Bernie Sanders couldn’t win. Now they’re sounding the alarm that he might. And, just in case you haven’t gotten the media message yet — Sanders is “angry,” kind of like Donald Trump.

Elite media often blur distinctions between right-wing populism and progressive populism — as though there’s not all that much difference between appealing to xenophobia and racism on the one hand and appealing for social justice and humanistic solidarity on the other. Many journalists can’t resist lumping Trump and Sanders together as rabble-rousing outliers.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination.

But in the real world, the differences are vast. Donald Trump is to Bernie Sanders as Archie Bunker is to Jon Stewart.

Among regular New York Times columnists, aversion to Bernie Sanders has become more pronounced in recent days at both ends of the newspaper’s ideological spectrum, such as it is. Republican Party aficionado David Brooks (whose idea of a good political time is Marco Rubio) has been freaking out in print, most recently with a Tuesday column headlined “Stay Sane America, Please!”

Brooks warned that his current nightmare for the nation is in triplicate — President Trump, President Cruz or President Sanders. For Brooks, all three contenders appear to be about equally awful; Trump is “one of the most loathed men in American public life,” while “America has never elected a candidate maximally extreme from the political center, the way Sanders and Cruz are.”

That “political center” of power sustains huge income inequality, perpetual war, scant action on climate change and reflexive support for the latest unhinged escalation of the nuclear arms race. In other words, what C. Wright Mills called “crackpot realism.”

Meanwhile, liberal Times columnist Paul Krugman (whose idea of a good political time is Hillary Clinton) keeps propounding a stand-on-head formula for social change — a kind of trickle-down theory of political power, in which “happy dreams” must yield to “hard thinking,” a euphemism for crackpot realism.

An excellent rejoinder has come from former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. “Krugman doesn’t get it,” Reich wrote. “I’ve been in and around Washington for almost fifty years, including a stint in the cabinet, and I’ve learned that real change happens only when a substantial share of the American public is mobilized, organized, energized, and determined to make it happen.”

And Reich added: “Political ‘pragmatism’ may require accepting ‘half loaves’ — but the full loaf has to be large and bold enough in the first place to make the half loaf meaningful. That’s why the movement must aim high — toward a single-payer universal health, free public higher education, and busting up the biggest banks, for example.”

But for mainline media, exploring such substance is low priority, much lower than facile labeling and horseracing, and riffing on how Bernie Sanders sounds “angry.”

On “Morning Edition,” this week began with NPR political reporter Mara Liasson telling listeners that “Bernie Sanders’ angry tirades against Wall Street have found a receptive audience.” (Meanwhile, without anger or tirades, “Hillary Clinton often talks about the fears and insecurities of ordinary voters.”)

The momentum of the Sanders campaign will soon provoke a lot more corporate media attacks along the lines of a Chicago Tribune editorial that appeared in print on Monday. The newspaper editorialized that nomination of Trump, Cruz or Sanders “could be politically disastrous,” and it declared: “Wise heads in both parties are verging on panic.”

Such panic has just begun, among party elites and media elites. Eager to undermine Sanders, the Tribune editorial warned that as a “self-declared democratic socialist,” Sanders “brandishes a label that, a Gallup poll found, would automatically make him unacceptable to nearly half the public.”

A strong critique of such commentaries has come from the media watch group FAIR, where Jim Naureckas pointed out that voters would not be asked to vote for “a socialist– they’d be asked to vote for Bernie Sanders. And while pollsters don’t include Sanders in general election matchups as often as they do Hillary Clinton, they have asked how the Vermont senator would do against various Republicans — and he generally does pretty well.

“In particular, against the candidate the Tribune says is ‘best positioned’ to ‘capture the broad, sensible center’ — Jeb Bush — Sanders leads in polls by an average of 3.0 percentage points, based on polling analysis by the website Real Clear Politics.”

In mass media, the conventional sensibilities of pundits like Brooks and Krugman, reporters like Liasson, and outlets like the Chicago Tribune routinely get the first and last words. Here, the last ones are from Naureckas:

“When pollsters match Sanders against the four top-polling Republican hopefuls, on average he does better than Clinton does against each of them — even though she, like Bush, is supposed to be “best positioned” to “capture the broad, sensible center,” according to the Tribune.

“Actually, the elements of Sanders’ platform that elite media are most likely to associate with ‘socialism’ — things like universal, publicly funded healthcare and eliminating tuition at public colleges — are quite popular with the public, and go a long way to explain his favorable poll numbers. But they are also the sort of proposals that make Sanders unacceptable to the nation’s wealthy elite — and to establishment media outlets.”

Norman Solomon is the author of War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and co-founder of RootsAction.org.

10 comments for “Spinning US Voters to Stay Passive

  1. nmb
    January 28, 2016 at 08:49

    The crucial role of Bernie Sanders for the battle against our dark future


  2. January 28, 2016 at 08:34

    I’m waiting for Congress to act quick. I’m convinced a motion to outlaw populism in politics as a clear and grave danger to democracy could easily get 70% of the votes in Congress, and AIPAC also may lend a helping hand to this effort to keep America sane.

  3. Someone with a brain
    January 28, 2016 at 04:12

    The most dangerous candidate with an actual chance to win (because he is supported by the oligarchs and soft-peddled as a “moderate” by the media) is Marco Rubio, not any of those mentioned by Brooks. I know, I’m from Florida and have seen his work firsthand. He is a warmongering radical from the extreme far right of the Republican party working strictly in the interests of the 1%ers. Trump, as bombastic as he acts, is actually the least of the evils proffered by the Republican party. Sanders is the most sane amongst all the candidates. I hope the nominees ARE, in fact, Trump and Sanders. Hillary is alright on domestic issues, but too much of a war hawk to entrust the future of human existence to her.

    • Abbybwood
      January 30, 2016 at 04:32

      I was wondering why Marco Rubio is always making comments in the debates about “the New American Century”.

      Isn’t that straight out of Cheney and Co.’s Neocon playbook, “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” and PNAC?? (Project for a New American Century)

      Wasn’t that the document saying that in order for the U.S. to fulfill its wet dream of “full spectrum global military dominance”(also known as TERRORISM), there would have to be a “catalyzing event….like a New Pearl Harbor”? Voila! 9/11 right on cue!

      And who are these war criminals in our midst who, along with Cheney, support PNAC?:

      William Kristol. Robert Kagan. John R. Bolton. Donald Rumsfeld. Paul Wolfowitz. Richard Perle. R. James Woolsey. Elliot Abrams.

      I’ll betcha by golly Mr. Rubio is being supported by this crowd of thugs.

  4. MrK
    January 27, 2016 at 16:38

    I don’t like the term Zionist, because it is imprecise and this movement itself was possibly hijacked.

    What we are seeing is what I like to call the Second Government – run by and for the trillionaire families. From the David Rockefeller Trilateral Commission (1973, with Zbigniew Brzezinski) membership list of May 2013:

    David Brooks, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, Washington

    Philip Zelikow, White Burkett Miller Professor of History, University of Virginia, Charlottesville ; former Counselor, U.S. Department of State; former Executive Director, National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States (“9/11 Commission”)

    John Podesta, Chair, Center for American Progress, Washington; former Chief of Staff to President William J. Clinton

  5. rosemerry
    January 27, 2016 at 15:48

    The problem is that what the voters want has been shown (by all the legislation passed in decades) to be ignored by the present crop of bought and paid-for “Reps” including the POTUS. The same is expected to happen when Bernie’s obvious honesty and care for what people want is castigated as extreme by the pundits and slavish journalists. Even with his Zionist leanings and support for military might and power in the USA, his domestic faults are seen as unAmerican.

  6. Zachary Smith
    January 27, 2016 at 14:09

    Brooks warned that his current nightmare for the nation is in triplicate — President Trump, President Cruz or President Sanders. For Brooks, all three contenders appear to be about equally awful; Trump is “one of the most loathed men in American public life,” while “America has never elected a candidate maximally extreme from the political center, the way Sanders and Cruz are.”

    Now this is encouraging! David Brooks is one of the more energetic shills for Holy Israel, and the NYT doesn’t exactly advertise that he has a son serving in the Army of Israel.

    That this shameless hack doesn’t like Sanders makes me suspect that Israel isn’t at all sure a certain American Jewish presidential candidate will do its bidding if elected. That they fear Sanders might act as a patriotic American instead of a Zionist puppet makes me feel a whole lot better about Sanders.

  7. Deschutes
    January 27, 2016 at 13:46

    God, I fucking hate NPR! Mara Liasson (excuse me, I must go and vomit in the toilet–). Even worse: Cokie “old bag” Roberts, brown-noser for the beltway status quo, avid scribe for GW Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Geitner, Phil Gram, et al. There is nothing ‘public’ about NPR. Nothing! It is entirely funded by large oil companies, and corporations. NPR actually outdid Fox ‘news’ as eager cheerleader for the Iraq invasion in 2003. Never listen to it. There is absolutely NOTHING liberal or progressive coming from that corporate propaganda bullhorn.

  8. Drew Hunkins
    January 27, 2016 at 13:40

    It’s crucial for Sanders inclined Dems, and all progressive populists regardless of party affiliation, to understand that the counter offensive against Sanders isn’t going to only come from Rush and Fox News, it’s going to most effectively come from the “coolest, most rational heads out there, the smartest guys in the room.”

    The most effective salvos against this Sanders populist insurgency will be leveled by NPR, the New York Times, Washington Post, Sunday morning network news talkshows, PBS News Hour, Cokie Roberts, Stephanopoulis, even certain writers on Colbert, Kimmel, and Fallon.

    The Sanders insurgency is a direct attack on a major domestic power bloc: it’s an attack on their whole entire worldview (at least domestically); ergo, this counter insurgency the establishment will wage is going to be vicious and relentless beyond belief.

  9. dahoit
    January 27, 2016 at 13:34

    Jon Stewart is a Zionist,so he is in fact very much like Archie Bunker,imitating Archies worst fictional tendencies,although Stewart is not fictional.

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