Filling airwaves 7 days a week with compelling and informative programming while attempting to meet the demands of producing content for your show’s social and digital media is no easy task. I know because I worked at both Fox News and MSNBC previously before joining online news giant The Young Turks.
CNN and MSNBC have done good work in the past covering horrid terror attacks and mass shootings while also breaking news in the areas of government corruption and incompetence.
But in 2016, they’ve let their viewers down, tossing facts, context, and vital information to the side to prop up former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton –– and of course, Donald Trump.
And nearly 2000 people, most of whom support Senator Bernie Sanders, protested outside CNN Los Angeles this past weekend to make the exact same point.
Interview after interview, town hall after town hall, there’s been little push back against Clinton or Trump, with reporters and anchors letting candidates, and their supporters, spew falsehoods or deflect from their own records.
Take this example from yesterday. Fresh off a fairly significant loss in Wisconsin, Clinton made the cable news rounds with renewed attacks against Sanders’ record on declining to hold small gun store owners liable for violence perpetrated by their customers.
Clinton’s tough talk on guns is a stark evolution from eight years ago, when she attacked then-Senator Barack Obama for his infamous comments on small town people clinging to their guns. Back then, Clinton shared stories of her father taking her out to shoot when she was a little girl. Guns are a “part of culture,” she had said. “It’s part of a way of life.” This prompted Obama to joke Clinton was “talking like she’s Annie Oakley.”
Eight years later, Clinton has rebranded herself as a warrior hell-bent on waging war against the NRA. She’s seized on the fact that Sanders has declined to say gun manufacturers and dealers in shootings like the tragic Newtown massacre should be held liable. His rationale is gun dealers who sell guns legally and have no reason to think the purchaser will carry out violence with them shouldn’t be blamed after the fact.
In an interview with Chris Cuomo this week, Clinton used the talking point to express outrage, particularly in the case of Newtown, in which family members have sued the gun manufacturers. Cuomo (and Morning Joe) failed to challenge Clinton on her gun evolution and her donations from gun lobbyists.
In late March, her campaign held a high-dollar fundraiser that was co-hosted by Jeffrey Forbes. Forbes was a lobbyist for the NRA from 2009-2015, who lobbied on “issues related to 2nd amendment rights, regulation and gun control.” Shouldn’t a candidate running on her tough stance against guns have to answer to why she’s taking money from longtime NRA lobbyists? Or is this hypocrisy and politics-as-usual so acceptable to journalists that, to them, it’s just a blip on the radar?
My hunch is that most viewers would want to know of Clinton attacking Sanders on guns in one breadth while taking money from a very-recently former NRA lobbyist. Just look at the large movement behind Bernie Sanders, which I’ve seen for months in my travels on the campaign trail, that’s built on a disgust with the never-ending revolving door — which Clinton has walked through for years — between politicians, corporations, and lobbyists.
This is just one example of anchors (and producers) not doing their homework, or worse — doing it but not turning it in to their audience.
Then there’s the blatant bias both networks have shown in favor of Clinton. A few weeks ago, MSNBC held separate town halls on the same night where Chuck Todd interviewed Sanders followed by Chris Matthews, whose wife is running for Congress, “interviewing” Clinton.
According to The Washington Post, Kathleen Matthews’ campaign donor report read like a “class reunion of Clinton administration figures, most of whom remain active in law, lobbying or business.”
So is it a surprise that Chuck Todd’s questioning of Sanders that night mirrored the Spanish Inquisition while Matthews, who’s belittled Sanders as the “socialist from Ben and Jerry’s country up there in Vermont,” might as well have pulled out a couch and let Clinton lay while he fluffed her pillow? The softball interview with Clinton was night-and-day compared to a separate town hall Matthews did with Sanders, which was more like the Hardball host smothering Sanders face with a pillow. Mediaite’s own Tommy Christopher said it well with the headline “You Will Want to Punch Chris Matthews in the Face When You See How He Treated Bernie Sanders.”
And even worse –– Matthews has not once disclosed to his audience his wife’s donations from Clinton allies. Come to think of it, neither CNN or MSNBC have disclosed that their parent companies have donated large amounts of money to Clinton over her career — and this election.
And then there’s both CNN and MSNBC’s misleading portrayal of the delegate count, in which both have shown the delegate comparison between the candidates with superdelegates included. For viewers who don’t understand the difference between pledged delegates and superdelegates, this gives off the impression Sanders is down by nearly 700 delegates!
But then, of course, there’s the context: Superdelegates are elected officials and Democratic Party bigwigs who can switch their vote to Sanders at any time. A large number of them did in 2008, fleeing Clinton for President Obama when he surpassed her in pledged delegates, which ultimately lifted him to the nomination threshold.
CNN and MSNBC have went months showing the numbers without explaining the context.
CNN anchor Jake Tapper and I had an exchange on this the other day:
— Jordan (@JordanChariton) April 5, 2016
@JordanChariton no I’ve been emphasizing pledged delegates over superdelegates for months
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) April 5, 2016
@jaketapper Broader problem is your colleagues haven’t followed your lead emphasizing pledged dels are most important & superdels can switch
— Jordan (@JordanChariton) April 5, 2016
I really enjoy Tapper’s work, and think he’s one of the better journalists on TV, so I’ll take his word for it. But I’ve seen a large mix of his CNN colleagues, and MSNBC hosts, show the number with superdelegates baked in, with no explanation for why the pledged delegate number, which is more competitive, is the number to look at. To his credit, Chris Hayes only shows pledged delegates.
Whether you are a Clinton or Sanders supporter, this selective aggression toward one candidate versus Patty Cake with another is not good for our democracy. It’s what we’ve grown to expect from Fox News, but MSNBC and CNN have latched onto the formula this election cycle.
And maybe the most egregious of all media sins this cycle is the unending, obsessive coverage of Donald Trump compared to peanuts for Sanders, who often draws bigger crowds than Trump and much more chatter on social media.
Why is this? Clearly a reality TV star foaming at the mouth is a bigger ratings draw –– and way more comfortable for network executives –– than a policy-driven senator railing against the corporate welfare and economic inequality that’s benefited the parent companies of these networks for years.
No objective observer could argue the movement behind Sanders is any less relevant or consequential than a businessman-turned-fascist presidential candidate — and relevance and consequence are basic tenants of what makes a story a story.
And for young viewers, you know –– the one’s cable news needs to keep in order to survive –– it’s clear and appalling, driving them even further away from traditional news media in favor of new media that keeps things real.
Jordan Chariton is a political reporter for The Young Turks on the campaign trail. Follow him @JordanChariton.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.