The comedian Billy Connolly once observed that politicians aren’t like the rest of us. They don’t look like us, don’t sound like us, and they rarely talk about issues that matter deeply to mere voters.
Senator Bernie Sanders, candidate for the Democrat’s US Presidential nomination, on the other hand, does look and talk like ‘ordinary’ people. He is the kind of smart, straight-talking, Jewish New Yorker celebrated by shows like Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm.
If the liberal commentariat is to be believed, leftist enthusiasm for Bernie is sharply curbed by the very fact that he’s Jewish. In the Guardian last week, Rafael Behr, who is also Jewish, wrote:
‘There have been enough reports in recent weeks of Labour councillors and candidates peddling antisemitic mumbo-jumbo – Jews as puppet-masters behind 9/11, Isis and global capitalism – to suggest the party has an infestation on its hands.’
An ‘infestation’, no less! The link to Labour officials ‘peddling antisemitic mumbo-jumbo’ took the reader to a piece by Behr’s own comment editor at the Guardian, Jonathan Freedland, also Jewish, who wrote last month:
‘Thanks to Corbyn, the Labour party is expanding, attracting many leftists who would previously have rejected it or been rejected by it. Among those are people with hostile views of Jews.’
In reality, leftists embrace Sanders for the same reason they resist Behr and Freedland. Sanders talks honestly about corporate (not Jewish ‘puppet-masters’) control of society; Behr and Freedland do not. Sanders talks about the causes of vast and shameful inequality in the world’s wealthiest country. He talks about corporate media bias rooted in advertiser funding. He talks about ‘whether or not we think it’s proper for the United States to go around overthrowing governments’. Behr and Freedland, and a long list of Guardian corporate apologists, do not talk honestly about these issues.
Every movement has its haters, of course, but in our experience when serious left commentators critique these liberal journalists, it has flat zero – nothing! – to do with ethnicity, race, creed or religion.
Sanders’ recent discussion with Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks (TYT) show was an astonishing departure from standard, six-second soundbite politics. Imagine a high-profile UK politician talking like this about the media:
‘First of all, we’re talking about the corporate media, right?… We need to break through the fog of the corporate media, which does everything that they can to keep us entertained without addressing the real issues. I’m on the corporate media every single day and you don’t know how hard it is just to try to demand that we begin to talk about the real issues. They really do not want to. They talk about everything under the sun, but not the real issues.’
Sanders is not arguing that the corporate media is merely biased, or unbalanced, in reporting issues; he is arguing that it never talks about real issues. He offers a jaw-dropping example:
‘Here’s the story. I have been mayor for eight years, Congressman for sixteen, a US Senator for nine years. Do you know how many times people in the media have said: “Bernie, what are you going to do to end poverty in America? This is an outrage! We have 47 million people in poverty, what are you going to do about it, Bernie?” The answer is zero. Not once.’
The remarkable result, as Sanders notes:
‘Concepts of income and wealth inequality, concepts of justice, learning what goes on around the rest of the world [are] never talked about in the corporate media.’
So what is going on? Why won’t corporate media discuss real issues. Sanders explains:
‘I had to write a letter to the presidents of all of the networks to tell them that on their Sunday shows they never talk about climate change. Almost never talk about it. Why? Well, does it have to do with the fact that they get a lot of coal company and oil company money advertising? I think it does. They don’t talk about it.’
‘I want a vigorous effort to address climate change. I mean, I am very worried. I talk to these scientists. This planet is in serious danger. You can’t cuddle up to the fossil fuel industry; you’ve got to take them on.’
It seems incredible, but in fact Sanders is correct on climate coverage. The not-for-profit Media Matters for America reported that, despite ever-worsening warnings of the dangers and a long list of broken temperature and other records, media coverage actually declined in 2015:
‘In 2015, ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox collectively aired approximately 146 minutes of climate change coverage on their evening and Sunday news shows, which was eight minutes less than the networks aired in 2014. This five percent drop in coverage occurred even though 2015 was a year full of significant actions to address climate change, including the EPA finalizing the Clean Power Plan, the first-ever federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants; President Obama rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, citing the need to fight climate change; Pope Francis releasing the first-ever papal encyclical on climate change; and leaders from 195 countries agreeing to a landmark accord to lower greenhouse gas emissions at the United Nations climate summit in Paris.’
In mid-March, corporate media described how climate scientists were now warning of nothing less than a ‘climate emergency’. The Guardian reported:
‘February smashed a century of global temperature records by a “stunning” margin, according to data released by Nasa. The unprecedented leap led scientists, usually wary of highlighting a single month’s temperature, to label the new record a “shocker” and warn of a “climate emergency”.’
When famously dispassionate climate scientists use this kind of language, it’s time to start paying attention. Assuming you care about the life-expectancy of your children and grandchildren, and indeed of yourself.
According to the Nexis media search engine, the term ‘climate emergency’ was mentioned about a dozen times between March 14 and March 21. The term has not been used since. A subsequent, March 22, Guardian piece mentioned merely that scientists had been ‘alarmed’ by the recent record heat.
Scared To Death
The fact is that big business does not want the public to be alarmed about climate change because people will demand action that will cut into corporate profits. Sanders again:
‘So the media is an arm of the ruling class of this country and they want to talk about everything in the world except the most important issues. Because if you talk about real issues, and people get educated on the real issues, you know what happens next? They actually may want to bring about change.’
‘They are scared to death. They get scared to death of the idea that young people are actually getting involved in the political process and want real change. That working class people are saying, “You know what, we need to end establishment politics and economics, and move in a different direction.” That is their nightmare.’
TYT host, Cenk Uygur wryly responded:
‘Senator Sanders, are you charging that these multi-billion corporations that run the media might be part of the establishment?!‘
Sanders, joking, shot back:
‘That’s a hard one, Cenk. Why do you ask me such hard, difficult questions?! That is the establishment!’
Yesterday, Sanders was accused of issuing ‘anti-Israel statements’ that ‘go beyond even Hamas terrorist propaganda’. As Uygur tweeted: ‘If you’re not viciously right-wing, media will swiftboat [smear] you as anti-Israel even if you’re Jewish, lived in Israel & have family in Israel.’
Elite fear and loathing of profit-sapping progressive change helps explain why corporate commentators reject the idea that Corbyn and Sanders should even have a place in the discussion. Last June, establishment fixture David Aaronovitch of The Times asked:
‘What positive debate… is served by having Corbyn on the ballot?’
Last July, a Guardian editorial claimed that Corbyn was leading a vicious ‘spiral into irrelevance after defeat’ in the general election. There was nothing more to him than that. Corbyn was eventually elected by 500,000 votes, a record for any UK party political leader. The Guardian wasn’t just out of touch; it was shoving an elite, rugby hand-off in the face of the electorate.
Guardian columnist Zoe Williams was amazed that she was even discussing Corbyn:
‘How did this man…get on the ballot in the first place?’
In a piece titled, ‘The media are trying to destroy Jeremy Corbyn,’ shadow chancellor John McDonnell talked about the press coverage he and Corbyn received during the leadership campaign:
‘None of them, except the Morning Star, supported us. Even the liberal left Guardian opposed us and undermined us at every opportunity.’ (Our emphasis)
‘It can sound like we’re paranoid but the reality is that the treatment Jeremy has had across the media has been appalling. It’s the worst any politician has been treated. The problem with the BBC and other broadcasters is that because of the cut backs that have gone on with journalists, they are taking their stories from newspapers rather than investigating and reporting for themselves and therefore the bias of the press infects the broadcast media too… It’s an object lesson about the establishment using its power in the media to try and destroy an individual and what he stands for.’
‘The corporate media is right in the middle of this. In all of my speeches what I tell people is, “Don’t accept the status quo and the options”.’
If the corporate media won’t discuss real issues, what will they discuss? Hadley Freeman gives an idea in the Guardian, in an article titled, ‘Leather jackets, flat caps and tracksuits: how to dress if you’re a leftwing politician’:
‘Now, personally, some of us think that Corbyn could consider updating his ideas as much as his wardrobe… He must spend veritable hours cultivating that look, unless there’s a store on Holloway Road that I’ve missed called 1970s Polytechnic Lecturer 4 U. Honestly, where can you even buy tracksuits like the ones he sports?
‘Bernie Sanders is the American version, of course, with his skew-whiff hair and lumpy jackets.’
Freeman – who describes herself in the article as a ‘New York Jew’ like Sanders – would claim to her last breath that she’s just writing light-hearted comedy. But she’s also lampooning the correct establishment targets while labelling Hillary Clinton one of the ‘Leftwing female politicians’ – a favoured and ludicrous media deception, as Naomi Klein made clear recently:
‘While Clinton is great at warring with Republicans, taking on powerful corporations goes against her entire worldview, against everything she’s built, and everything she stands for. The real issue, in other words, isn’t Clinton’s corporate cash, it’s her deeply pro-corporate ideology: one that makes taking money from lobbyists and accepting exorbitant speech fees from banks seem so natural…’
Perhaps Freeman thinks we’re motivated to write about her because she’s Jewish (last year, she claimed leftist politician George Galloway had crossed ‘the line from anti-Israel to antisemitic’). Or perhaps because she’s a woman. But we’re not driven by antisemitism, sexism, or hatred of any kind.
Like most leftists, we support Sanders’ comments and reject the liberal commentariat for reasons to do with concern for the welfare of all citizens, not just the rich, and above all out of fear for the survival of our species and planet. Business as usual – with corporate power subordinating everything to profit – is now the greatest threat humanity has ever faced. As Klein says, and she is not overstating:
‘If the next president wastes any more time… the climate clock will run out, plain and simple.’