INDEPENDENT YOUTH | Bernie Sanders and the Importance of Independent Journalism

By Evan Vann | 6/19/16

Democratic nominee candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders was at odds with his campaign since its humble beginnings in April of 2015. Following his campaign for over a year, It’s been a privilege to see it evolve into a full blown movement against the establishment and the politics-as-usual that has dominated the Democratic party for years. However, as Bernie fired shots at the establishment, the establishment fired back, seemingly ending his campaign with his endorsement of Clinton.

As a democratic socialist, Bernie’s proposals were made with the best interest of the American working class in mind. Sanders and his supporters rally for democratic socialist solutions to the problems facing America.

These solutions involve the regulation of certain industries (like the banking and finance industry), cost-free state alternatives to existing industries (such as the healthcare industry), and the end of money’s influence on politics (by way of campaign finance reform and the overturn of Citizens United).

It isn’t hard to see why the establishment declared war on Sanders and his movement: Bernie’s proposals to help the American middle and lower classes posed a threat to profits drawn in by private firms that make money off of predatory industries, as well as the establishment politicians who receive corporate support in return for pushing certain legislation.

It seems apparent that the establishment has tried everything to stop Bernie, largely by funneling money toward his democratic rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. For corporate America, the stakes were too high for a real progressive to be elected. Major players in the conflict are oil companies, insurance companies, private healthcare firms, and countless other members of America’s upper private sector, many of which have contributed to Clinton’s campaign in some capacity.

One of the most important arms of the establishment, however, will not be mentioned in the news. While some media outlets will occasionally cover issues of campaign finance (admittedly, still with a strong bias toward Hillary Clinton), they will exclude the player that may have tipped the scales against Bernie the most: the media itself.

To understand why the mainstream media has partnered with the establishment to deal perhaps the most devastating blows to the Sanders campaign, we must first examine why the media is effectively part of the establishment, and understand that they have personal interest invested in the concentration of wealth and power. To draw any conclusion, we must take a critical, historical look at the relationship between politics and media in America.

Media has been subject to political regulation since the invention of radio and especially with the rise of television. While there have been quite a few important developments that have changed the course of media, such as the Payola hearings of the late ‘50s, and the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984, the most profound change to media regulation happened during the Clinton administration.

Prior to the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, the FCC had a decent amount of regulatory authority over television.

The purpose of many important rules enforced by the FCC was to prevent monopolies in the greater telecommunications industry, such as limiting the number of radio stations a company could own, to allow for a more diverse, accessible industry.

Clinton’s bill originally proposed to create regulations on the internet, which at the time was becoming more expansive. While the bill did propose regulations on the internet, the bulk of it was actually committed to deregulation of the cable industry, greatly reducing the FEC’s reach.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the bill deregulated the FEC’s safeguards against monopolies in media. In the years since the act went into effect, many observers have cited an extreme increase in the concentration of media ownership. By allowing mergers of large telecommunication companies and reducing regulation on ownership potential, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 paved the way for a few major companies to dominate American media, effectively forming an oligopoly.

Twenty years after its passage, the devastating legacy of the act lives on as an important weapon of establishment politics.

Over the past few months, many Sanders supporters have cited the mainstream media’s bias towards Clinton as one of the main roadblocks in Sanders’ populist campaign. Accusations have gotten so severe, in fact, that Sanders supporters took to protesting the media’s biased treatment (specifically, lack of coverage) of Bernie.

All things considered, it isn’t hard to see why they have drawn this conclusion, and it is evident that the problem goes much deeper than just lack of coverage. Ever since Sanders’ insurgent campaign began to gain traction, establishment media has been prone to discrediting, misrepresenting or ignoring Bernie.

Some of their tactics are downright dirty. The New York Times allegedly edited articles to discredit Sanders’ legislative achievements. The Associated Press prematurely pronounced Clinton as the Democratic nominee (misleadingly factoring in superdelegates who won’t vote until July). There have been virtual backouts of Sanders from almost every national media outlet (in which support of Sanders is grossly underrepresented). And major news outlets have called for him to drop out.

Taking all of this into account, when Bernie supporters allege that mainstream media has been instrumental in taking down Sanders’ campaign, it’s a claim that is increasingly hard to deny.

The “why” of this phenomenon is part of a larger trend that is no stranger to American politics: corporate special interests’ sway on politicians.

As a result of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, there has been an increase in the concentration of media ownership. Time Warner owns or partially owns 11 television channels; NBC owns or partially owns 13; CBS owns or partially owns 12; and Disney owns or partially owns 11. Together, these behemoths concentrate media to such an extreme that most of the media Americans consume today is being controlled by a very select few corporations.

With this concentration comes immense political and economic power – power that is threatened by Sanders, an outspoken opponent of media monopolies.

Ralph Nader, a vocal critic of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, claimed it was an example of blatant corporate welfare, and that the Act was basically written by the telecommunications industry in exchange for political contributions.

Today, Sanders is beating the same drum. He realizes that media corporations have joined big oil and big pharma, playing into a cycle of corruption in which corporations contribute to politicians in order to curry favor for legislation that will make them more money, which they then use to bribe more politicians.

Hillary Clinton, at the opposite extreme, invites the same sort of criticism pertaining to her implicit support of corporate influence on the media as did her husband in the aftermath of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Hillary Clinton is receiving immense contributions from the very media industry that has been criticized for its monopolistic tactics. It is safe to assume that Clinton’s corporate funding from mass media is a result of Bernie Sanders’ stance on national media’s oligopoly.

The “free and open access to diverse sources of information” that Bernie yearns for contradicts the politically biased corporate tilt of today’s media.

This impenetrable industry, infected by mergers and acquisitions, has heard the progressives’ demand for fairness and integrity in the media, and reacted in the same way as do all industries whose profits have hurt Americans – by funneling funds toward Sanders’ Democratic rival.

This has been profitable for Clinton. Companies like Time Warner (which owns CNN) have donated generously to her campaign, and many of her top contributors come from within the television and cable industry (including Disney) and the printing/publishing industry. The cronyism within the mainstream media is glaring, and is yet another example of public interest being sacrificed for corporate profits.

National news outlets that are supposed to be fair and unbiased are instead being bought and monied by both the Democratic and Republican establishments.

While the race between Sanders and Clinton has been a convenient, obvious example of media bias caused by corporate interest, it is part of a larger trend in which major media outlets use their political leverage to maintain an unfair, biased, concentrated industry.

So how do we, as the American public, put up with monied media, if it is such a necessary evil? The answer is that we don’t.

If companies like CNN, CBS and NBC have proven themselves to be unreliable in providing fair and unbiased reporting, then we shouldn’t rely on them. In the progressive call to empower the middle and lower classes, the name of the game is self-sufficiency. If we as working class people are dedicated to distancing ourselves from the establishment that has exploited us for so long, we must first refrain from consuming media controlled by the establishment.

Our main obstacle in the way of an educated middle class is an industry that has used its oligarchic status to misinform the American public in order to achieve its own establishment agenda. The answer is to pursue independent, unbought journalism.

In the words of the Dead Kennedys lead singer and spoken word artist Jello Biafra, “Become the media.” Contributions to local, independent journalism provide more diverse options of media consumption, and wean our reliance on biased corporate media conglomerates.

Mainstream media is an arm of the establishment, and that arm is controlling a puppet that has entertained Americans for too long, one that has masqueraded as fair and diverse, when in reality every major media outlet has the same agenda to increase profits and maintain control.

As the working class, the biggest blow we can make to those that have exploited our need for media consumption is to create our own media. Unity is important, so contribute, support and donate to local independent media outlets. In doing so, we create a more educated and motivated people, and empower American citizens to take back our democracy from the oligarchy.

While the media may have dealt lethal blows to the Sanders campaign, it is up to us, as an educated working class, to ensure that our elections are not decided by media.

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About the Author

Evan Vann

Evan Vann is a student at Ouray High School in Ouray, Colorado. He holds interest in government, current events, and activism, and aspires to study political science in higher education.