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Jacobin - January 22, 2020

"Why is this happening? The simple answer is that these quarters have belatedly realized Sanders has a real shot at winning, and the anti-Sanders attack machine is now revving up into overdrive to stop him. From December onward, itstartedwithbogus antisemitism accusations, dipped back into the well ofmisogyny accusations, and nowthe new line— for the moment, at least — is that Sanders is a Trump-like demagogue.Here’sformer Republican aide and Breitbart spokesperson andsometime contributorKurt Bardella — fresh off his own conveniently timedrebrandingas a woke Democrat —solemnly warningthat Trump’s and Sanders’s supporters share the same aggressive intolerance. Just yesterday, Hillary Clintonamplified these voicesfor theumpteenth time."

When we look back at this year’s election, the biggest question might well be: Was it deliberate dishonesty, or just incompetence and unconscious bias that explains the media’s treatment of Bernie Sanders’s candidacy?

Let’s review what happened just this last week. First Politico succeeded in drumming up outrage over an anodyne Sanders campaign script that instructed volunteers to tell people they “like Elizabeth Warren” and consider her their “second choice,” but that they had concerns about her more affluent, well-educated voter base, a base that was originally described in another Politico report. This was roundly condemned as a vicious attack by the Sanders camp.

Next, in one of the most finely orchestrated bits of political theater in recent memory, CNN first reported Warren’s allegation that Sanders had told her in 2018 a woman couldn’t win the presidency against Trump, a contested claim her own campaign doesn’t seem to be sure about. Then, during the following night’s debate, a CNN moderator flatly treated Warren’s version of events as fact, all but called Sanders a liar on national TV when he denied it, and teed Warren up for a pre-prepared and factually dubious speech about the candidates’ electoral histories. At a time of extraordinary political division, the incident was notable for uniting everyone from the National Review to NPR to Morning Joe to Hill.TV’s Rising in condemnation of the lack of professionalism involved.

As footage circulated of a post-debate altercation between Warren and Sanders, the surrounding discourse only became more unhinged. The LA Times published a piece attacking Sanders’s rejected outstretched hand as a master class in handling sexism, accusing Sanders of “gaslighting” Warren. Sanders’s liberal enemies began weaponizing the language of sexual assault, insisting that Warren — a politician with a history of incorrect claims about her own past and currently trying to win an election — should be “believed” as we would an assault survivor. Even Bush-era apparatchiks could now leverage their newfound feminist bona fides to join in the pile-on: Matthew Dowd — who once helped run a campaign for a guy accused by several women of sexual harassment — seemed to suggest that the only way Sanders could now prove he wasn’t sexist was to simply step aside and let Warren win the nomination.

Meanwhile, MSNBC’s Joy Reid brought on a “body language expert” who moonlights as an anti-vaccine conspiracist to tell us how Sanders’s hand gestures and posture proved he was definitely lying about the Warren allegation. At this rate, it won’t be long before Brian Williams invites a psychic to tell viewers that Sanders’s parents actually oppose Medicare for All from beyond the grave.

But somehow none of this even qualifies as the low point of the week — a week that has seen a series of newspaper pundits and other interested parties condemn Sanders and his campaign for the crime of criticizing Biden for his very real history of trying to cut entitlements like Social Security.

As with every media-manufactured controversy, this one requires a prohibitively large amount of context. As my colleague Meagan Day has documented, Sanders speechwriter David Sirota has lately been leading the criticism of Biden’s long, well-documented record of trying to cut entitlements like Social Security, a fact that was, mystifyingly, not once broached by anyone during the final debate before voting. Though Sirota listed several examples of Biden’s position on the issue, the offending passage concerned a 2018 speech Biden delivered at the Brookings Institution as he laid the groundwork for his presidential run. According to Sirota, “Biden lauded Paul Ryan for proposing cuts to Social Security and Medicare” in the speech.

Because political journalists dislike the combative Sirota; because the establishment media harbors a deep, sometimesabsurd emotional ambivalence regarding Sanders’s campaign; and because they suffer from what Politico’s editor in chief has described as “centrist bias,” the fact-checking brigade immediately rushed to rubbish this claim. In keeping with how things have gone this election — where professional “fact-checkers” have started declaring that even admittedly factual statements are untrue simply because they personally disagree with the point being made — Politifact deemed Sirota’s statement “false.” The Sanders campaign, they charged, had omitted the wider context of what Biden was saying and — here they parroted the Biden campaign’s claim that he had actually been “mocking” Ryan in the speech — missed the fact that he was actually being sarcastic.

With Politifact’s imprimatur on the claim that Sirota’s criticism was not a Genuine Fact, the floodgates opened. Biden claimed the Sanders camp was spreading around a “doctored video” that purported to show him “wanting to privatize Social Security,” before claiming “they doctored the photo, they doctored the piece and it’s acknowledged that it’s a fake.” To say none of these statements are true is an understatement; Biden seemed to be talking about something that happened in a completely different reality.

Figures like Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler and (in a now deleted tweet) Obama’s former Russia ambassador Michael McFaul shared the Politifact story. Marc Goldwein of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget — one of those Washington deficit-scold organizations that has long advocated for cuts to Social Security and other critical programs — referred to a “dishonest splice of a video clip where Biden said something in sarcasm.”

But perhaps no one leaned into this crusade harder than award-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. Though Krugman has an admirable history of criticizing Biden and Obama’s attempts to cut Social Security, he also has a tendency during election campaigns to modulate his positions to align with whichever ones his favored candidate — or, in Sanders’s case, his disfavored candidate — adopts. ...
Read full report at Jacobin