It’s an epic troll from the Bernie Sanders campaign, but it’s also a bit of theater as they begin to develop some polling strength in the Democratic primary. Team Bernie has stopped making much of a pretense about their feud with the most openly progressive major-media cable channel in the US, a feud based on what they claim is a coordinated campaign by the establishment to slow their path to the nomination. Vanity Fair offers a profile of the victimization felt by the Sanders campaign, and it’s not just Chris Matthews who’s stoking their ire, either:
The anti-Bernie highlight reel grew in recent weeks, with some moments verging on parody. Joy Reid hosted a body-language expert who said Sanders’s posture revealed that he was “lying” about a recent dispute with Elizabeth Warren. Chris Matthews’s appearances, meanwhile, have become appointment viewing for his anguished warnings about Sanders. On the day of the Iowa caucuses, a glum Matthews invoked the ghost of George McGovern in forecasting a wipeout for Sanders in the general election. “Bernie Sanders is not going to be president of the United States, okay?” Matthews declared. Following the most recent debate in New Hampshire, Matthews breathlessly offered another history lesson. “I have my own views of the word socialist and I’d be glad to share them…They go back to the early 1950s. I have an attitude about them. I remember the Cold War,” Matthews said. “I have an attitude towards [Fidel] Castro. I believe if Castro and the Reds had won the Cold War there would have been executions in Central Park and I might have been one of the ones getting executed. And certain other people would be there cheering, okay?”While Matthews’s rant was mostly met with mockery, there was anger last week when Chuck Todd quoted a story from a conservative publication on-air that described Sanders supporters as a “digital brown-shirt brigade,” prompting a condemnation from the Anti-Defamation League. (Todd will be one of five moderators at Wednesday’s debate.) And despite his newly minted status as the party’s national front-runner, Sanders has continued to face skepticism about his viability. The real story out of New Hampshire, Lawrence O’Donnell said, was “how much ground [Sanders has] lost from four years ago,” when he won the state’s primary in a decidedly smaller field than this year. “I don’t understand how Bernie is considered a front-runner,” Todd said after Sanders’s primary win.
Sanders supporters’ frustration spilled out on-air last week when a New Hampshire voter told host Ari Melber that she backed the Vermont senator in response to the “Stop-Bernie cynicism” on MSNBC, a clip the network later tweeted out to its nearly 3 million followers. “I watch MSNBC constantly, so I heard that from a number of commentators, and it made me angry enough, so I said, ‘Okay, Bernie’s got my vote,’” she told Melber.
— TheBeat w/Ari Melber (@TheBeatWithAri) February 11, 2020
Team Bernie campaign manager Faiz Shakir has had enough, going public to vent his frustration with the channel some on his campaign are calling MSDNC. Why, the establishmentarianism of the NBC affiliate channel is so bad that even Fox News gives them a fairer shake, Shakir claims. Or at least a more honest one:
Shakir credited CNN for making “efforts to try and diversify their voices,” citing the network’s hire of Alexandra Rojas, the executive director of the progressive organization Justice Democrats and a veteran of the 2016 Sanders campaign. Even Fox News has been “more fair than MSNBC,” according to Shakir. “That’s saying something,” he said. “Fox is often yelling about Bernie Sanders’s socialism, but they’re still giving our campaign the opportunity to make our case in a fair manner, unlike MSNBC, which has credibility with the left and is constantly undermining the Bernie Sanders campaign.”
I’m fairly confident that Fox News won’t be changing its motto to Fair to Socialists! any time soon. Fair and balanced works well enough, thank you very much. At any rate (and whether you believe it or not), they work as a foil to MSNBC just as much as MSNBC does for Fox. Shakir’s praise of Fox will sting a lot more at MSNBC than his praise of CNN will.
So why is this theater? Because Team Sanders continues to engage MSNBC. They just want the network to engage on their terms:
Still, Sanders has made his own case several times on MSNBC, sitting down with Rachel Maddow earlier in the race and appearing last week on Chris Hayes’s show. His campaign surrogates get airtime too. On the night before the Iowa caucuses, Sanders campaign cochair Nina Turner accused Michael Bloomberg of being an oligarch trying to buy his way into the election. Johnson, the MSNBC contributor, disputed Turner’s characterization as “dismissive” and “unfair.”
Vanity Fair also links back to a mid-summer piece at The Daily Beast, noting that these complaints aren’t really new, and apparently not serious enough to cut off MSNBC and stick with Fox News. The network has shrugged off these complaints as a campaign just “working the refs,” so to speak. However, The Daily Beast also said that perhaps Sanders should consider going in that direction:
A spokesperson for MSNBC seemed to dismiss the campaign’s claims, without mentioning Sanders by name. “A presidential campaign complaining about tough questions and commentary speaks for itself,” the spokesperson said. “Our anchors and analysts are doing their jobs: discussing day-to-day developments that have an impact on the race.” …
For all the campaign’s gripes with the left-leaning news network, there’s early indication that his message is going over better with an ideologically opposite cable news network. A recent Morning Consult poll found that Fox News viewers are more likely to support Sanders than those who prefer to watch MSNBC. According to the survey, 22 percent of Fox News viewers who identified as possible Democratic primary voters said they would back Sanders, as opposed to 13 percent of MSNBC viewers. That statistic was bolstered further by Sanders’ ratings during his own town hall appearance on Fox News, where more than 2.5 million viewers tuned in to hear Sanders make his case, according to Nielsen data.
So Team Bernie’s throwing a brushback pitch here, a warning not to get too hostile when Sanders is picking up momentum. Thanks to the DNC’s efforts to tilt the playing field in 2016, Sanders supporters are already suspicious-bordering-on-paranoid of anything hinting at unfair treatment. They are leveraging their outrage in this case to demand that MSNBC consider just how small their niche will be if the hard-progressive Left abandons them. Not that there’s much chance of that, though; it’s as rational a threat as MAGA Nation walking away from Fox News on the occasions where the network criticizes Trump. Both camps have nowhere else to go, especially not to their ideological opposites.