Bernie Sanders is a soft-spoken former small-town mayor-turned-socialist agitator who’s been drawing big crowds — but that hasn’t equaled big coverage. The 73-year-old Vermont senator has been the surprise of the presidential campaign so far, attracting supporters by the thousands who are gravitating to his populist, anti-Wall-Street message.
“I think he’s being taken very seriously right now … people are talking about him and I think he has a lot of serious things to say that should be paid attention to,” Christopher Hahn, radio host and former aide to New York Senator Chuck Schumer told TheWrap.
But media attention on Sanders has been minuscule compared with that of Hillary Clinton — who’s been a fixture on the cable and broadcast networks since President Obama took his second oath of office — and Donald Trump, whose bombast makes him irresistible to news producers.
So why is a two-term Senator, former Congressman and Mayor who’s drawing the biggest crowds taking a backseat to Hillary and the Donald?
“The difference between Barack Obama in ’07 and Bernie Sanders in ’15 is that somehow the establishment knew Obama was safe and he wasn’t going to bring real change to politics or the media, whereas they have a legitimate fear that Sanders means what he says and he would overturn their apple cart,” former MSNBC anchor and longtime host of popular progressive commentary show “The Young Turks” Cenk Uygur told TheWrap.
Uygur has been vocal about networks like MSNBC censoring their anchors’ harsher criticisms of the political establishment for fear of the negative financial consequences, insisting that the media isn’t interested in real change.
“Remember, the only people who make more money from the establishment than politicians is the mainstream media who cover them … This system made them rich — they don’t ever want to change it.”
That preservation of the status quo has served to extend the populist anger previously directed at politicians to the media as well, according to veteran journalist and University of Maryland professor Mark Feldstein.
“The fact is, mainstream media in this country is corporate owned and corporate run,” Feldstein told TheWrap, noting that the media complex might not find extensive coverage of Sanders to its benefit.
“There’s a lot of populist anger out there at what’s going on in Wall Street,” Feldstein continued, “and these media corporations are really not that much different in many respects to other corporations in terms of the huge executive salaries, and pay disparity between workers and owners and managers, and the placement of stockholder interest above everything else.”
Social media seems to agree that Sanders is getting the cold shoulder from the mainstream media.
- Steffen Eide (@steffeide) July 13, 2015
Sanders himself has taken aim at the media while appearing on it, having told CNN’s Jake Tapper that the press is portraying politics as a “soap opera or a baseball game” rather than focusing on the real issues. But while Sanders opposes the sound-bite culture that consumes TV newsrooms, he might eventually succumb to it.
“Sanders learned this weekend that the way to get on the news is to talk about Trump,” Al Tompkins, senior faculty for broadcast and online at Poynter Institute told TheWrap, referring to Sanders characterization of Trump’s comments on Mexican immigrants as an outrage.
With Sanders 40 points behind Hillary Clinton in the latest Huffington Post presidential poll, the media has an easy answer for why it’s not covering him beyond a segment here and there.
But if the gap shrinks and Sanders surges on the back of big crowds and big debate moments, producers will be faced with a compelling conundrum: lead with the firebrand or keep stoking the same usual suspects. Either way, the media may risk getting burned.