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'The Healthcare Industry Will Be Advertising Tonight': Sanders Calls Out CNN for Airing Pharma Commercials During 2020 Debate

"If Medicare for All was on trial, the entire corporate media would have to recuse itself for a y-u-g-e conflict of interest."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) gestures during the first round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 30, 2019. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

It was "like clockwork."

In the middle of a heated back-and-forth on Medicare for All at the beginning of Tuesday night's Democratic presidential debate in Detroit, Sen. Bernie Sanders called out CNN for airing anti-single payer ads from the pharmaceutical and insurance industries during commercial breaks.

"By the way, the healthcare industry will be advertising tonight on this program," Sanders said after accusing CNN moderator Jake Tapper of deploying "a Republican talking point" against Medicare for All. "They will be advertising tonight with that talking point."

Sure enough, during the debate's commercial breaks, ads by pharmaceutical giants and industry-backed organizations dominated the airwaves, further vindicating Sanders and other progressives who have raised alarm at the role corporate advertising plays in America's media coverage.

As Variety reported last week, CNN—which is owned by AT&T—required "a commitment of $300,000 in advertising on the network before a potential sponsor can purchase commercials within the two debate telecasts."

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The American Prospect's David Dayen noted that, in addition to ads from the pharmaceutical lobby, the debate's breaks also featured commercials from "the anti-single payer group Partnership for America's Health Care Future (PAHCF), funded by hospitals and drug companies, and an Alzheimer's disease patient advocacy group that takes major funding from drug companies."

"The unfiltered 90 seconds of three of these commercials in succession comprised more screen time than anything in the debate about money in politics," Dayen wrote. "The country cannot afford to have CNN creating the proscenium through which America gets informed."

Pointing to the PAHCF commercial—which is part of a six-figure ad campaign against Medicare for All—Warren Gunnels, Sanders's staff director, tweeted, "If Medicare for All was on trial, the entire corporate media would have to recuse itself for a y-u-g-e conflict of interest."

Sanders's CNN call-out came at the tail end of the debate's healthcare segment, which was largely driven by a question that progressives said disingenuously framed Medicare for All as a tax increase on the middle class, rather than a cost-saving overhaul of the nation's broken healthcare system.

"Jake, your question is a Republican talking point," Sanders told CNN's Tapper.

The debate moderators were not the only ones accused of parroting right-wing attacks against Medicare for All Tuesday night.

After former Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) called Medicare for All "bad policy" and suggested it would take healthcare away from millions of Americans—a line that was echoed by other right-wing Democratic candidates on the debate stage—Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) hit back.

"We are not about trying to take away healthcare from anyone. That's what the Republicans are trying to do," said Warren, a co-sponsor of Sanders's Medicare for All bill in the Senate. "And we should stop using Republican talking points in order to talk with each other about how to best provide that healthcare."

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