Radio personality and CNN weekend host Michael Smerconish came under fire Saturday morning—along with the network—for "casually" portraying the surging prospects of Democratic presidential frontrunner Sen. Bernie Sanders as comparable to the threat of the infectious coronavirus which continues to spread in the United States and around the world.
Faiz Shakir, Sanders' campaign manager, said he just had "to laugh at their foolish panic," but others said it was just the latest example of a snide and potentially dangerous attack by a member of the corporate media's pundit class that remains antagonistic towards the Democratic primary's most progressive candidate.
— Jordan (@JordanChariton) February 29, 2020
The comments come as South Carolina voters head to the polls in the last of the fourth single-day early voting states and three days before Super Tuesday on March 3.
Author and activist Naomi Klein, who endorsed Sanders last year, said the remarks by Smerconish signal an incredibly dangerous manner of thinking:
Nice to wake up to discover that CNN is giving a platform to the idea that the left is a disease. That's never led to anything bad happening before. https://t.co/2LhmBEnOuC
— Naomi Klein (@NaomiAKlein) February 29, 2020
Later in his show, Smerconish interviewed Pressley Stutts, the chair of the Greenville Tea Party in South Carolina, who falsely claimed Sanders is a communist and then called his supporters "skulls full of mush." Notably, observers pointed out, the CNN host did not push back on either comment.
Guest calls Bernie a communist. @smerconish does not correct him.
Guest calls Bernie voters “skulls full of mush.”
— once again i am asking (@BernieWatchdog) February 29, 2020
With Sanders running as the first Jewish candidate with a very serious chance of becoming the Democratic nominee, Ruben Chandrasekar, executive director of the International Rescue Committee, agreed with others who warned that comparing Bernie's surging campaign to a disease has serious and worrisome anti-Semitic undertones.
"Smerconish comparing the spread of coronavirus to movement leading the Sanders campaign is tone deaf at best,' Chandrasekar tweeted from his personal account in response to the clip. He said journalist David Doel, who hosts the TRN Show on YouTube, was "right to point out to the historically racist tropes comparing Jews to viruses. CNN must apologize."
You can’t look at this chyron and think that the media is treating Sanders fairly. This is f-ing ridiculous. https://t.co/Zm8sAvrkzY
— David Doel (@daviddoel) February 29, 2020
Following Smerconish's comments, Doel posted a short video in response in which said the remarks were "crazy" and "absurd," and that even though he first laughed when he saw them, the implications of the segment are very serious.
"This is indefensible," argued Doel. "If this happened to any other candidate it would be a big deal, but the fact that it happened to the Jewish candidate in the race, makes it completely ridiculous, absurd, and stunning."