Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Dear Common Dreams Readers:
Corporations and billionaires have their own media. Shouldn't we? When you “follow the money” that funds our independent journalism, it all leads back to this: people like you. Our supporters are what allows us to produce journalism in the public interest that is beholden only to people, our planet, and the common good. Please support our Mid-Year Campaign so that we always have a newsroom for the people that is funded by the people. Thank you for your support. --Jon Queally, managing editor

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) talks to journalists after speaking at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox during the Iowa State Fair August 11, 2019 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) talks to journalists after speaking at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox during the Iowa State Fair August 11, 2019 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Why Bernie Sanders Is Absolutely Correct About the Washington Post—and Corporate Media Overall

The fact that cable news pundits, anchors, and reporters rushed to vehemently defend corporate media against Sanders' comments is illustrative of the dynamic. It makes you wonder where career self-interest ends and sincere delusion begins.

Norman Solomon

Many decades ago, the great media critic George Seldes observed: "The most sacred cow of the press is the press itself." That remains true today.

Bernie Sanders set off the latest round of outraged denial from elite media this week when he talked to a crowd in New Hampshire about the tax avoidance of Amazon (which did not pay any federal income tax last year). Sanders went on to say: "I wonder why the Washington Post—which is owned by Jeff Bezos, who owns Amazon—doesn't write particularly good articles about me. I don't know why. But I guess maybe there's a connection."

Sanders has fought explicitly and effectively to raise the wages of Amazon workers as well as millions of others. Yet the mass-media pretense is that the financial interests of the Post's owner have no effect on the newspaper's coverage of Sanders.

Corporate denial is the name of that media game. Usually, expressed denials aren't necessary. But there's nothing usual about Bernie Sanders, who's been willing to call out the biases and blind spots of corporate media since he entered politics.

"All Baron or Sullivan would need to do to disprove their own current claims would be to write a bunch of pieces denouncing the man who owns the Post—and then see what happens due to their breach of required self-censorship."

For his latest transgression, Sanders earned purportedly authoritative pushback from the likes of the Post's top editor, its media columnist and others with high media visibility. "Contrary to the conspiracy theory the senator seems to favor," Post executive editor Martin Baron declared, "Jeff Bezos allows our newsroom to operate with full independence, as our reporters and editors can attest."

The Post's media columnist Margaret Sullivan quickly chimed in with a harmonizing tweet on Tuesday, defending her editor boss along with the owner of the paper: "I've never seen or heard a hint of @jeffbezos interfering in @washingtonpost coverage."

CNN's Chris Cillizza, citing his work at the newspaper for a decade, indignantly wrote: "For the last three of my years at the Post, Bezos owned the company. Not once in all of that time—and I wrote multiple pieces a day about politics and politicians (including Sanders and Trump) over that time—was there ever even a whiff of Bezos' influence in the newsroom."

As George Seldes commented long ago, "The most stupid boast in the history of present-day journalism is that of the writer who says, 'I have never been given orders; I am free to do as I like.'" Seldes noted that reporters routinely "know from contact with the great minds of the press lords or from the simple deduction that the bosses are in big business and the news must be slanted accordingly, or from the general intangible atmosphere which prevails everywhere, what they can do and what they must never do."

All Baron or Sullivan would need to do to disprove their own current claims would be to write a bunch of pieces denouncing the man who owns the Post—and then see what happens due to their breach of required self-censorship.

On television, a CNN anchor joined with a USA Today columnist to claim that Sanders's criticism of the Post's coverage was free of evidence. The fact that corporate-media employees are vehemently defending corporate media is illustrative of the dynamic. It makes you wonder where career self-interest ends and sincere delusion begins.

Baron, Sullivan, Cillizza and countless other employees of corporate media are well-paid while publicly maintaining their denial in the service of corporate power. So, with the virtues of the Washington Post on parade, Emperor Bezos must be decked out in the journalistic finery of his new clothes, even when the self-interest and implications of billionaire leverage over media are stark naked.

"Circus dogs jump when the trainer cracks his whip, but the really well-trained dog is the one that turns his somersault when there is no whip." —George OrwellWhat Bernie Sanders is pointing out is not—and he never said it was—a "conspiracy." The problems are much deeper and more pernicious, having to do with the financial structures of media institutions that enable profit-driven magnates and enormous corporations to dominate the flow of news and commentary.

The Post's Baron is ill-positioned to defend his newspaper against charges of anti-Sanders bias. Such bias has been profuse, and it began well before a pivotal moment in the 2016 campaign on the eve of the high-stakes Michigan primary in early March. Then, as FAIR analyst Adam Johnson showed, "the Washington Post ran 16 negative stories on Bernie Sanders in 16 hours."

This year, the Post has strained to throw negative light on Sanders' campaign, whether focusing on Wall Street or Venezuela. Nor is the Post far afield from other powerful media outlets. For instance, the New York Times reportage has taken Sanders to task for alleged sins such as desiring to exercise control over his own campaign and failing to please Democratic critics who are actually corporate lobbyists but not identified as such.

Nor is the AT&T-owned CNN far afield from the baseline of cable news giants that supposedly provide a liberal alternative to the odious Fox News. Coverage from MSNBC—owned by Comcast, "the world's largest entertainment company"—has provoked one assessment after another after another documenting the network's anti-Bernie bias.

"Journalists who have staked their careers on remaining in the good graces of corporate employers are certainly inclined to say in public that billionaire owners and huge corporations don't constrain their journalistic work. And in their minds, they might be telling the truth."

"The corporate-owned and corporate-advertiser-funded media of this country are the biggest barriers between Bernie Sanders and the Oval Office," I wrote five months ago. "Often functioning as propaganda outlets, the major news media serve as an amplification system for corporate power that has long shielded the Democratic Party from the combined 'threats' of social movements and progressive populist candidates." (I continue to actively support Sanders.)

Journalists who have staked their careers on remaining in the good graces of corporate employers are certainly inclined to say in public that billionaire owners and huge corporations don't constrain their journalistic work. And in their minds, they might be telling the truth. As George Orwell wrote, "Circus dogs jump when the trainer cracks his whip, but the really well-trained dog is the one that turns his somersault when there is no whip."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

"I'm sure this will be all over the corporate media, right?"
That’s what one longtime Common Dreams reader said yesterday after the newsroom reported on new research showing how corporate price gouging surged to a nearly 70-year high in 2021. While major broadcasters, newspapers, and other outlets continue to carry water for their corporate advertisers when they report on issues like inflation, economic inequality, and the climate emergency, our independence empowers us to provide you stories and perspectives that powerful interests don’t want you to have. But this independence is only possible because of support from readers like you. You make the difference. If our support dries up, so will we. Our crucial Mid-Year Campaign is now underway and we are in emergency mode to make sure we raise the necessary funds so that every day we can bring you the stories that corporate, for-profit outlets ignore and neglect. Please, if you can, support Common Dreams today.

 

Abortion Rights Defenders Applaud Judge's Block on Utah 'Trigger Ban'

"Today is a win, but it is only the first step in what will undoubtedly be a long and difficult fight," said one pro-choice advocate.

Brett Wilkins ·


Scores Feared Dead and Wounded as Russian Missiles Hit Ukraine Shopping Center

"People just burned alive," said Ukraine's interior minister, while the head of the Poltava region stated that "it is too early to talk about the final number of the killed."

Brett Wilkins ·


Biodiversity Risks Could Persist for Decades After Global Temperature Peak

One study co-author said the findings "should act as a wake-up call that delaying emissions cuts will mean a temperature overshoot that comes at an astronomical cost to nature and humans that unproven negative emission technologies cannot simply reverse."

Jessica Corbett ·


Amnesty Report Demands Biden Take Action to End Death Penalty

"The world is waiting for the USA to do what almost 100 countries have achieved during this past half-century—total abolition of the death penalty," said the group.

Julia Conley ·


Pointing to 'Recently Obtained Evidence,' Jan. 6 Panel Calls Surprise Tuesday Hearing

The announcement came less than a week after the House panel delayed new hearings until next month, citing a "deluge" of fresh evidence.

Common Dreams staff ·

Common Dreams Logo