No socialism, please! CNN gives AOC the corporate media treatment

The August 9 hour-long CNN program Being… AOC about Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a case study in how corporate media covers—or, rather, covers up—socialism. The reddest or pinkest thing about this debut of CNN’s new Being… series were AOC’s lips. More time was spent bantering about the 31-year-old’s lipstick, fashion sense, and being a magazine cover girl than her left-wing politics.

CNN’s Dana Bash was positively bashful about asking America’s most famous living female socialist about her ideology. The only time socialism per se was actually alluded to at all was in a clip from a Fox News show that referred to the leftist congress member as a “socialist” in a chyron. And when AOC and Bash trod down a Bronx street, an older white male passerby booed Ocasio-Cortez, denouncing her as a “communist.”

Bash discussed “femininity” but not feminism per se with AOC plus the U.S. Representative’s electoral/political aspirations, but little, if anything substantive and specific about her politics and policy, such as the Green New Deal. The conceit of Being seems to be to present the “personal,” more private side of notables impacting the social discourse. According to a CNN online promotion for the program: “Throughout the series, Bash spends time with individuals affecting American policy, politics, and culture to give viewers an understanding of the human being behind the public face.”

Really? In fact, in the premiere program, Bash spent lots of time talking about the photogenic AOC’s pretty face but somehow never managed to ask the former waitress/bartender how did she become a socialist? What does socialism mean to her? When and why did she join the Democratic Socialists of America? What role did DSA play in her campaign and also in her congressional work? Inquiring minds want to know—but not, apparently, Dana Bash’s.

Every activist who self-identifies in capitalist America as a “socialist” knows that socialism is in the fiber and at the core of their very being. Their commitments to egalitarianism, human rights, anti-imperialism, the cause of the working class, et al, animates them; it’s what makes these organizers participate in politics, from the streets to picket lines to the halls of Congress. The lofty ideals of socialism—of being for the rights of the many against the privileges of the few—is what makes them tick. But you wouldn’t know this from what passes for Bash’s “reporting.”

To be fair, AOC rose above Bash’s arguably non-substantive line of questioning to nevertheless reveal herself to be intelligent, committed, compassionate, and charismatic. But the whitewashing of the reputedly “pinko” Ocasio-Cortez by the capitalist media is nothing new. As I noted in my review of the 2019 documentary Knock Down the House:

Knock ignores important points, which presumably reflect the filmmakers’ own mindsets and prejudices. Their doc only briefly mentions the Democratic Socialists of America in passing and…never mentions that AOC is a card-carrying dues-paying member of this left-wing organization. [Director Rachel] Lears almost totally ignores whatever role the DSA, arguably the largest self-avowed socialist organization in the USA today, may or may not have played in AOC’s campaign and underdog victory…

“Furthermore, it is also probably intentional that Lears never examines what ‘socialism’ means to AOC. Her bold Green New Deal plan, like the Medicare-for-All proposal of that other self-avowed socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders—two of America’s most important policy prescriptions—seem to spring from socialistic principles. What distinguishes AOC and her other newly minted House comrade, Rashida Tlaib, is that they belong to a socialist organization. This more than anything else is what sets them apart from the hundreds of other members of the House of Reps. Yet Lears completely overlooks what is perhaps the most salient, uniquely distinguishing feature of AOC and her firebrand brand of left-leaning politics.”

In a sense, Fox News—which relentlessly attacks AOC for being a socialist—is actually far more honest in addressing her radical politics than Bash was. Being notes and somewhat sexualizes Fox’s obsession with the young Puerto Rican woman, spewing despicable agitprop that demonizes her and other members of the “Squad” of congressional progressives. But this only reflects how effective AOC—who is perceived as threatening to redistribute the wealth of billionaires like Rupert Murdoch—is.

During China’s guerrilla war against Japanese fascism in 1939, Chairman Mao shrewdly noted: “To Be Attacked by the Enemy Is Not a Bad Thing but a Good Thing… It is good if we are attacked by the enemy since it proves that we have drawn a clear line of demarcation between the enemy and ourselves. It is still better if the enemy attacks us wildly and paints us as utterly black and without a single virtue; it demonstrates that we have not only drawn a clear line of demarcation between the enemy and ourselves but achieved a great deal in our work.”

Fox’s endless outrage machine now also aims at Missouri’s African-American Congressmember Cori Bush, whose “thought crime” has been to delay the possible eviction of millions of Americans during a pandemic via an attention-grabbing “sleep in” on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, the most successful “bed in” since John and Yoko opposed the Vietnam War.

Who is responsible for CNN’s sidestepping of AOC’s socialism for an entire 60-minute-long (minus those incessant commercials hawking consumerism) program? As a journalist and interviewer, I think that the questions asked are generally the responsibility of the reporter, who, along with his/her outlet, generally retain control of the story through the editing process.

But did Ocasio-Cortez and her office have any input into the subjects to be covered in Being? Were there any agreements made between AOC’s camp, Bash and CNN? How complicit is AOC in how bowdlerized the program turned out, stripped of leftist politics? Does she also make herself available to the left press for interviews? Was socialism and the DSA actually discussed in Being, then cut out of the program as aired? I asked CNN’s Senior Manager of Communications and AOC’s press secretary about this via email but predictably, as of this writing, I have not received responses.

In the American marketplace of ideas, socialism remains The Big Scary “S” Word, as director Yael Bridge wittily puts it in the title of her excellent documentary on the topic. More than any other single factor, what makes AOC stand out from the congressional crowd isn’t her lovely smile, pretty face, choice of wardrobe, or other accouterments of being the youngest woman ever elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. What makes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez so unique is that in capitalist America, she is a self-proclaimed socialist and member of a socialist organization.

Somehow, consciously or unconsciously, in an entire hour-long interview that could have been entitled (with sincere apologies to Jean-Paul Sartre) Being and Nothingness, An Essay on Phenomenological Obscurity, Dana Bash and CNN managed to miss and obscure this simple fact obvious to any politically aware person.

Their watered down, celebrity-driven version of AOC that stressed surface over substance, appearance over essence, contrived to present the “ist”—but not the “ism.” As such, CNN is perpetrating and perpetuating Red Scare, Cold War anxieties over socialism, the alternative to the capitalist system that the corporate media is part of.

In trivializing and airbrushing AOC, the bourgeois press completely misunderstood “the human being behind the public face,” as new socialists such as India Walton take the stage. When asked if she’s a socialist, Buffalo’s mayor-to-be proclaimed: “Oh, absolutely! The entire intent of this campaign is to draw down power and resources to the ground level into the hands of the people.” But don’t tell Bash, CNN, and the rest of the mainstream media.

L.A.-based film/TV historian/critic Ed Rampell grew up in Queens, N.Y., just south of the congressional district AOC represents and is co-author of The Hawaii Movie and Television Book.


Ed Rampell
Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell is an LA-based film historian and critic, author of "Progressive Hollywood: A People’s Film History of the United States," and co-author of "The Hawaii Movie and Television Book." He has written for Variety, Television Quarterly, Cineaste, New Times L.A., and other publications. Rampell lived in Tahiti, Samoa, Hawaii, and Micronesia, reporting on the nuclear-free and independent Pacific and Hawaiian Sovereignty movements.