Political pundits’ misinformation attacks on Sanders sabotage democracy
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is seen through a television camera eyepiece as he gives a speech on "Medicare for All, "July 17, 2019, at George Washington University in Washington. Sanders is currently the target of a major media and political pundit disinformation campaign. | Patrick Semansky / AP

It seems like just about every time I turn on a cable news show these days, particularly the supposedly progressive MSNBC, the loudest and most frequent voices are declaring that Bernie Sanders will be sure to lose to Donald Trump in this November’s presidential election, or that, at a minimum, he is the least likely candidate to defeat Donald Trump.

These voices comprise political pundits, media personalities, and even the Democratic establishment. And the voices are usually calling for an effort to stop Sanders’ nomination somehow.

Host of Morning Joe and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough, for example, called on Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren to drop out of the Democratic primary race “to help consolidate efforts against Bernie Sanders.” (Klobuchar, along with Buttigieg, has since done so.)

James Carville, strategist of the Clinton establishment wing of the Democratic Party, out and out claimed Sanders couldn’t possibly defeat Trump, ranting:

“If you want to vote for Bernie Sanders because you feel good about his program, you don’t like the banks on Wall Street or you don’t like pharmaceuticals, that’s legitimate, I understand that. If you’re voting for him because you think he’ll win the election, politically, you’re a fool. And that’s just a fact. It’s no denying it, there’s so much political science, so much research on this that it is not even a debatable question.”

Donny Deutsch, former big-shot advertising executive now turned political pundit, sounded a similar false alarm on a recent episode of Morning Joe:

“Joe, is anybody panicked beside me in that it does look like Sanders is rolling and 2/3 of the country thinks we’re going in the right direction and a guy who wants to burn it down? I don’t see him having any shot in a general election, and I’m panicked. I am absolutely panicked.”

And let’s not even get started on just-ousted Hardball host Chris Matthews’ comparison of Sanders’ Nevada primary victory to the Nazi occupation of France.

Full disclosure: I live in Illinois and am not sure for whom I’ll vote yet in the Democratic primary. But I do know I support the democratic process and will get behind whomever Democratic primary voters select as the candidate.

The problem with what these voices are saying—and doing—are multiple, though, including the fact that they are undermining democracy in the worst of ways.

First, these folks are spreading misinformation in Trump-like fashion, incomplete and bad-faith defiance of what available data tells us. A good number of the polls one can find listed on Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com portend Sanders beating Trump in the general election and doing better than many of the other Democratic candidates. Polling even shows Sanders capturing the African-American vote nationally ahead of Joe Biden, which pundits tend to see as key to winning in the 2020 general election.

Ignoring this available data suggests these voices are more interested in spinning reality to promote their own ideological predilections than in accurately reporting the predilections and tendencies of those voting in the Democratic primaries.

In short, their effective misinformation campaigns against Sanders’ bid for the Democratic nomination completely disregards the wishes of the American voter and hence rejects the processes of democracy.

Their use of the bully pulpit is absolutely anti-democratic in their denial of, their refusal to acknowledge and accept, the will of the electorate, the American people. Or even to acknowledge what the majority of polls currently register—that Sanders can quite plausibly beat Trump in the general election.

And some of the intellectual gymnastics these pundits go through are rather suspect, even outrageous, by any standard of logic or reason.

John Heilemann, for example, on a recent episode of Hardball, referred collectively to all the votes for other Democratic candidates as the “anti-Sanders” vote! Do we refer to all the votes for candidates other than Joe Biden as the “anti-Biden” vote? Such argument crosses over into the ridiculous and constitutes a serious case of bad faith intellectualism. Because someone votes for Elizabeth Warren or Pete Buttigieg doesn’t at all mean that that person is “anti-Sanders” and wouldn’t vote for Sanders in the general election.

On MSNBC’s Morning Joe last Thursday, for example, Republican strategist Steve Schmidt claimed Americans were more likely to vote for a “sociopath” like Donald Trump than a “socialist” like Bernie Sanders.

Again, this claim disregards the poll.

And should we trust a Republican like Schmidt, who brought Sarah Palin onto the American political scene in 2008 when he unsuccessfully managed John McCain’s presidential campaign, to express the interests of the Democratic Party? The same goes for Republican strategist Rick Wilson, who loves weighing in on the Democratic primary.

These voices diminish democracy as they call for organizing efforts against Sanders, against the trending choice of American voters.

In not honoring the vote, they are dishonoring democracy. They might as well join Trump in trashing democracy.


Tim Libretti
Tim Libretti

Tim Libretti teaches in the English Department at a public university in Chicago where he lives with his two sons.