CNN’s Dem debate debacle reveals why you cannot depend on corporate news media

Why do the nation’s top, supposedly neutral and objective newsmen responsible for gatekeeping political discourse in the U.S. often sound indistinguishable from right-wing conservative politicians funded by, and arguing on behalf of, industries and lobbies like Big Pharma?

you ask Bernie Sanders, it is most likely because corporate media and corporate politicians in the U.S. are funded by many of the same industries and corporations, including the health insurance companies with a stranglehold on some 50 million Americans struggling or simply unable to afford health insurance each year.

Responding to one of countless right-wing-talking-point-based questions asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper during last night’s debate, regarding whether taxes would be raised for middle-class Americans if his Medicare-for-All plan was implemented, Sanders replied, “Jake, your question is a Republican talking point. And, by the way, the health care industry will be advertising tonight on this program […] with that talking point.”

And Sanders was correct. Moments later, an entire ninety-second commercial break consisted only of pharmaceutical industry advertisements. Sanders’ plan, very obviously, as he and his campaign team have articulated countless times throughout the past several months and years, would not raise costs on middle-class Americans, because it would drastically cut the amounts they must pay in insurance premiums, deductibles and copays. But Tapper knows this, and he has known this for a long time. And if he doesn’t, perhaps he doesn’t deserve to be paid over $100,000 each day to act as the country’s top newsman. Furthermore, Medicare-for-All is aimed at ensuring everyone in America would have health insurance, as opposed to some 50,000 Americans dying each year, unable to pay for the healthcare they deserve and need to survive. But Tapper, undoubtedly, knows this as well. His questions are not reflective of his knowledge, but rather of his socioeconomic class, his corporate donors and his lack of courage.

So, perhaps the real question is, why do we expect entertainment industry news corporations, with the same donors as right-wing conservative politicians across the country, and their multi-millionaire news personalities to give us the straight dope when it comes to mainstream, fundamental political discourse?

The reality of modern American politics and news media is, quite simply, that corporate, establishment news sources seem to be incapable of framing any situations or discussions as objectively as they tend to receive credit for. However, even when such sources do not receive credit for being objective or neutral, many Americans continue making the mistake of lambasting the mainstream media (as they should do) as “the liberal media.” While corporate media can be correctly criticized in countless ways and from various different angles, this, generally, is not one of the most accurate. And last night’s debate proved as much.

Even when outlets like CNN or MSNBC come off as being genuinely progressive to the untrained eye, each instance can essentially be contributed to a rare, coincidental sharing of interests by their corporate donors and everyday American citizens. A primary example is on social issues, which right-wingers almost always bring up when making such a point.

On nearly every other issue, every mainstream media outlet in the country, including the supposedly liberal MSNBC, is firmly and reliably corporatist, which almost always means conservative. If you have any serious skepticism regarding this claim, perhaps you should look into the firings of Phil Donahue, Kristal Ball, Dylan Ratigan, Melissa Harris-Perry, Keith Olberman, Ed Schultz, Jesse Ventura and various others dismissed by the network, despite outstanding ratings, for being too objective in their reporting. Or don’t. Simply pay close attention to and evaluate the networks’ election coverage in coming months, and decide for yourself for whom they seem to be standing up, to whom they seem to be giving a voice.

Corporate print outlets in America are largely no exception. The New York Times and the Washington Post have helped propagandize Americans into each of our endless wars based on false pretenses in recent decades, uncritically printing outright lies pushed by the Military Industrial Complex on their front page, above the fold, every time. And they will continue doing so, standing in lockstep alongside corporate broadcast media, conservative right-wingers and their shared donors, so long as their sources of funding remain the same.

If anyone came away from last night’s debate learning any semblance of a valuable lesson about the current state of American politics, that lesson ought to be regarding the myths of mainstream media and corporate “electability.”

Later on in the debate, despite already being called out once, Tapper again decided to ask Sanders a blatantly right-wing, conservatively framed question, comparing Sanders to Trump and essentially implying the two are virtually indistinguishable in terms of their foreign policies.

“Senator Sanders, President Trump has argued the U.S. cannot continue to be the ‘policeman of the world.’ You said the exact same thing on the debate stage in 2016. If voters are hearing the same message from you and President Trump on the issue of military intervention, how should they expect you will be any different than him?” Tapper asked.

“Trump is a pathological liar. I tell the truth,” Sanders sharply replied.

This question is entirely absurd, even if one seriously takes Tapper at face value, that he genuinely believes Americans cannot tell the difference between Sanders, who has been building a progressive grassroots movement with practically unchanged populist messaging for several decades, even when doing so was against his own interest, and Trump, who tells ten lies before he gets out of bed to eat breakfast each morning. The only similarity between the candidates is their anti-establishment appeal to voters in certain areas of the country abandoned by corporatists like Hillary Clinton in 2016, but of course Tapper would never consider bringing that up, because CNN — and, more accurately, their corporate donors — would not allow him to, as such a discussion may actually inform voters about the appeal of progressive populist candidates. Let’s remember, during the 2016 primary, CNN, the nation’s supposedly neutral news network, colluded with the Clinton campaign to ensure Clinton received potentially harmful debate questions word-for-word days ahead of time for preparation, as was revealed by e-mails from John Podesta and Donna Brazile, released by WikiLeaks.

Maybe, just maybe, no one should seriously expect such a ‘news network’ to host a legitimately neutral and constructive debate amongst seriously ideologically divided candidates. At best, giving the network the benefit of the doubt, its constant journalistic malpractice may be attributed to its home in the profit-driven entertainment industry, leading moderators to ask every question combatively to the clear frontrunners on stage, Sanders and Warren, inviting each of the other “moderate centrists” to tag in and attack them as well. Much more likely to be the cause of such a corporate journalistic clown show, I believe, is the reality of directly shared conflicts of interests between corporate politicians and the corporate media supposedly responsible for reporting on such issues objectively.

Later in the debate, Elizabeth Warren also called out CNN and Tapper for their ridiculous right-wing framing of practically every question asked during the nearly 3-hours-long debate, as well as the conservative perspectives offered in response by several fellow Democrats on stage.

Corporatist John Delaney (for whom we can thank the Democratic National Committee for being included instead of Mike Gravel, a real progressive who was cheated out of his place on stage following an arbitrary and late qualifications adjustment by the DNC) also disastrously attempted to paint progressive populists and their ideas as “impossible promises” and “fairy tale economics.” As Delaney, who has established financial stakes in the for-profit health care industry, claimed that Medicare-for-All would lead to more Americans losing their healthcare, which, of course, is the opposite of the truth, Warren interjected: “You know, I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for. I don’t get it.”

Similarly, I don’t understand why anyone would go through all the trouble of working as a journalist, not to stand up for everyday folks and to hold powerful elites accountable for their actions, but to carry water for corrupt corporate oligarchs, too cowardly to stand up and tell the truth when doing so even remotely risks one’s career aspirations.

Furthermore, this sentiment of Sanders and Warren is obvious and simple: One does not inspire millions of Americans to get out and vote for a Democrat by constantly claiming regular citizens cannot and will not ever achieve fundamental change. In fact, the path for a Democrat to defeat Trump is through bold, progressive populism rooted in the reality that the current status quo in this country only works for the top one percent, leaving the rest of us to fend for ourselves, fighting each other for scraps to save our own lives in the shadows of the world’s most obscene wealth inequality since the Gilded Age.

Warren also described the ideas of Tapper, Delaney and various other one-percenters on stage as “Republican talking points,” and pleaded for her colleagues to stop using such nonsensical, disingenuous sentiments in favor of thorough discussion of serious policy specifics.

But Tapper and his corporate CNN colleagues were not finished just yet. Even during post-debate interviews, Anderson Cooper and CNN’s Chris Cuomo could not help themselves, as they continued to ask essentially the same questions Sanders and Warren had just exposed them for asking.

During Warren’s post-debate interview, Cooper asked her, “To somebody out there who likes their current health insurance, what do you say about […] why they should give up their private insurance?”

Warren replied, again, with, “You know, I really wish we would stop using Republican talking points on what people are giving up. This is about a transition in how people get their healthcare covered.”

Like Tapper, Cooper already knew the answer to his question, but he asked it anyway, because CNN’s donors would not allow a newsman with integrity and courage, willing to stand up and rock the boat against corrupt corporatism in favor of harsh truths, to work for their network. Cooper has been around mainstream American media for too long, and has witnessed too many former colleagues fired for such heroics, to take such a personal risk.

Still, it gets worse…

Just moments after the conclusion of Warren’s interview, CNN’s Chris Cuomo appeared on viewers’ screens, to also spew health insurance company propaganda smearing politicians like Warren and Sanders as unelectable in certain areas of the country.

Hilariously, Cuomo, interrupted only by yet another Big Pharma commercial lambasting Medicare-for-All, then claimed, “The bottom line is that [Warren] wants what Joe Biden has, and his positions are more salable to the American people than hers.” Based on what? Generally, when establishment media sources make such claims, they attempt to back them up with various polls conducted by organizations (generally, right-wing think tanks) also funded by the same pharmaceutical companies funding their outlets and corporatist politicians who make their discredited arguments for them, in exchange for large stacks of cash.

In reality, just about anyone could find polls to support their political claims, and such is simply the reality of the internet age and modern American politics and media. This is what makes one’s ability (especially as one of the top newsmen in the country) to evaluate sources’ credibility and conflicts of interests essential. What is absurd, however, is the nation’s top, supposedly objective news folks continuously making right-wing, discredited, disingenuous arguments on behalf of health insurance companies happy to see some 50,000 Americans dying in the streets each year, so long as their corporations continue to turn considerable profits.

In America, somewhere around 70 percent of citizens generally say they support Medicare-for-All, including the vast majority of Democrats and more than half of registered Republicans. One wonders why Tapper, Cuomo, Cooper and other CNN stooges never bring up such polls and statistics…

Specifically, Cuomo’s claim about Joe Biden’s milquetoast, conservative, essentially right-wing ideas being more appealing to Americans than the ideas of progressive populists like Sanders and Warren is absurdly revealing of his — and the network which employs him — internal establishment biases and corporate values.

However, one supposes it entirely possible that Tapper, Cuomo, Cooper and their countless corporate media colleagues may not necessarily be nefarious cowards, but rather, products of a corrupt system which simply blocks out those with opposing viewpoints. Sanders’ campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, spoke on such a dynamic in a recent interview on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”

“This isn’t a personal commentary on you or any other journalist,” Shakir said to CNN’s Brian Stelter, “but, in about a minute or two minutes or so, you’re going to cut to commercial breaks, and you’re going to see pharmaceutical ads.”

Just as Sanders’ was when he made the claim during Tuesday night’s debate, Shakir was spot on. Based on what logic would it be productive for American citizens and voters, and anyone serious about learning about American politics and news culture, to just ignore such a reality without taking its direct impacts and implications into consideration whatsoever?

If you are hesitant to blindly accept my claims about polling, as you should be, then simply go check for yourself. An overwhelming majority of Americans support progressive populist policies pushed by Sanders and Warren, including universal higher education, raising taxes on the wealthy, universal healthcare, universal child care, ending forever wars and creating an economy that works for all Americans, not just those who already possess the vast majority of our obscene collective wealth.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if we, the American people, somehow had the opportunity to witness an election in which a “moderate” right-wing Democrat runs against a more progressive populist in the primary and goes on to face a seemingly anti-establishment conservative feigning populism in the general. If, theoretically, we did have such an opportunity, how simple it would be to observe and analyze how such candidates perform in rustbelt states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — states which, by the way, Barack Obama won twice by appealing to voters as an anti-establishment, unapologetic progressive who would shake up the status quo, a promise he of course failed to deliver on.

The obvious reality is we already had such an opportunity, and the Democratic Party and mainstream news media are pretending it never happened. In 2016, the Democratic Party and various news networks like CNN and MSNBC, despite countless polls showing Sanders consistently beating Trump by wider margins than did Clinton, engaged in a “pied piper” strategy, rigging the primary so that Clinton would face Trump, a strategy which blew up in their faces and for which they have never conducted any sort of serious self-reflection. In 2016, Trump won 47 counties across those four rustbelt states which Obama had won in 2012, and he did so by appealing to their unmistakable anti-status quo sentiments, which Clinton refused to do, over and over and over. So she lost. And so will any other Democratic candidate in 2020 who runs a similar campaign as opposed to one unapologetically progressive and rooted in the need for fundamental change across the country, including in the healthcare industry.

Perhaps ‘news networks’ like CNN and MSNBC should finally stop pushing corporate propaganda, reliably, on every single major issue in American politics, constantly urging politicians to hide from genuinely populist ideas in favor of already-established, already-hated and already-discredited policies which have gotten us into the horrible situations we are in today. But, inevitably, they will not, and their agenda — the agenda of their conservative corporate donors — will continue to dominate mainstream political discourse across the country, by default, only to the benefit of the likes of President Trump.

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Douglas Harding can be contacted at

from W.V. Contributing news editor for MU’s The Parthenon, formerly @ Herald-Dispatch. “The truth is weirder than any fiction I’ve seen,” -Hunter S. Thompson

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