A lack of journalistic imagination

Bernie Sanders

I believe this[1] is likely the same Margaret Sullivan who criticized New York Times coverage of Bernie Sanders in 2016 as the paper’s public editor.[2] If I’m right, she’s back, criticizing media coverage of Sanders more broadly.[3] But to illustrate her point,

I tend to disagree with Nate Silver on methodology, because I think appallingly low response rates in survey research[4] eviscerate the rationale for this type of research, but his reply here is well taken:

In the wake of an election that Sanders just won, a McClatchy newsletter manages to cover campaign news for ten, count ’em, ten whole paragraphs before Sanders’ name even appears.[5]

Sullivan notes that Sanders does not bother to massage journalists’ egos and I would hope we can all agree that some self-reflection may be long overdue when framing may be determined in whole or in part by whether a candidate congratulates reporters on their birthdays.[6] Here’s Jon Allsop at the Columbia Journalism Review who, having noted numerous complaints from Sanders and his supporters and a number of specific possible causes,[7] concludes,

In a broader sense, such parts of the media often have a hard time conceiving of possible worlds beyond the status quo. Inevitably, that failure of imagination has limited our coverage of [Bernie] Sanders. That’s not to say Sanders shouldn’t face scrutiny—his agenda is highly ambitious, and we should ask sharp questions about its political viability as well as its logistics. But those aren’t the questions we’re asking; not consistently, at least. Instead, when he toured the Sunday shows this past weekend, Sanders faced questions about remarks he made 50 years ago, competency concerns raised by the mess in Iowa (for which he was not responsible), his hostility toward billionaires (They’re People, Too! Chuck Todd said), and the likelihood of Trump weaponizing the toxicity of “socialism” to harm him. (This is a fair point, but in making it incessantly, we risk wielding the weapon on Trump’s behalf.) Too often, we channel a world in which the status quo is neutral; where action always costs money but inaction does not.

Do we ask other politicians to justify capitalism every time we interview them? Do we ask how much not doing Medicare for All or the Green New Deal would cost as often as we ask the inverse? Again, this isn’t about advocacy; it’s about recognizing that, at present, we tend to talk about such ideas, and the politicians who espouse them, in a one-sided way. “Imagination” might not seem a desirable trait to fact-based journalists, but without it, our coverage is constrained by the deadweight of conventional wisdom, which is a bias in itself. It’ll take imagination—more than we’re currently showing—to adequately frame, and interrogate, the choice facing America this year.[8]

However we attribute the causes, mainstream journalism has been downplaying Sanders’ unconventional candidacy, betraying a bias that Allsop sees in its treatment of his unconventional proposals.[9] It should go without saying that if you’re going to call yourself “objective” and “unbiased,” you need to be doing better than this.

Jon Allsop, “Coverage of Bernie Sanders suffers from a lack of imagination,” Columbia Journalism Review, February 11, 2020, https://www.cjr.org/the_media_today/bernie_sanders_media_new_hampshire.php

Alex Shephard, “Bernie Sanders Has an MSNBC Problem,” New Republic, February 12, 2020, https://newrepublic.com/article/156545/bernie-sanders-msnbc-problem

Margaret Sullivan, “The media keep falling in love — with anybody but Bernie Sanders,” Washington Post, February 12, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/the-media-keep-falling-in-love–with-anybody-but-bernie-sanders/2020/02/12/0f55cc12-4d9c-11ea-bf44-f5043eb3918a_story.html


Iowa

On Wednesday, the [Iowa Democratic Party] said it had agreed to conduct the recanvass of certain precincts as requested by the [Bernie] Sanders and [Pete] Buttigieg campaigns.

The party said the recanvass, which is a less-involved check of the results than a formal recount, will start Sunday and take about two days.[10]

Also, the state party’s chairman, Troy Price, will resign.[11]

John McCormick, “Iowa Democratic Party Chairman to Resign Position After Caucus Debacle,” Wall Street Journal, February 12, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/iowa-democratic-party-chairman-resigns-position-after-caucus-debacle-11581548239


  1. [1]Margaret Sullivan, “The media keep falling in love — with anybody but Bernie Sanders,” Washington Post, February 12, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/the-media-keep-falling-in-love–with-anybody-but-bernie-sanders/2020/02/12/0f55cc12-4d9c-11ea-bf44-f5043eb3918a_story.html
  2. [2]Margaret Sullivan, “Has The Times Dismissed Bernie Sanders?” New York Times, September 9, 2015, http://publiceditor.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/09/09/has-the-times-dismissed-bernie-sanders/
  3. [3]Margaret Sullivan, “The media keep falling in love — with anybody but Bernie Sanders,” Washington Post, February 12, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/the-media-keep-falling-in-love–with-anybody-but-bernie-sanders/2020/02/12/0f55cc12-4d9c-11ea-bf44-f5043eb3918a_story.html
  4. [4]Courtney Kennedy and Hannah Hartig, “Response rates in telephone surveys have resumed their decline,” Pew Research Center, February 27, 2019, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/02/27/response-rates-in-telephone-surveys-have-resumed-their-decline/
  5. [5]Emily Cadei to Impact2020 list, “On to Nevada, and South Carolina, and California, and Florida,” February 12, 2020, https://m1.news.mcclatchydc.com/nl/jsp/m.jsp?c=%40HaihNrJgXP9DKJOMklZgSPecJyZURC%2FWyrMcimAku28%3D&ac_cid=DM136835&ac_bid=2041820311
  6. [6]Margaret Sullivan, “The media keep falling in love — with anybody but Bernie Sanders,” Washington Post, February 12, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/the-media-keep-falling-in-love–with-anybody-but-bernie-sanders/2020/02/12/0f55cc12-4d9c-11ea-bf44-f5043eb3918a_story.html
  7. [7]Jon Allsop, “Coverage of Bernie Sanders suffers from a lack of imagination,” Columbia Journalism Review, February 11, 2020, https://www.cjr.org/the_media_today/bernie_sanders_media_new_hampshire.php
  8. [8]Jon Allsop, “Coverage of Bernie Sanders suffers from a lack of imagination,” Columbia Journalism Review, February 11, 2020, https://www.cjr.org/the_media_today/bernie_sanders_media_new_hampshire.php
  9. [9]Jon Allsop, “Coverage of Bernie Sanders suffers from a lack of imagination,” Columbia Journalism Review, February 11, 2020, https://www.cjr.org/the_media_today/bernie_sanders_media_new_hampshire.php
  10. [10]John McCormick, “Iowa Democratic Party Chairman to Resign Position After Caucus Debacle,” Wall Street Journal, February 12, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/iowa-democratic-party-chairman-resigns-position-after-caucus-debacle-11581548239
  11. [11]John McCormick, “Iowa Democratic Party Chairman to Resign Position After Caucus Debacle,” Wall Street Journal, February 12, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/iowa-democratic-party-chairman-resigns-position-after-caucus-debacle-11581548239