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Bernie Sanders: Corporate Media is a Threat to Democracy

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Three weeks after the election of Donald Trump, Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke at the Free Library of Philadelphia as part of his “Our Revolution” book tour. He spoke harshly about the corporate media. “What media does and what media loves is conflict and political gossip and polls and fundraising and all that stuff,” Sanders said. “What media loves is to focus on the candidates. What the American people, I believe, want is for us to focus on them, not the candidates, not anymore.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today, in this holiday special, we spend the hour with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the independent, self-proclaimed socialist from Vermont who shocked the political establishment by nearly beating Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary. Since Donald Trump’s victory on November 8th, Sanders has emerged as one of the most powerful voices in Washington. He just published a best-selling book titled Our Revolution.

I sat down with Bernie Sanders at the Free Library of Philadelphia on November 28th, a few weeks after the election. It was his most extensive broadcast interview since the election. But first we’ll turn to an excerpt of the speech he gave that night.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: People are, you know, interested in knowing, well, how did Trump win? How did he win the Electoral College? And I think one of the things that he did was tap into an anxiety and a level of pain that we don’t often see on CBS or NBC. And what he said, preposterously, I might add, is that he, of all people, was going to take on the establishment. He was going to take on the economic establishment. He was going to take on the political establishment. He was going to take on the media establishment. And people in a lot of desperation, people who are hurting, responded to that.

Now, one of the problems I think we have as a nation, I think media—and, by the way, at the back of the book, one of the important chapters—if you get tired, skip to the back. If you don’t like taxation or immigration reform, go to the back, last chapter, which deals with—it’s entitled “Corporate Media, a Threat to Democracy.” And it talks about the role of corporate media in our society and in politics, in particular. But what is going on in this country is that we live in a pretty siloized nation. That’s a kind of a inside-the-Beltway term; I don’t know if it’s expanded to Pennsylvania. But what it means is we all live in our own worlds, basically. We associate with people who think the same as we do. I guess there was somebody who said, “How could Trump have won? Nobody I knew voted for Trump!” Well, you don’t know people in different walks of life than your own. And one of the things that a lot of middle-class people, upper-middle-class people don’t know is that, yes, we are better off economically today than we were eight years ago, when Bush left office—there’s no debate on that—but for 40 years in this country, under Democratic and Republican administrations, we have seen a shrinking of the American middle class, we have seen more and more income and wealth inequality, so that today the top one-tenth of 1 percent now owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, and today we have 43 million people living in poverty, some in really dire straits.

Now, one of the things that I did in the campaign—what I wanted to do, and I did—was to go into parts of the country where media very rarely goes, and I wanted to be talking to people, and I wanted to see if we can get some national exposure. And in a sense, I failed. We had media following me all over the place, what they call embedded media, from all the networks and major newspapers, but basically they did not write about what we were seeing in various parts of the country.

And let me just talk a little bit about that. We talked—and again, these are facts; some of you know it, some of you don’t. But I want you to understand the pain and the hurt that millions of people are experiencing. You’re a single mom in Philadelphia. You’re making $30,000, $40,000 a year. You have a baby. You need childcare in order to get to work. You know how much childcare costs? You tell me. What does childcare cost in Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia? $15,000 a year? More? Anyone know? Fifteen? All right. What do you do if you’re making $30,000, $40,000 a year, and you’re paying $15,000 for childcare? And that’s—I can tell you, in Washington, D.C., I had a young woman working for me. She had—she was paying $32,000 a year for childcare in D.C., where it’s more expensive there than the rest of the country.

Healthcare, right? We talk about the gains of the Affordable Care Act. And that’s true, it did make some progress. Today, 28 million people still have no health insurance, and many, many others have high deductibles and high copayments. They cannot afford to go to the doctor when they get sick. You know that? We lose thousands of people every single year. And I talk to doctors all over the country. People walk into their office profoundly sick, and the doctor said, “Why didn’t you come in here a year ago, when you first developed your symptom?” And they say, “Well, I didn’t have any insurance,” or, “I had a high deductible, and I couldn’t afford it.” Some of those people do not make it, or they end up in the hospital at great expense and great suffering. One out of five Americans today who go to the doctor and get a prescription cannot afford to fill that prescription. One out of five. You’ve got elderly people in Vermont and, I’m sure, in Pennsylvania who are cutting their prescription drug pills in half, because they cannot afford to pay for the medicine that they need. What do you think you’re feeling when you go to the doctor because you’re sick, and you walk into the drug store, and the medicine is so expensive, you cannot afford to fill it?

You got in Pennsylvania and in Vermont and all over this country, added together, millions of seniors, disabled veterans, people with disabilities. They are trying to get by on $10,000, $11,000, $12,000 a year Social Security. You can do the arithmetic as well as I can. You’re 80 years of age. You are sick. Social Security is your sole source of income, as it is for many people. Try to get by on $12,000 a year.

You are an older worker—and I think Trump really capitalized on this one. You are an older worker, 55 or 60 years of age. Half of the older workers in America, do you know how much money they have in the bank as they await retirement? Anyone want to guess? Zero! Try to think of yourself at 60 years of age. You’re going to retire in five years. Everything being equal, you’re probably making less in real inflation-accounted-for dollars than you did 20 or 30 years ago. You’re going to retire in five years. You’ve got nothing in the bank. How are you feeling about the establishment and what the Democratic Party has done for you or the Republican Party has done for you? You are scared to death.

And maybe, in fact, you’re one of the many millions of workers who actually once had a factory job with a union behind you, and you were making good middle-class wages, you had good benefits, you had a pension. But one day your employer told you that they’re shutting down that plant, because they can hire people in China for a dollar or $2 an hour, and now you’re making 50, 60 percent of what you made when you had that manufacturing job.

You can be a college graduate, somebody who saved and scrimped and went to college, left school $50,000, $60,000 in debt, and now you’re making $14 an hour. Again, do the arithmetic. You’re stuck with that debt, year after year after year. You’ve got a debt, but you don’t have the income to pay it off. I remember distinctly talking to a guy in Nevada who said that he took out his student loan 25 years ago. He is more in debt today than he was when he took it out, and he’s scared to death, literally, that they’re going to garnish some of his Social Security in order to pay that student debt.

I was in McDowell County in West Virginia, not a widely known area. It’s the southern part of West Virginia. But what makes McDowell County unique, what makes parts of Kentucky and that region unique, is they are part of a situation today where millions—this is quite unbelievable, but this is the despair that Trump spoke to—millions of white working-class people are dying today at ages younger than their parents. What modern history has been about, not only in our country, but all over the world, is that my generation lives longer than my parents’, my parents’ generation lived longer than their parents’. That’s been the trend, because of improvements in public health, improvements in medicine—cancer and so forth. We’re making some progress. And yet, unbelievably—and this is really unbelievable—millions of people today are living in such despair, for whatever reasons—and maybe Amy and I will discuss this—is that they are turning to opiates and heroin. They are turning to alcohol and getting all kinds of diseases associated with alcoholism. And they are turning to suicide—women and men. These are people who, if they’re lucky enough to have a job, it’s 10 bucks an hour, 11 bucks an hour. They’re not going anywhere. Their kids are not going anywhere. That is the kind of pain that somebody like a Trump spoke to.

I was in Pine Ridge in South Dakota, which is a Native American reservation. The life expectancy in Pine Ridge is equivalent to Guatemala, a poor Third World country. Unemployment is rampant. Poverty is rampant. You have—suicide is rampant in Pine Ridge.

I was in Baltimore, Maryland. And I don’t know how different it is here in Philadelphia. But in Baltimore, you have tens and tens of thousands of people addicted to heroin, astronomical numbers. People debate exactly what the number is. And there is no treatment available to them. We took a walk one night, which got the Secret Service a little bit nervous, because we were walking in an area that was incredibly desolate, only boarded-up buildings. And in nighttime—we were in late afternoon. In the nighttime, it becomes a drug bazaar. Everybody knows it. That’s where people are selling and buying drugs. Tens of thousands of people in Baltimore—and not uniquely Baltimore—dealing with heroin, dealing with opiates, and no treatment available to them.

City after city—and I suspect Philadelphia is not an exception—in minority areas, African-American areas, Latino areas, youth unemployment, 20, 30, 40 percent. I was in New York City, took a walk with some people on the City Council there. They need $17 billion to rehabilitate public housing in New York City alone. So you’ve got people in public housing living in rat-infested, mold-infested housing in New York.

What’s the point? The point is there are a lot of people hurting in this country. And their pain doesn’t get on CBS or NBC. And some of them, mistakenly, thought that Trump was talking to them. He talked a whole lot of stuff. We will see what, in fact, he delivers. But the main point is, please do not forget that, as we speak today, there are a whole lot of people in this country who are hurting.

What media does and what media loves is conflict and political gossip and polls and fundraising and all that stuff. What media loves is to focus on the candidates. What the American people, I believe, want is for us to focus on them, not the candidates, not anymore. And what this book does is just do that. It deals with what I think—and some of you will agree, some of you may not agree—with what I think are the major issues facing our country: the decline and disappearance of the American middle class, poverty, income and wealth inequality. But it doesn’t only lay out the problems; it provides very specific solutions.

Question: Why are we the only major country on Earth not to guarantee healthcare to all people? Why are we the only major country not to have paid family and medical leave? Why do we have a higher rate of childhood poverty than almost any major country on Earth? Why are we not dealing more aggressively with climate change? Why do we have more people in jail, disproportionately African-American, Latino, Native American, than any other country on Earth? China, four times our size, we have far more people in jail than China does. We spend $80 billion a year locking people up. Does that make sense? Is there a way out of that? What do we do when we have 11 million people who are undocumented? What does it mean to move toward comprehensive immigration reform and a path toward citizenship? In a highly competitive global economy, we once used to have the best-educated workforce in the world, 30 years or so. Our people, in this country, graduated and went to college in a higher percentage than any other country on Earth. You know what? That’s not the case anymore. And the gap between those countries who are graduating more people from college than we are is getting wider and wider and wider. What does this portend in terms of the future of our country?

So, we lay the issues out on the table, discuss the problems and also provide some real concrete solutions. And that’s what I think we have to do as a nation. And in terms of media, there’s a chapter that says that maybe it’s time for media to start focusing on the real issues facing our country. It was embarrassing. I read this as I wrote the book. Turns out that if you looked at, I think it was, the Sunday morning shows, Bernie Sanders alone—and I say this not to boast, but to tell you how pathetic the situation is—two-thirds of the discussion or the mention of poverty took place when I was on those shows. So what does that say about a country when there’s almost no discussion of poverty, no discussion—almost no discussion of climate change, very little discussion of income and wealth inequality, no discussion of the role of the corporate media? And I’m glad that Amy is going to be up here in a minute, because what she has done is shown that it is possible, although very difficult, to go outside of the corporate media and develop your own network. But what does corporate media talk about, what do they not talk about, where do we go forward in media is a very, very important issue.

AMY GOODMAN: Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, speaking November 28th at the Free Library of Philadelphia. When we come back, we sit down for a public interview on the stage at the library. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.

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