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Robert McChesney: Mainstream Corporate Media Covering 2016 Election Through Eyes of Clinton Campaign

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“This has been an all-time low by mainstream corporate media,” says media scholar Robert McChesney, who joins us to discuss how the media is covering the race for the White House. “What we’ve seen is the Sanders campaign has been largely neglected … And the coverage and the framing of it has been largely through the eyes of the establishment for the Hillary Clinton campaign.” McChesney says reporters also failed simply to ask questions about what exactly happened over the weekend when Sanders supporters erupted in protest at the Nevada state Democratic convention after they said rules were abruptly changed and 64 Sanders supporters were wrongly denied delegate status. This “brought to the front just how little actual journalism goes on,” he notes, “how much of it is simply regurgitating what people in power tell them.” McChesney is a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the Department of Communication and is co-founder of Free Press, a national media reform organization.

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

AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road, on our 100-city tour, today broadcasting from Madison, Wisconsin. Well, on Wednesday, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders rallied supporters in San Jose, California, emphasizing the importance of next month’s primary in the delegate-rich state.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: All of you know that as part of the Democratic nominating process, California has by far the most delegates at stake: 475 of them. And on June 7th, let us win the vast majority of those delegates. If we have a high voter turnout, we will not only win, we can win by a lot, which is what we have to do. And my hope is that this great state, one of the most progressive states in the country, will make it loud and clear, and say to the American people and the world, California is on board for a political revolution! Thank you!

AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, Senator Sanders won the Democratic primary in Oregon, while Hillary Clinton declared victory in Kentucky with a razor-thin 0.5 percent lead.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, Bernie Sanders’ supporters erupted in protest at the Nevada state Democratic convention. They say rules were abruptly changed and 64 Sanders supporters were wrongly denied delegate status. Clinton ultimately won 20 pledged delegates to Sanders’ 15. The state party chair, Roberta Lange, said she received death threats, while state party headquarters were vandalized. Lange told CNN about the threats.

ROBERTA LANGE: “We want you hung. We know where you live. We know where your grandson goes to school. We know where you work. And we’re going to get you.” That’s pretty—a pretty huge threat.

AMY GOODMAN: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid urged Sanders to condemn the behavior of some of his supporters, saying he faced a “test of leadership.” In a statement, Sanders rejected violence, and noted that during the Nevada campaign, shots were fired into his campaign office in the state, and his staff’s housing complex was broken into and ransacked. He also accused Nevada Democratic leadership of using its power to, quote, “prevent a fair and transparent process,” unquote, at the convention Saturday. This is Sanders’ campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, speaking on CNN.

JEFF WEAVER: We do not condone any kind of violence or threats. That’s unacceptable. Bad language, we don’t—that’s unacceptable. But we are not going to allow the millions of people who supported Bernie Sanders to be sort of rolled over in places like Nevada by the way they handled that convention.

AMY GOODMAN: Much disagreement remains over what actually happened during the Nevada convention and if the media’s portrayal of the situation is even reliable.

For more, we’re joined here in Madison, Wisconsin, by longtime media analyst Robert McChesney, professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, in the Department of Communication. He co-founded Free Press, a national media reform organization. McChesney and John Nichols recently co-wrote the book People Get Ready: The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy.

Bob McChesney, welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us.

ROBERT McCHESNEY: Glad to be here, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what do you think of the media’s coverage of this presidential race?

ROBERT McCHESNEY: Well, it’s been deplorable, even by the standards—and we’ve talked about this in past years. Grading with a curve allowing for bad coverage as a rule, this has been, I think, an all-time low by mainstream corporate media. And NPR, I’d toss right in there.

You know, you have in the Sanders campaign—whatever one might think of Sanders, as a journalist, you’re looking at one of the most extraordinary political stories in decades that’s come along. You have someone who’s galvanized young support on really an entirely different vision of our society like no other candidate, again, in decades. As journalists, you’d think this would be heaven on Earth, this is the greatest story you could possibly ever cover; you’d look to the sky and say, “Thank you for putting me here in 2016.” Yet what we’ve seen is the Sanders campaign has been largely neglected—all the data shows this—barely covered. And the coverage and the framing of it has been largely through the eyes of the establishment for the Hillary Clinton campaign: This guy is a nuisance, he’s a pain in the butt; he’s getting in the way, in front of the real candidate, the presumptive nominee—presumptive going back to the very beginning. And when you see Sanders or one of his surrogates on the air, generally the tenor of the questioning is “What would Hillary’s people want to ask him?” You know, it’s never like “Let’s take these people on their own terms.” So you put it all together, it’s been pretty distressing and the source, I think, of frustration for a lot of people, that they’ve not really had a fair hearing and a fair exposure to people who rely upon cable news networks and the mainstream media to learn about politics.

The other issue that’s really crucial here, and it gets to the Nevada issue, is that it’s also brought to the front just how little actual journalism goes on in American mainstream journalism, how much of it is simply regurgitating what people in power tell them, how much of it is simply predictions that are mindless. You know, there’s all sorts of crucial issues, everywhere you turn, that journalists should be diving into, looking at, like the claims about Nevada. We had all this reporting about purported threats and violence in Nevada, but it was all based on basically taking at face value the words of one side and dismissing the words of the other side. This was videotaped. They could actually go in and interview people, talk to people, and get to the bottom of it before they announce the results.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to Hillary Clinton’s press secretary, Brian Fallon, who spoke on CNN in April.

BRIAN FALLON: One week ago today, in this very chair, Tad Devine from the Sanders campaign was sitting here talking to you, and you asked him, “You know, why didn’t Senator Sanders decide to run as an independent? Why did he decide to run through the Democratic primary?” And Tad Devine said that for a very simple reason, he decided to run as a Democrat: He did not want to be a Ralph Nader. He did not want to be a spoiler. If he didn’t not win the Democratic nomination, he didn’t want to spoil the chances for the Democrats to retain the White House. I’m afraid that if the attacks in the style of yesterday’s baseless accusation continue, that that’s exactly what he’ll be doing. And this has been an extraordinary effort that the Sanders campaign has embarked upon. They’ve brought so many people into the process. But yesterday, the tone of the attacks was suggesting that if the Democratic Party doesn’t see fit to nominate Bernie Sanders, then it’s not a party worth supporting. And that is poisonous rhetoric that would seriously impair our ability—our party’s ability to come together in these closing weeks.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Hillary Clinton’s press secretary, Brian Fallon. Bob McChesney?

ROBERT McCHESNEY: And following the point we just made, that also became—has been the meme now in the corporate news media in virtually every story for the last month. They sort of got their marching orders from the Hillary campaign. You know, it’s an outrageous and absurd charge, if you think about it. And all it takes for journalists is to look at 2008, when Hillary Clinton was running and was in a similar position vis-à-vis Barack Obama the last two months of the campaign. In that period, she refused to get out, said, “I’m taking it right to the convention.” And in fact, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, one of her main supporters, currently the chair of the Democratic National Committee, argued, even if she didn’t win the most elected delegates, the superdelegates should pick Hillary because she’d do better in November. She was making that argument then: So she should stay in and not worry about maybe hurting Obama’s chances. And there was more evidence then, or as much evidence, that Hillary Clinton was doing damage theoretically to Obama’s November chances than there is today that Sanders is doing damage to Hillary Clinton’s November chances.

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