The pro-corporate, pro-establishment bias that permeates CNN was on brazen display during Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential debate, with three status-quo-loving hosts constantly targeting Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
The attacks started early. As Sanders wrapped up his opening statement, establishment junkie Jake Tapper went in for the kill, kicking things off with a question about the Vermont senator’s ‘Medicare for All’ bill, quoting corporate lobbyist favorite John Delaney who had previously called the plan “political suicide” and asking Sanders to respond. Sanders swatted the criticism away with an apt reminder that Americans are dying for lack of health care while the industry reaps billions of dollars in profit.
Delaney (of the #dropoutDelaney hashtag fame) jumped in with a useless anecdote about his father, “the union electrician”who happened to love his private health insurance. Unsatisfied, Tapper next tried to spark a fight between Sanders and Warren over health care, but she refused to take the bait, taking aim at “giant corporations and billionaires” instead – and the two, much to CNN’s dismay, didn’t fight even once.
Things really got fiery when Sanders dismissed Tapper’s question about health care and higher taxes as “a Republican talking point.” Tapper shut Sanders down sharpish when he dared to mention the unmentionable; CNN’s big pharma advertisers:
“By the way — the health care industry will be advertising tonight on this program. They will be advertising tonight with that talking point.”
It wasn’t just health care. The CNN hosts didn’t even try to hide or obscure their anti-progressive agenda. They framed almost every major question to candidates in the exact same format: Sanders (and Warren) say *this* – now, please tell us why you think that their plans are bad and unworkable.
The irony of the hosts framing Sanders and Warren as a pair of crazy old loonies with fairytale plans was that they ended up giving the two progressives on the stage more time than anyone else to rebut spurious attacks, which they did rather successfully, while refusing to take swipes at each other.
CNN’s strategy was undoubtedly aimed more at Sanders than Warren, but their milder antagonism toward the Massachusetts senator was still a clear departure from NBC’s kinder treatment of her during last month’s debate, in which she came off as a total media darling.
As the lineup of establishment Democrats (buttressed by corporate-sponsored CNN hosts) made the case for neoliberal corporatism, Warren railed against them and managed to land one of the most memorable zingers of the night:
“I don’t understand why anybody goes to 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.”
Host Don Lemon even took a swipe at Sanders’ age, pitting him, the oldest candidate, against Pete Buttigieg, the youngest, and asking if age was something voters should consider when making their pick.
CNN’s war enthusiast hosts also tried to paint Sanders as an isolationist on foreign policy, comparing his promotion of diplomacy over militarism to Donald Trump’s empty promises of “America First” during the 2016 campaign. Tendentious Tapper noted that Sanders and Trump have both said the US can’t be the “policeman of the world” and pointedly asked Sanders why voters should believe he would be “any different” than Trump. Sanders shot back: “Trump is a pathological liar. I tell the truth.”
Sanders and Warren are far from perfect on foreign policy, but the progressive pair were still the best of a bad bunch on the Detroit stage when it came to denouncing foreign adventurism. Hence, CNN’s efforts to brand them as dangerous isolationists.
When Steve Bullock sociopathically refused to rule out using nuclear weapons against another country in a pre-emptive strike, Warren made a passionate argument for a no-first-strike nuclear policy. Speaking of Steve Bullock, where did he come from? Did anyone even know he was running?
Marianne Williamson probably would have offered something insightful on the topic of war had the CNN hosts allowed her to get a word in, but Tapper and crew were having none of her. Nonetheless, she still managed to eke out some of the night’s most memorable moments.
Sanders and Warren were the night’s clear winners, batting away constant attacks from the CNN hosts and offering crowd-pleasing zingers with relative ease. But the debate was a clear reminder of how progressive Democrats are not just up against do-nothing moderates in their own party – but fighting against deeply embedded centrism and establishment defenders within mainstream media.
When the also-rans start trickling away, that will be Sanders’ and Warren’s biggest fight.