Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has become one of the Democratic Party’s leading surrogates on television, is striking out with his own multimedia special — one that will run online, with no major network behind it.
“We expect that we’ll have a larger viewing audience for this live stream than we’d have if we’d run it on, say, CNN,” Sanders said in an interview. “That’s revolutionary. You can have this discussion even if the owners of the big media companies don’t want to have it.”
On the evening of Jan. 23, Sanders will host a 90-minute “national town hall” on proposals for universal Medicare, streamed by the progressive video outlets NowThis, Attn:, and the Young Turks. The idea came to him, he said, after appearing in CNN-hosted debates and forums on health care and taxes — experiences he’d mostly enjoyed — and hit a wall.
“I talked to a very well-known TV journalist, and I said: ‘You know, I think it’d be really great to have a town hall on single payer. You can design it however you want,’ ” said Sanders. “He said, ‘Bernie, that’s a great idea. We’ll run it up the food chain.’ I never heard back.”
That kicked off a conversation with the new media outlets, all of which have worked with Sanders in the past. NowThis had recorded popular, short videos with Sanders, talking about his 2016 campaign platform; the Young Turks had gotten him in its Los Angeles studio for lengthy interviews. The Jan. 23 special, which will be streamed from an auditorium in the Congressional Visitor Center, will use the networks’ streaming services to show Sanders taking audience and online questions about how single-payer health care could be implemented in the United States.
“The mainstream media continues to ignore how income inequality and the lack of a decent health-care system devastates the middle class,” said Ana Kasparian, a co-host of the Young Turks’ flagship series.
“NowThis is proud to work with these other outlets to reach an enormous young audience across social media and provide them with the opportunity to directly address Senator Sanders and ask questions of him and leading health care and economic experts,” said Versha Sharma, the managing editor of NowThis.
Sanders’s broadcast, as planned, has the trappings of a single-payer infomercial. The senator will host three segments: one on the current state of health care in the United States, one on the potential economic impact of universal Medicare, and one on how single-payer works in the rest of the developed world. If successful, Sanders hopes the format and distribution method could be replicated.
“I think there is an envy on the part of progressives, and most Democrats, of the Republican media world,” said Sanders. “They have Fox News, of course. They have the Rupert Murdoch papers. You’ve got Sinclair, which is acquiring more all the time. So we’re up against enormous opposition. And what many Democrats are beginning to sense is that you have to break through that. And what we’re trying to do here is ahead of the curve.”
Several progressive members of Congress — Sanders included — have tried to break through normal media formats by hosting podcasts. Since last year, the Democratic National Committee has hosted “Democrats Live,” an occasional Facebook Live showcase for their issues often co-hosted by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.).
But Sanders’s celebrity and the Medicare-for-all issue could help the Jan. 23 town hall break out in a way other DIY media has not. Since last summer, when Sanders launched his universal Medicare bill, promotional videos about it have been viewed more than 100 million times.