Bernie Sanders seems to believe that more attention from the mainstream media would help his insurgent bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
When a study published in December showed the Vermont senator receiving scant coverage from the nightly network newscasts, he asked supporters to sign a petition demanding increased air time. And before Sunday’s Democratic presidential debate, Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver acknowledged a recent uptick in press coverage but told CNN “it’s a frustration” that “we were not getting coverage that was commensurate with our support among the electorate.”
ABC News spent 81 minutes on Donald Trump and only 20 seconds on our campaign. You read that right. Seconds. https://t.co/7kiflEIUj8
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) December 11, 2015
The continued griping comes at an odd time: as the candidate continues to rise at the right time in states like Iowa and New Hampshire. It's hard to argue at this point that Sanders hasn't far exceeded expectations and has a real and increasing shot at the nomination. Why would you be messing with success?
Considering the kind of coverage — however limited — that Sanders has received, it’s easy to understand why he would crave more of it. An affable underdog, he has been largely portrayed in a highly favorable light.
Think about the themes of Bernie Sanders stories: Wow, he’s getting really big crowds. Wow, he’s doing better in the polls than anyone expected. Wow, it’s funny how young people seem to love this old guy. Wow, he won’t bash Hillary Clinton over her private email server or her husband’s personal issues. What a guy!
Heck, even the GOP has been promoting positive Sanders coverage. From Bloomberg’s Sahil Kapur:
Republican operatives are having a strange crush on Bernie Sanders.
During Sunday night’s Democratic debate, the Republican National Committee made the unusual move of sending no fewer than four real-time emails to reporters defending the self-described democratic socialist from attacks by Hillary Clinton or echoing his message against her. Based on their content, one could be forgiven for thinking the RNC communiques came from the Sanders campaign.
If Sanders gets the front-runner treatment he claims to want — like, say, if he wins Iowa and/or New Hampshire — things will change in a hurry. Just ask Ben Carson, whose media narrative was about captivating voters with an inspiring personal biography — until he surged to the front of the Republican pack. Then the story quickly became about his poor grasp of foreign policy. With prominence comes scrutiny.
The media has been slower to shift gears on Sanders than it was on Carson in large part because their opponents are very different. The man that Carson was chasing before his recent decline, Donald Trump, was — and still is, to a degree — viewed in the press as destined to fall. By contrast, Sanders’s top rival, Hillary Clinton, is seen as a political juggernaut. If Sanders and Carson are both improbable contenders, Sanders is more improbable because of his competition.
Also working against more Sanders coverage is Trump himself. Yes, Sanders is a fascinating story in his own right -- have you heard he calls himself a socialist? -- but he can't compete with Trump when it comes to the most interesting phenomenon of the 2016 campaign.
That’s a good thing for the New Englander, whether he realizes it or not. He’s managed to strike a remarkable balance in which the media takes him seriously enough to note his rise but not quite seriously enough to pick apart his record in great detail. The longer he can maintain this balance, the better for him. But it can't last forever.
Part of me wonders whether Sanders’s desire for more coverage is actually genuine; decrying the “corporately owned media” fits perfectly into his populist image. But Sanders has been in politics long enough to know how the game works. Surely, he knows that an influx of media attention would bring a level of scrutiny and negativity that he’s been able to avoid so far.
Then again, nice-guy Bernie wouldn’t be so calculating as to demand something he doesn’t actually want. Never mind.