Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Why Won't Media Give Bernie a Break?

First read these quotes from this morning's media coverage of last evening's Democratic primary and caucuses (emphases supplied; footnotes [in brackets] go to sources' links at bottom of this page).

Second, look at the facts -- the actual percentages of the votes received, and delegates allocated.

Third, tell me if you think the media's language honestly squares with professional, independent journalism, based on those facts.

Quotes from Media's March 23 Reports of March 22 Primary and Caucuses
Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump overwhelmed their rivals in the Arizona primaries on Tuesday, a show of might from two presidential front-runners . . .. Mrs. Clinton’s commanding victory in Arizona, where 75 Democratic delegates were at stake, gave her the night’s biggest prize, and her margin there was substantial enough that Mr. Sanders was unlikely to emerge with significantly more delegates, . . .. [1; (New York Times)]

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton scored easy victories Tuesday in Arizona, the largest and most-watched of the day’s three electoral contests. . . . The large margin is a blow to her rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, who had staked a comeback on Arizona. [2; (Washington Post)]

Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz both campaigned hard in Arizona, hoping to score upsets over their party’s front-runner in the most populous of the three states that voted Tuesday. They got crushed. [3; (Washington Post)]

Clinton's win in Arizona prevented the Vermont senator from cutting deeply into her delegate lead by night's end. [4; (Associated Press)]
Actual Percentages of Votes Received and Delegates Allocated
Utah Caucus

Sanders: 79.7% of participants; 24 delegates
Clinton: 19.8% of participants; 5 delegates [5]

Idaho Caucus

Sanders: 78.0% of participants; 17 delegates
Clinton: 21.2% of participants; 5 delegates [6]

Arizona Primary

Sanders: 39.9% of the votes; 26 delegates
Clinton: 57.6% of the votes; 41 delegates [7]

Total Delegates Allocated

Sanders: 67
Clinton: 51 [5, 6, 7]

Professional, Independent Journalism?"

So, what do you think?

Do you think Sanders was "overwhelmed" by Clinton's "commanding victory" and "show of might"? Would you say, in this context, that Sanders' 67 delegates are not "significantly more" than Clinton's 51? Would you say that Sanders "got crushed," or suffered a "blow" from her "large margin" of voters and delegates in Arizona?

The real story of this Democratic primary is not that Clinton has more delegates than Sanders. The man-bites-dog story of this primary is that Sanders has won any delegates. It's the political equivalent of a junior high basketball team somehow sneaking into the NCAA's March Madness, and making it to the final four.
Clinton has been national figure for decades, the presumed ultimate nominee, and started with a substantial army of friends and supporters throughout the country. Sanders had little to no history with the American people outside of Vermont, name recognition in the low single digits and little to no national media exposure.

Clinton has had the support of the Democratic National Committee, most elected Democratic officials, is married to a two-term popular former president, was appointed to the top cabinet post by another two-term popular president, and had the prior experience of running for the presidential nomination in 2008. Sanders was not even a Democrat -- or a member of any other political party. He's a 74-year-old (she's 68) Jew from Brooklyn, living in Vermont, serving in the Senate as an "Independent," who says he's a "Democratic Socialist." He started with support from few if any Party officials, and had never run for office outside of his tiny home state of Vermont.

Clinton (and her husband) started with substantial personal wealth, the support of multi-million-dollar PACs, Wall Street banks and hedge fund managers, billionaires and other wealthy persons, access to the nation's most experienced campaign managers, advisers, and former staff of their own, and long time contacts throughout the media. Sanders started with virtually no money at all, and has stubbornly insisted on funding his campaign with small contributions from the American people while refusing to take money from PACs and billionaires.
I could go on with these contrasts, but you get the idea.

The point is, given these contrasts, I think the media ought to give their audience, and Bernie, a break. They should acknowledge what an extraordinary accomplishment he represents -- the enormous crowds he attracts, the first time participants he's brought into the Democratic Party, his ability to keep up with, or exceed, Clinton's fund-raising ability, and yes, the number of delegates he has won competing against the Clinton powerhouse. That's the story of this primary season -- and of last night's results, not that Clinton got more voters than he did from Arizona. Given the difference in their inherent political strength, and the Clintons' contacts throughout the sate, it would have been remarkable enough if he had received 20% of the votes in Arizona -- the percentage that she got in Utah and Idaho. That he won as much as 40% is overwhelming. That he actually came out of the evening with more total delegates than she had is unbelievable!

Finally, a word about a word: "won." It's bad enough that the media turns politics into a horse race rather than a national dialogue about issues and public policy. But applying the word "won" to a primary or caucus in which there is a proportional allocation of delegates based on numbers of votes, or persons, is downright misleading -- whether done intentionally or out of ignorance. It would be especially hilarious if not so serious, when the "winner" is only separated from the "loser" by fractions of one percent. Trump "won" Arizona -- if one insists on using the word -- because, for the Republicans it was a "winner takes all" state. Clinton did not "win" Arizona in that sense -- because for the Democrats the delegates were assigned proportionately, based on percentage of the vote each received.

Links to Sources

[1] Jonathan Martin, "Clinton and Trump Win Arizona; Cruz Picks Up Utah; Sanders Takes 2, New York Times (online), March 23, 2016

[2] Anne Gearan and Jenna Johnson, "Clinton, Trump Win Delegate-Rich Arizona, but Falter in Utah and Idaho," Washington Post (online), March 22, 2016

[3] James Hohmann, "Arizona, Utah Results Give Stop Trump Movement Reasons to Both Hope and Dispair," Washington Post, March 23, 2016

[4] Calvin Woodward, "Arizona Goes For Trump, Clinton," Associated Press, March 23, 2016

[5] "Utah Caucus; Democratic," Google, March 23, 2016

[6] "Idaho Caucus; Democratic," Google, March 23, 2016

[7] "Arizona Primary; Democratic," March 23, 2016

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