Soundtrack in my head: Don Henley “Dirty Laundry”
It seems the biggest media companies aren’t even trying to hide their bias any more. Presidential candidate and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard announced the week before last that she was considering boycotting the fourth Democratic debate in Ohio. She felt and still feels that the Democratic National Committee in partnership with corporate media organizations have been trying to rig the primaries before a single vote would be cast. And while she ultimately participated in the debate, the subsequent media attacks against Tulsi, and the way bias played out in the debate proved that she was right.
(I hadn’t intended to write back-to-back blog posts about Tulsi Gabbard. It’s true that she’s currently my top choice of the Democratic presidential candidates. I haven’t ruled out the possibility that my top choice might change. But I write about her because her campaign keeps raising issues that reveal so much about our political system.)
The New York Times was moderating the debate, yet that did not stop them from printing a hit piece three days before the debate. “What, Exactly is Tulsi Gabbard Up To?” had the sub-headline “As she injects chaos into the 2020 Democratic primary by accusing her own party of ‘rigging’ the election, an array of alt-right internet stars, white nationalists and Russians have praised her.” So a Samoan-American Hindu practitioner is also aligned with racists, the alt-right, and the Russians. Right. CNN was the host for the televised debate, yet hours before the debate, CNN analyst Bakari Sellers referred to Tulsi Gabbard as a “Russian puppet.” These are extraordinary media attacks against Tulsi.
One would think that CNN and the New York Times would respond to Gabbard’s allegations by saying nothing, to prove to the public that they took their neutral roles as moderators seriously. Instead, they responded to these accusations by circling the wagons and lofting hit pieces in Tulsi’s direction. This demonstrates CNN and the New York Times aren’t hiding their bias anymore. They would rather show that her accusations are true than to let an accusation go unanswered.
Furthermore, they proved their bias in the amount of speaking each candidate got. Elizabeth Warren got nearly three times as much speaking time as Gabbard, and Joe Biden got more than twice the amount of speaking time. And when Tulsi Gabbard tried to direct a non-accusatory question to Elizabeth Warren about her relevant experience with foreign policy and fitness to serve as Commander-in-Chief, the debate moderator cut her off and cut to a commercial.
Sellers did surprise some of his fellow panelists with his allegations, though no one tried to to argue against him. The other panelists believed, uncritically, that she was a supporter of Bashar Assad. This frequently-referenced trope is based on the fact that she and Congressman Dennis Kucinich had met with Bashar Assad on a fact-finding tour about the war in Syria back in 2017. Gabbard was able to go into great detail about the trip to Syria on this video, The truth is that they also met with the Syrian opposition parities, members of the clergy, and ordinary citizens in Syria. While there were a wide range of opinions of Assad, people were almost united in their belief that foreign interference in their civil war had to end. Rather than report this news, the mainstream pundits have chosen to repeat the lie that her meeting with Assad is proof of her being an Assad supporter. Assad, of course, is a close ally of Russia.
The media attacks against Tulsi as a presidential candidate started with a hit piece by NBC in February that alleged that Russian bots were supporting her campaign. The source of these claims goes back to a discredited source—the Hamilton 68 dashboard, run by the German Marshall Fund. They were caught creating fake Russian bot accounts on Facebook and Twitter in order to bolster the claim that the Russians were backing Roy Moore, the Republican judge who ultimately lost the Alabama Senate race to Doug Jones in 2018.
Indeed, smearing people with alleged ties to Russia seems to be a last resort for self-important political idiots hiding the fact that they have nothing else of any importance offer Americans. They only seek to narrow the spectrum of political debate to make us believe that the Democratic Party leadership is the only alternative to the Republican agenda. The Democratic narrative of Russiagate has been disproven. The real “Russiagate” is a story about how elite Democratic political class desperately concocted a conspiracy to blame Russia for their 2016 loss in order to save a corrupt, bloated party machinery that was caught cheating and manipulating their own primaries. They went as far as to try to sway the Electoral College vote in order to do so. And Congresswoman Gabbard is correct in saying that the structure of the 2020 Democratic primary debates is a continuation of that manipulation.
The debates have often been dog-and-pony shows that have often done little to inform voters. Climate change was not even on the list of questions asked by the CNN and NYT moderators during the 180-minute debate even though a world wide mobilization to urge world leaders to fight climate change came together just a few weeks before. This has generally been true for thirty years. The League of Women Voters (LWV) sponsored the presidential debates in 1976, 1980, and 1984, but in 1988, the two major political parties hammered out an agreement behind closed doors to control the content of the debates. They invited the LWV to participate, but the parties’ insistence on selecting the questioners, audience, and press access to the candidates were unacceptable to the organization. The LMV said that “the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter.” The two-party fraud and contol over the debates continues to this day.
As if to yet again confirm Gabbard’s criticism of the DNC and large media organizations, none other than Hillary Clinton has risen–zombie-like, from the dead–to point her skeletal finger at Tulsi and claim that she’s being “groomed by the Russians” to run a third-party campaign.
It is true that Tulsi Gabbard’s campaign is unconventional in some ways. While her political positions are aligned quite closely with progressives like Bernie Sanders, she alone has been bold and clear in her opposition to regime-change wars that the United States has been engaged in since 9/11. She has a lot of credibility on the subject as a young woman who voluntarily joined the Army National Guard in a desire to fight terrorism in the the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and who is a veteran of three tours of the Iraq War. She has seen firsthand what war has done to enlisted military and military families.. As such, she also wields a lot of credibility with veterans, many of whom are more conservative than her.
She is also well aware that many conservatives and progressives share common ground in their opposition to the “regime-change wars” in the Middle East and in their deep distrust of the corporate sector. She also has a lot of credibility given the fact that she resigned from her role as Vice-Chair of the DNC to endorse Bernie Sanders during the 2016 Democratic Presidential primaries. She has also been blunt about the DNC’s rigging of the 2016 primaries.
Gabbard also has had few qualms about appearing on the shows of political channels hosted by people she often disagrees with. She approaches them in a respectful way while being clear on where she differs from them in policy. While she has clear principles, she has no qualms connecting with people with whom she has clear differences with. She knows that she can find common ground with people from a wide variety of backgrounds.
This is a tactic that is remarkably different from the DNC and Trump’s Republican Party, which seek to divide people. Trump has been most blatant about creating divisions by scapegoating immigrants and signaling to white supremacists that their politics have the support of the highest office in the United States. But Hillary Clinton played upon these divisions too by referring to Trump supporters as “deplorables.” Since then, politics has become a game of “us” and “them,” where areas of common ground are discouraged—and as we see here, causes someone to be accused of being a “Russian puppet.”
Gabbard’s ability to find common ground between progressives and conservatives in opposition to Middle East wars and corporate power threatens the current pro-war and pro-corporate narrative put forward by CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. The New York Times seems to either confused or pretending to be confused about this political reality–preferring to refer to her supporters as an odd assortment of “unusual Americans.” Large media companies are literally making money off of current political division and have a stake in keeping the political order as it is. So of course there would be media attacks against Tulsi.
It is important to understand that large media companies are not just free-standing journalistic organizations, but are part of corporate conglomerates that have their own agenda. YouTube might warn people that “RT is funded in whole or in part by the Russian government,” which, of course is true. But YouTube won’t warn people that NBC’s advertising revenue includes multiple large pharmaceutical companies or that point out that ExxonMobil and Bayer (now owner of Monsanto) contributes to CNN’s advertising revenue. The media attacks against Tulsi are just part of a campaign by top corporate news sources to establish a monopoly on public political discourse.
When I was a journalism student, I was taught that a news story should be answer the questions of Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. The same 5 W’s and an H should apply to evaluating journalist sources. Who is the source, What are they saying, When are they saying it, Where are they getting their revenue from, Why they might be saying it (starting with the answer to the Where question) and How they are presenting the information, as how they say has an enormous impact on what gets communicated.