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What is MSNBC's problem with Bernie Sanders?

Posted February 24, 2020 12:11 a.m. EST
Updated February 24, 2020 9:22 a.m. EST

— A version of this article first appeared in the "Reliable Sources" newsletter.

Bernie Sanders' big win in Nevada over the weekend highlighted the hostility between his campaign and MSNBC, the network with a progressive brand but an establishment bent.

The campaign continued to criticize the network over the weekend — in response to highly controversial remarks by Chris Matthews and others. One MSNBC regular, Anand Giridharadas, called out Matthews on the air and said "something is happening in America right now that actually does not fit our mental models. It certainly doesn't fit the mental models of a lot of people on TV."

So I'm wondering: Is this the big media story of the 2020 race?

In 2016, all roads led to Trump, who frequently sparred with Fox News despite all of the natural overlaps between the Fox audience and the Trump base. Something similar, though not the same, is happening now with Sanders and MSNBC. Page Six reported Friday night that Sanders loudly criticized NBC and MSNBC officials before last week's Dem debate. According to the story, Sanders approached MSNBC president Phil Griffin and said "Phil, your network has not been playing a fair role in this campaign. I am upset. Is anything going to change?"

What Matthews said

When Sanders took an early lead in Saturday's NV caucuses, Matthews likened it "to the shock of France falling to Germany during WWII," as The Daily Beast wrote here. This analogy placed Sanders in the shoes of Nazi soldiers. Sanders comms director Mike Casca tweeted this in response: "Never thought part of my job would be pleading with a national news network to stop likening the campaign of a Jewish presidential candidate whose family was wiped out by the Nazis to the Third Reich."

What Giridharadas said

Sanders' wins are a "wake-up moment for the American power establishment," he said on "AM Joy" Sunday morning. "For Michael Bloomberg, to those of us in the media, to Democratic Party, to donors, to CEOs. Many in this establishment are behaving, in my view, as they face the prospect of a Bernie Sanders nomination, like out-of-touch aristocrats in a dying aristocracy." Instead, he said, they should be asking "Why is this happening? What is going on in the lives of my fellow citizens that they may be voting for something I find so hard to understand?"

Giridharadas, a paid contributor to NBC and MSNBC, then asked, "Why is Chris Matthews on this air talking about the victory of Bernie Sanders, who had kin murdered in the Holocaust, analogizing it to the Nazi conquest of France? The people who are stuck in an old way of thinking, in 20th century frameworks, in gulag thinking, are missing what is going on." MSNBC declined to comment...

→ Marie Harf said on Fox that Matthews should "personally apologize to Bernie Sanders..."

The view from Sanders HQ

"I think one of the big questions is how and whether news outlets reassess whether they got it right on Bernie," campaign manager Faiz Shakir told me Sunday. "And if not, how does that change coverage going forward? What are they missing about Bernie's appeal?"

Shakir has called out MSNBC by name and challenged print outlets that, in his view, have been exceedingly negative. The more delegates Sanders gains, the more of a megaphone Shakir has regarding this subject...

FOR THE RECORD

-- CNN's political pros have 6 takeaways from the caucuses here... (CNN)

-- CNN's David Chalian explaining the delegate math that favors Sanders: "It's getting late early..." (Mediaite)

-- "Meet the Press" moderator Chuck Todd: "If nobody drops out before Super Tuesday, is it even possible to stop Bernie Sanders?" Dan Pfeiffer: "I do not believe it is." (MTP)

-- During CNN's coverage on Saturday, Van Jones cited Latino and youth support for Sanders: "You got a new generation stepping up. They're not scared of any of these ideas and they're tired of hearing Republicans calling everything we say socialist. They ruined the word socialist..." (Beast)

-- Read more of Sunday's "Reliable Sources" newsletter...

-- WaPo's Page One headline on Monday: "Sanders's ascent forces a reckoning for Democrats..." (WaPo)

-- Coming up: "Sanders plans to be up on the air with commercials in every South Carolina media market this week, and his staff is scrambling to add new rallies to his schedule as they take aim at their next big target:" overtaking Joe Biden... (NYT)

Sanders cites CBS polls

Per CNN's Annie Grayer, Sanders did something on Sunday that's unusual for him: He read poll numbers aloud at a rally. "Some of the folks in the corporate media are getting a little bit nervous," he told supporters in Houston. "They say, you know, Bernie can't beat Trump. So let's look at some of the polls out today."

Sanders read results from Sunday morning's new CBS/YouGov poll that showed him beating Trump in a general election match-up and in key battleground states...

The view from Jacobin

Jacobin, the leading socialist magazine in the US, published a piece after the Nevada "blowout" that said "face it, establishment Democrats — it's his party now."

Jacobin has been allied with Sanders for years. The mag's publisher Bhaskar Sunkara told me, "I think the key is that the Never Bernie wave won't materialize. Most Dems like him and his lead is growing. They'll reconcile themselves to him just like Republican media to Trump." Sunkara's prediction: "Bernie will be just a regular Dem candidate which fits his actual profile -- not radical but someone who's been in Washington for a long time and who proposes popular economic and social reforms."

Sunkara said web traffic to Jacobin "is up year over year around 60 percent." Print subscriptions are up 40 percent year over year. "People are really dialed in right now," he said...

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