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Did the media blow it for Bernie?

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks to reporters outside the White House in Washington, Thursday, June 9, 2016, following a meeting with President Barack Obama. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks to reporters outside the White House in Washington, Thursday, June 9, 2016, following a meeting with President Barack Obama. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Evan Vucci/AP

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Many supporters of Bernie Sanders were furious when the Associated Press announced Monday that Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic presidential nominee.  The news came just one day before the six states — including California — went to the polls. 

For many Bernie-boosters, the news was a shock, but not necessarily a surprise. In an election cycle that has been branded the "year of the outsider," two of the most celebrated outsiders, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump, have shared two common adversaries: Hillary Clinton, and the mainstream media.

As the race winds down for Senator Sanders, many are left wondering if the press did — in fact — keep the Democratic underdog down. Take Two put that question to two media watchers.

TLDR: It's complicated. Consider Donald Trump's candidacy, fiduciary duties, a competitive media landscape, and demographic-centric coverage.


(Answers have been edited for clarity.)

How does the coverage Hillary Clinton has received compare to Bernie Sanders? 

Henry Jenkins: Early on, the media started with a frame — maybe plausibly — that Hillary Clinton was going to be the frontrunner all along and took a while to catch up with the base of support that Bernie Sanders received. 

Looking at this generationally, most of Bernie Sanders' younger supporters get the bulk of their news from online sources, not from broadcast or traditional journalism. There they would have seen more videos of live speeches, and more direct communication from the candidates; they would be frustrated by the fact that Hillary supporters, who are mostly watching the news or reading newspapers, are going to be seeing very little of that coverage.  

In many households, you have parents who are Hillary supporters, offspring who are Bernie supporters and they would have seen a radically different media ecology between what was on television and what was online. 

I think a lot of people — when they look for whatever their media is — it's whatever aligns with their values or maybe gives them what they want to hear. Are we not searching for the right kind of media — one the at will inform us and do what we think the media is supposed to do? 

David Uberti: It's a very difficult period because a lot of main street outlets have had their business models upended. So you have a person like Trump come along and essentially provide a shot in the arm for cable news outlets. They can gravitate towards entertainment as opposed to education and really help their bottom lines. 

With regard to ideological outlets, this stems in part from social media and how people get their news now. I think news literacy as a society is something we need to address more and more going forward. 

Earlier this week at a technology conference in San Francisco, CBS CEO Les Moonves said this about Donald Trump's candidacy: "It may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS." What message do you think people who are skeptical of the media are taking away from something like this? 

Henry Jenkins: It may be one of the most honest statements made by a media executive in a long time. Networks have done what's good for them. Trump was good ratings to the point that he was bartering with networks. 

I think we've also seen with the Bernie Sanders coverage that it's not in the network's interest to publicize some of the positions that Sanders has taken, particularly on media ownership issues. So the networks have done what's in their best interests, not in the national interests, for most of this, and I think that's partially what troubles young people about what they see when they turn on their TV sets. 

David Uberti: There's an old mantra in the business that 'dog bites man' is not news, but 'man bites dog' is news and that's essentially what we see in 2016. At the end of the day, Donald Trump is an incredibly interesting story. The problem is that we have traditional media outlets that are now competing with entertainment options such as HBO or BuzzFeed's viral content, so you do have a tendency from a lot of executives to gravitate to that territory. 

As to Trump's benefit toward their bottom line, I think a lot of journalists within those organizations that are trying to do capital-J journalism and do a good job on the campaign trail, cringe. 

In March, The New York Times tallied up the time and value of media attention the candidates have received so far, and Donald Trump had received about two billion dollars worth of free media. Bernie Sanders got about one-fifth of the attention. Both candidates have fervent supporters. Why would Bernie Sanders get so much less attention? 

Henry Jenkins: We can only speculate. I agree that Trump has been the story of the year: that he continually gives colorful commentary that generates discussion and buzz. I think he also appeals to the core demographics that are watching those networks far more than Bernie Sanders does, whose support skews younger and on different demographic groups. So it's a question of feeding the viewers what they think they want, as opposed to giving a balanced coverage of the election cycle. 

Press the blue play button above to hear the full discussion.