It’s a tale as old as time. Billionaire entrepreneur runs a successful business. Millionaire democratic-socialist presidential candidate repeatedly targets said business. Billionaire also owns a newspaper. And the democratic-socialist complains about said newspaper.
Okay, so maybe that tale isn’t as old as time, but it’s certainly topical. In today’s headlines, the billionaire is Jeff Bezos. And the democratic-socialist is Bernie Sanders, the Senator from Vermont. Because of his repeated attacks on Amazon, Sanders believes that Bezos, its creator, is targeting him through the newspaper he also owns, the Washington Post.
What’s the Story
In a rally on Monday, Sanders turned to one of his favorite talking points: Amazon’s income tax avoidance. Sanders believes that Amazon paid zero in taxes last year. And he wants to correct that. One of his campaign’s emphases is to ensure that big corporations and the wealthy “pay their fair share” to fund Sanders’ social welfare programs.
But Sanders’ invective against Amazon turned in a new direction yesterday when he turned to another property Bezos owns: the Washington Post. Sanders off-handedly joked that his relentless criticism of Amazon was responsible for the poor coverage he perceived he got from the paper. He said: “and we wonder why the Washington Post is not one of my great supporters. I wonder why.”
Senator Bernie Sanders: "Amazon made $10 billion dollars in profit last year. You know how much they paid in taxes? You got it, zero. And we wonder why the Washington Post is not one of my great supporters, I wonder why." https://t.co/GToXevkWSt pic.twitter.com/yWgGLdtSZZ
— The Hill (@thehill) August 13, 2019
Many in the media saw Sanders’ remark as no laughing mater, though it was said in a joking tone. Journalists widely criticized the Senator for perpetuating the perceived attack on the media popularized by President Trump. And viewing the footage reveals that the tone and content of the Senator’s remarks are remarkably similar to something Trump might have said.
The Post’s editor, Marty Baron, responded strongly. “Contrary to the conspiracy theory the senator seems to favor,” Baron said, “Jeff Bezos allows our newsroom to operate with full independence, as our reporters and editors can attest.” He added that “Sen. Sanders is a member of a large club of politicians — of every ideology — who complain about their coverage.”
Why It Matters
Sanders appeared to back down from his comments somewhat today, suggesting he never meant to imply that Bezos was intentionally pulling the strings against him. But he went on to criticize the “framework” of the media that does not emphasize the political issues on which he focuses.
“I’ve been in politics for a few years. Not one reporter has ever asked me: “Bernie, what are you going to do about the grotesque wealth and income inequality? Are you going to ask me that? Is that part of what the media talks about?” –@BernieSanders pic.twitter.com/xNIzd9Xtor
— Waleed Shahid (@_waleedshahid) August 13, 2019
This is an important story for the election, because it suggests there is not as wide a gap between President Trump and Senator Sanders as it appears there should be. Though the two have wildly disparate views on issues, they have similar views of themselves: political outsiders who have to fight to be taken seriously against the media and public perception.
The widespread scorn for Sanders’ remarks also suggests something about the media. As we discussed with the Chris Cuomo story earlier today, the media do tend to have a hive mind about certain issues. As a result, they often refuse to consider criticism, even when it is warranted.
One might think the media would be more willing to consider such criticism when it comes from someone on the Left. But the Sanders story suggests that is not the case. Most journalist condemned his remarks as too similar to Trump, rather than considering whether their coverage of both Trump and Sanders was wanting.
This will be a fairly minor story in the long run. And it shouldn’t have any impact on the primary election. But it is an important reminder that even the small political moments reveal much about the players on the stage. In this case, we see that Sanders and Trump are not as different as they appear, and the media treats them both with some degree of derision.