The difference this time is that the Sanders camp is training its fire specifically on MSNBC, whose prime-time hosts are a left-of-center alternative to the more conservative, pro-Trump partisans on Fox News. As such, the network is presumed to have an influential role among Democratic voters, especially during the primaries.
In both cases, the anti-media message probably plays well with both candidates’ supporters, and is in keeping with Sanders’s and Trump’s self-created images as anti-establishment figures.
Although they come from distant parts of the political spectrum, Sanders’s and Trump’s supporters seem to share a distrust of the mainstream media and a feeling they have been marginalized by the Beltway pundit class.
Unlike Trump, however, Sanders hasn’t weaponized these sentiments by kicking reporters out of his rallies and denouncing them as “fake news” and the “enemy of the people.”
Sanders reportedly confronted MSNBC president Phil Griffin and another network executive last week before the NBC-sponsored Democratic debate in Las Vegas to complain about its coverage, including disparaging comments made by Chris Matthews and “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd.
MSNBC has not confirmed the encounters took place, though it hasn’t disputed the report either.
Sanders’ campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, told Vanity Fair last week that MSNBC “is constantly undermining the Bernie Sanders campaign.” He has even said Fox News has been “more fair than MSNBC,” a stunning statement given that the Democratic National Committee declined to award a primary debate to Fox because of its perceived bias.
The campaign’s ire was raised further by Matthews’s commentary as Sanders swept to an early lead in Nevada on Saturday. Matthews compared Sanders’s performance to Nazi Germany’s shattering military victory over France in the early months of World War II, suggesting Sanders’s path to the Democratic nomination was unstoppable. “It’s over,” said Matthews, referring to a French politician’s assessment of the battle and possibly the war.
The comparison was flawed in several respects (France was eventually liberated and Germany was crushed by allied forces), but Sanders’s representatives expressed outrage that Matthews had compared Sanders to Hitler’s soldiers, given that Sanders, a Jew, lost family members during the Holocaust.
“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 but here we are,” Sanders communications director Mike Casca tweeted.
MSNBC hasn’t commented on Matthews’s statement, but Matthews is expected to address the controversy on his program, “Hardball,” Monday evening.
On Saturday, Shakir, the campaign manager, tweaked the network’s alleged dismissal of Sanders in a tweet: “All day long, MSNBC’s pundit panels have been focused on the biggest question of the day: Who will finish second in Nevada?”
One of MSNBC’s regular pundits, Anand Giridharadas, criticized Matthews during a segment on the network on Sunday. He said “something is happening in America right now that actually does not fit our mental models.” Apparently addressing Matthews, he added, “It certainly doesn’t fit the mental models of a lot of people on TV.”
He added, “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.” They should be asking, he said, “ ‘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?’ ”
There was also outrage from the Sanders camp over comments made by Jason Johnson, a political science professor, MSNBC contributor and politics editor at the Root, a news site aimed at African Americans. During an interview on a satellite-radio program, Johnson said some of Sanders’s staff and supporters were drawn from an “island of misfit black girls.” The hashtag #firejasonjohnson briefly trended.
In response, Sanders’s national co-chair, Nina Turner, who is African American, tweeted a link to a Medium essay headlined, “If You Support Black Women, Condemn Jason Johnson’s Misogynistic Remarks.” Johnson later apologized for his comment.
On the other hand, Turner has also recently posted clips of interviews she’s done with MSNBC, as well as one of Shakir discussing the campaign on the network on Monday morning. Sanders himself has been interviewed repeatedly by Matthews, and by prime-time hosts Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow.
This has fueled cynicism inside MSNBC that Sanders is protesting a bit too much. In contrast, some at the network point out, Joe Biden has said little about his media coverage, even though much of it for the past few weeks has been negative.
Another prime-time host, Lawrence O’Donnell, has repeatedly pointed out that Sanders’s brand of democratic socialism is no more radical than what Democrats have periodically proposed since the advent of Medicare in the mid-1960s.
MSNBC itself tweeted out a clip on Saturday of weekend host Joy Reid saying this about Sanders win in Nevada: “The hungriest community usually gets the nomination. . . . No one is as hungry, angry, enraged and determined as Sanders’s voters.”