Matt Taibbi excoriates CNN for its debate performance

He describes how before, during, and after the debate CNN completely abandoned any pretense of objectivity and neutrality and single-mindedly went after Bernie Sanders, using commentators who all belonged to the political establishment that views Sanders with a mixture of alarm and disdain. He says that CNN ginned up the Sanders-Warren ‘controversy’ in a cynical ploy to boost ratings for the debate.

Over a 24-hour period before, during, and after the debate, CNN bid farewell to what remained of its reputation as a nonpolitical actor via a remarkable stretch of factually dubious reporting, bent commentary, and heavy-handed messaging.

CNN hyped the “feud” between Sanders and Warren the whole day before the debate. “This is a heavyweight match tonight. This is going to be frisky, it’s going to be competitive,” former DNC chair and commentator Terry McAuliffe said. This was the ratings-humping aspect of this gross episode.

The debate preview show hosted by Anderson Cooper and featuring the likes of McAuliffe, former Clinton comms person Jess McIntosh, and former senior adviser to Barack Obama David Axelrod, was full of hand-wringing about how the Democratic Party is moving too far to the left. Panelists worried aloud about how more “moderate” candidates like Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, and Amy Klobuchar (the recipient of obsessive attention within media circles despite a comically consistent absence of real-people support) might get traction through the debate.

CNN factory-produces these banal meanderings, worrying over the chances of establishment candidates and how they might overcome the irrational urges of the electorate (“It’s head or heart,” as Bash put it). It’s elite messaging in numbing quantity, to the point where you feel like screaming, “We get it!”

This continued during the debate, with the chryon featuring questions like, “How will [Sanders] avoid bankrupting the country?” Or: “Does Sanders owe voters an explanation of how much his health plan will cost them and the country?”

If the network doesn’t see trouble in this, it’s delusional. Voters on both sides of the aisle have changed since the Bernard Shaw days. They pay more attention to media manipulations, and it doesn’t get much more manipulative than punching above the facts to advance transparent political narratives, which is a new and accepted habit in the commercial news landscape.

As others have pointed out, these debate moderators never ask how much wars will cost and how they will be paid for. They only ask those questions about programs that will benefit ordinary people. It would have been perfectly appropriate to ask those who do not favor pulling US troops out of its various involvements in the middle east and elsewhere how they would pay for their continued deployment. But they never do.

These features of the mainstream corporate establishment media are well known and it is absurd to think that the executives and on-camera people at these institutions are not aware of these critiques. This is policy, not casual oversight due to ignorance. Media hacks like Wolf Blitzer belong to a close-knit group that is well paid to serve the interests of the corporate elite. They have so internalized what is expected of them by their corporate bosses that they possibly do not even realize that they are serving an oligarchic agenda.

You can be sure that the attacks on Sanders will intensify if his popularity continues to rise in the lead up to the Iowa caucuses.


  1. polishsalami says

    These “news”organizations are owned by billionaires and staffed by millionaires; they are owned by the same people who own the military-industrial complex.

    You can by-pass them with social media. The problem is too many people trust the elite media, and never seek out alternative views. Garbage in, garbage out.

  2. says

    It would have been perfectly appropriate to ask those who do not favor pulling US troops out of its various involvements in the middle east and elsewhere how they would pay for their continued deployment. But they never do.

    And a politician could say “and I propose to pay for this by slashing the DoD budget, stopping support for the Saudi war in Yemen, and pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan.” But they never do.
    I do not believe a politician can be “serious” about climate change or social equality without talking about the “defense” budget. But they never do.

    It is unconscionable to crown Warren or Sanders as “progressive” while they continue to vote for massive increases in “defense” spending. Unfortunately, at this point, any real progressive’s agenda would look radical on the order of “burn it all to the ground.”

  3. says

    I can’t even think of something sufficiently nasty and dismissive to say about Wolf Blitzer. Any media outlet that takes that hack seriously is a disgrace. But then we already knew that.

  4. ColeYote says

    I’m honestly a little disappointed Bernie didn’t just call it out for the farce it was and walk off the stage at some point. Shame that would probably fuel unfavourable comparisons to President Fuckwit.

  5. lochaber says

    I’ve been pretty annoyed with CNN for this whole primary run…

    Most other debates I’ve been able to find full versions on-line to watch afterwards, but I haven’t been able to find any of the ones hosted by CNN.

    And then the last time I tried to watch some, what I could find of the “highlights” it seemed like CNN was exclusively using Republican talking points, and for fuck’s sake, we’ve had enough of that…

    So between that bit about a “black hole” being responsible for that missing Malaysian Air flight, hiring orange asshole’s lackeys left and right, and now throwing the debate, they are nearly as bad as Fox “News” at this point, as far as I’m concerned…

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