What did Bernie Sanders mean with his shot at NPR?

It was a fairly interesting interview this morning with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is thinking of running for president and who will get clobbered if he does.

Sanders, an independent, is all about making his point, knowing that in many cases his populist view isolates him in the club that is the U.S. Senate.

A presidential bid would allow Sanders a better platform to do what many Democrats were scared to death to do in the recent campaign: Stand up and defend middle-class principles that have traditionally been Democratic principles.

“In the last election, in state after state, you had an abysmally low vote for the Democrats among white, working-class people. And I think the reason for that is that the Democrats have not made it clear that they are prepared to stand with the working-class people of this country, take on the big money interests. I think the key issue that we have to focus on, and I know people are uncomfortable about talking about it, is the role of the billionaire class in American society,” he said on NPR’s Morning Edition.

  1. Listen NPR: Sen. Bernie Sanders On How Democrats Lost White Voters

    November 19, 2014

Steve Inskeep asked Sanders a good question.

“Why are people uncomfortable in your view (talking about the billionaire class)?”

“Because they fund organizations like NPR,” Sanders said, adding other reasons such as campaign contributions.

“You’re on NPR. You get your voice on. Are you being drowned out?” Inskeep replied.

“No,” Sanders said. “I’m doing pretty well lately as a matter of fact. But that’s because I’m giving thought to running for president.”

Inskeep didn’t pursue it any more (at least on the interview that made it to the broadcast). It was a puzzling answer and an allegation not well explained.

  • Tyler

    He might have been crossing the wires, thinking about PBS pulling documentary about the Koch Brothers. On the other hand, every time MPR mentions funding from Flint Hills, my left eyelid twitches.

  • Jack Ungerleider

    I don’t see it as an allegation. Its just a side effect of the “limited government” tax cut society.

    Lets take MPR for a simple calculation. Minnesota has a total population of around 5 million people. Let’s say that only half of those are tax payers. If MPR has a $50 million operating budget, that’s about $10/person/year or $20/taxpayer/year. As a result MPR could be funded for $1.67 per taxpayer per month.

    Instead we deem that “public” broadcasting needs to fund itself. If MPR can attract 200,000 members they would need to average $250/year to cover the budget. That’s just under $21/month. As a result those with more are asked to give more. They do, resulting in the possibility of operational changes in order to protect funding. (I’m not alleging that is happening, but it could.)

    • It didn’t really make sense. Why are people afraid to talk about billionaires? Because they contribute to NPR.

      Huh? Do they think that a bunch of public radio goons are going to come after them with tote bags? Do they believe that they’ll get in trouble with their book club if they speak ill of billionaires?

      And who is the “they” they refer to? Maybe he’s referring to the people who are afraid to talk about billionaires, like it’s unseemly to both donate to NPR AND talk about billionaires.

      In the context presented, it makes absolutely no sense.

      • Scott

        “Why are people uncomfortable in your view (talking about the billionaire class)?”

        “Because the billionaires fund organizations like NPR.”

        My best guess is that he means that NPR doesn’t hold politicians from either party accountable for their seemingly exclusive focus on the upper class because NPR needs that very same upper class for funding.

        Personally, I see more reporting on income inequality on public radio than I do elsewhere.

        • Jack

          Big money=big donations=shorter pledge drives.

  • typhoeus

    Why doesn’t Bob Collins tell us what he thinks Sanders means? Does Bob Collins mean to imply that Sanders does not have a point?

    • Why doesn’t typhoeus tells us what he thinks Sanders means?

      • typhoeus

        Apologies. I thought you were a newsman. I will now tell you what we both know Sanders means:

        “The Corporate Dictatorship of PBS and NPR”: http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/16538-the-corporate-dictatorship-of-pbs-and-npr#

        • The insult really sells your logic.

          • George O.

            The corporate bias of so-called “public” media organizations has been well documented. There are myriad reasons for this and it is, frankly, juvenile to reduce criticism of NPR to a conspiracy theory. Your reluctance to address the Koch Brothers documentary speaks volumes. No serious person buys into the “tote bag goons” caricature, but it is clear that NPR privileges the opinions of corporate executives and government officials over voices of dissent. One can find plenty of examples of this in coverage of trade agreements, Israel/Palestine and the marginalization of single-payer advocates in the healthcare debate. It’s not that these voices are completely silenced, but organizations like MPR effectively delegitimatize them by hiding behind the false pretense of “objectivity.”

          • 1) I wrote about the Koch documentary before most people even knew there was such a thing. But that doesn’t answer the question that was posed to Sanders.

            2) There’s an hour long video on this site in which I call out “objectivity” for the journalistic fraud it is. You should watch it and get back to me.

            3) The question to Sanders was why do people feel uncomfortable talking about billionaires?

            As for the voices of dissent, as a blanket statement I find that a particularly non persuasive argument without actual analysis of voices on the air.

            Are there ones you think should be that aren’t or weren’t? Quite probably. Are there no voices of dissent? Prove it.

          • George O.

            The role of institutions like NPR is to encompass the accepted spectrum of discourse in the United States’ public sphere. In order for it to function, voices like yours are crucial. Not once did I suggest in my post that there were no voices of dissent; quite the contrary. It’s great that you used you spoke out against pulling the Koch doc, but patting yourself on the back for it doesn’t further your argument. It was still cancelled…
            If, as you argue, “objectivity” is a journalistic fraud, then what subjective prism informs the likes of NPR and PBS? It would be a cold day in hell before NPR let on anyone who advocated workers controlling the means of production, but by including the occasional Bernie Sanders (more a social democrat than an actual socialist) you get to call it a debate. Measures like NAFTA, the Iraq War, etc. would not succeed without an establishment media to sell them to the public.

            There is a tendency for writers in your position to dismiss the work of Noam Chomsky when these issues come up, but I think it is more relevant than ever. Manufacturing Consent provides a wealth of statistical evidence that media institutions like NPR and PBS do exactly what I’m discussing. If that’s too esoteric for you, I’d suggest Bill Moyers’ documentary, Buying the War which handles NPR at length.

          • typhoeus

            So Bob Collins does, in fact, know exactly what Bernie Sanders is alluding to. Take the earlier insult along with the logic. It doesn’t need to sell the logic to serious newsmen; the insult’s just ancillary. The logic speaks for itself.

            “Are there no voices of dissent? Prove it.”

            The question and demand seem more like a juvenile’s game, again, than serious inquiry from a newsman. No one said there are no voices of dissent. But do NPR and MPR toe the established line of what’s considered to be acceptable within a certain liberal framework? Of course. Do the NPR and MPR organizations more or less reflect the position of the establishment, corporate-capitalist US Democratic Party? Of course they do. Have the organizations moved rightward, generally, as the Democratic Party has? Of course. Will the organizations continue to? I suspect so.

            Does Bob Collins know what Sanders is talking about? Apparently, yes. Why does he pretend not to? Who knows. Perhaps he feels uncomfortable talking about it.

          • Boy, that’s a lot of rhetorical work to go through just to avoid answering what is a pretty simple question.

            The question was simple: “Why are people uncomfortable with you view?”

            So far, judging by your responses, the answer is , “they’re not.”

            I don’t think so, either.

          • typhoeus

            Oh, we’ve got one voice of dissent here in Bob Collins. That’s great. But is MPR/NPR a voice of dissent? Absolutely not. It’s self-censorship. Another example: Are there voices of dissent on Democracy Now or the Real News? Yes. Are Democracy Now and the Real News voices of dissent? Yes. Another example: Are there voices of dissent in the Democratic Party? Sure. Is the Democratic Party a voice of dissent? Of course not. Are there voices of dissent in the Green Party? Yes. Is the Green Party a voice of dissent? Yes.

            People at NPR/MPR are uncomfortable by and large being voices of dissent or they are so liberal establishment that they have no thought of being a voice of dissent.

          • It appears we may have two different ideas what Steve Inskeep was asking.

            It sounds like you believe that Sanders was asked why people at NPR are uncomfortable talking about the billionaire class.

            I don’t take that from the audio. I think he was talking about people in the U.S. and asking why Sanders’ view isn’t registering with people to the extent that one might logically expect.

            It would have been nice for Inskeep to pursue the line of questioning further.

          • typhoeus

            Neither scenario. Sanders was asked why “people” (the suggestion is those in power, Democrats) are uncomfortable talking about the billionaire class. Inskeep is not asking about regular people here, and if he were, Sanders’s reply is not regarding regular people anyway. Sanders’s reply is regarding Democrats and others of political or institutional influence, and why THEY are uncomfortable talking about the billionaire class. Regular people are not uncomfortable with the subject because they have nothing to lose.

            Sanders: “The Democrats have not made it clear that they are prepared to stand with the working people of this country [and] take on the big-money interests. I think the key issue that we have to focus on, and I know people are uncomfortable talking about it, is the role of the billionaire class in American society.”

            Inskeep: “Why are people uncomfortable, in your view?”

            Sanders: “Because they [the billionaire class] fund organizations like NPR and the media in general. Because they [the billionaire class] make huge campaign contributions to politicians of all stripes.”

            Sanders is saying that Democrats and liberal institutions like NPR do not talk about the billionaire class because the billionaire class funds Democrats and the media. Even Democrats take Koch brothers money (e.g., Obama, H. Clinton, Cuomo, more), and those Democrats who do not are subservient to the types who do. The Democrats are structurally unable to be the party for the working class if they are also the party of monied interests. That is what he is saying.

            Sanders does not go far enough, of course. He is focused these days on the “billionaire class,” which is code for the Kochs and Sheldon Adelson and the like. He is not focused on the corporate rule of US government, and I suspect he is no longer pursuing that route because even “progressive” Democrats are corporate funded. Sanders knows that the billionaire class is an easy target, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the widespread corporate funding of elections and corporate lobbying. The problem goes much deeper than a handful of conservative billionaires.

            This is the analysis to take from the exchange. In the title of your piece it says, Bernie Sanders’s “shot at NPR.” It is as much a shot at the liberal Democratic Party as it is at the liberal NPR.

            Inskeep then says in reply: “But you’re on NPR now. . . .”

            So NPR thinks it is an open forum for dissent when it hosts a voice of dissent. Not true. It is an establishment voice that occasionally allows a voice of dissent to speak and then takes a shot at it.