Sen. Bernie Sanders scaled back his criticism of the media on Tuesday, telling CNN he did not believe that Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos was dictating the paper’s coverage of his campaign.
But while the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate acknowledged that there is no direct link between the Post newsroom and Bezos, he continued to argue that the structure of the mainstream media leaves candidates like him at a disadvantage. “I think my criticism of the corporate media is not that they are anti-Bernie, that they wake up, you know, in the morning and say, ‘What could we do to hurt Bernie Sanders?’ – that’s not the case, that Jeff Bezos gets on the phone to The Washington Post,” the Vermont independent said in an interview with CNN. “There is a framework of what we can discuss and what we cannot discuss, and that’s a serious problem.”
Sanders clarified his position on Bezos’ role after suggesting twice on Monday that his public objections to Amazon’s business practices had influenced the Post’s reporting.
“I talk about (Amazon’s taxes) all of the time,” Sanders said in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, a day earlier. “And then I wonder why The Washington Post, which is owned by Jeff Bezos, who owns Amazon, doesn’t write particularly good articles about me. I don’t know why.”
The remarks prompted a sharp response from Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron, who defended the paper’s independence.
“Sen. Sanders is a member of a large club of politicians – of every ideology – who complain about their coverage,” Baron said in a statement provided to CNN. “Contrary to the conspiracy theory the senator seems to favor, Jeff Bezos allows our newsroom to operate with full independence, as our reporters and editors can attest.”
On Tuesday, Sanders reprised a more comprehensive – and familiar – frustration with corporate-owned media and what he described as a lack of attention to poverty and income and wealth inequality. Sanders also looked back on the 2016 campaign, when, despite his successes in the Democratic primary, he received few endorsements from mainstream newspapers.
“So this is not into conspiracy theory,” Sanders said. “We are taking on corporate America. Large corporations own the media in America, by and large, and I think there is a framework, about how the corporate media focuses on politics. That is my concern. It’s not that Jeff Bezos is on the phone every day; he’s not.”
Sanders has raised similar concerns for decades, from the time he was first running for office in Vermont in the 1970s and during his tenure as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, in the 1980s. Speaking to CNN last October, Sanders argued that the for-profit news media missed important stories because they rarely generated punchy headlines.
“I made news today. I made big news today,” Sanders said during a swing through the Midwest. “Because I talked with four senior citizens, you were there, and one senior said that the cost of her medicine soared. Extraordinary news. Because that’s news that millions of people will shake their heads at. What you mean by news is I gotta say something that I didn’t say yesterday.”
Despite his complaints, Sanders has regularly defended the media against President Donald Trump’s rhetoric – and again criticized the President on Tuesday.
“Donald Trump thinks that media in America is the enemy of the people. And to me, that is a disgusting remark which undermines American democracy. We need a free media to be there to analyze what’s going on, and to criticize, you know, candidates. That’s what a free media is about. Donald Trump thinks CNN is fake news; I don’t,” Sanders said.
“We use, probably every week, reports from CNN or CBS or ABC in our social media. There are some really great articles out there, like investigations which we use, so I don’t think media is fake news,” he noted.
Asked to describe what has fueled his – and his team’s – more recent complaints about the coverage of the campaign, Sanders pushed for a less sensational tone in reporting.
“I think if you look at the coverage that we’ve got, it has not been as fair as it might be. I think, often, the problems like any campaign has, that we have, get exacerbated, our successes get minimized,” he said.
“So all I’m asking is, you know, when you have a media, owned by large multinational corporations, I would hope that the media does the best that it can to kind of free itself from that corporate domination and cover campaigns as objectively as they can.”