Monday, May 23, 2016

The media's obligation to Bernie Sanders

Is anyone else getting a serious Black Knight kind of vibe from Bernie Sanders?

What's he going to do to Hillary?  Bleed cash all over her?  Apparently so.  But what about the camera?  The camera here focuses on the Black Knight because it's funny.  One can understand, then, why late-night comics might want to keep making jokes about Sanders' state of denial, but what kind of coverage should the responsible press (such as it is) give to Bernie?  This isn't the same as their challenge with respect to Tony Clifton, I mean, Donald Trump, but they are in a bind.

This requires thinking about their professional obligations.  The press have an obligation to provide factual information about the state of the campaign.  The fact is that Bernie Sanders cannot win unless some external event occurs, like a real scandal.  Where this gets more complicated is the territory of the self-fulfilling prophesy.  If the press deny coverage to a candidate, then that candidate cannot win.  Thus, by acting as though a candidate cannot win, the press can...

Thank you, Jean-Luc.  The dilemma is how much of a chance the press has to pretend that Bernie has so as not to write him off completely.

The next problem is one of space.  Or time.  Or... something.  How much coverage should the press give to Sanders relative to other political issues?  In principle, we have virtually unlimited virtual space, so discussion of Sanders and his Black Knight-esque candidacy doesn't mean coverage of other stuff cannot occur.  However, since any one news consumer has limited capacity to consume news, any news they consume about the limbless bleeder crowds out news that could have been about something else.

Journalists understand this.  We talk about politics as though the only presidential candidates are the major ones, but if you actually look at a primary ballot, you'll see lots of names you don't recognize.  Why?  Because strange people manage to get on the ballot, and journalists rightfully ignore them as cranks who just managed to fill out some paperwork.  Probably in crayon.

The question is, at what point should the press stop treating Bernie Sanders as January-of-2000-John McCain (the insurgent with an outside chance of winning), and start treating him as Vermin Supreme?

For obvious reasons, the press has a bias towards treating a sitting Senator as a serious candidate.  As that happens, Sanders will keep threatening to bite Hillary's knee-caps off.

Those of us who care about objective reality, though, should recognize that the story here is that the press continues to cover Sanders as though he deserves coverage even though he lost the campaign long ago.  As I said earlier, he may be more Tea Party than Ted Cruz.

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