In this week's Democratic primary debate, Bernie Sanders railed against corporate greed, too-big-to-fail banks, climate change inaction, and, as always, the media. And though the national media is only starting to pay attention to Sanders, he's been railing against the press for as long as he's been in the public eye. Brooke speaks with Paul Heintz, political editor for the Vermont independent alt-weekly, Seven Days, about Sanders' longstanding grudge and what the national media is getting right and wrong.
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BROOKE: For Sanders and his supporters, the apparent snubbing by editors and commentators is just more proof of what he’s been saying all along: the mainstream media is not to be trusted, and remains out of touch with what matters to the American people. Here’s Sanders during the debate on Tuesday:
SANDERS: And let me say something about the media, as well. I go around the country, talk to a whole lot of people. The American people want to know whether we’re going to have a democracy or an oligarchy as a result of Citizens United. Enough of the emails. Let’s talk about the real issues.
BROOKE: Paul Heintz, political editor for the Vermont-based, Seven Days says the media have never really noticed how Sanders saw them, because they’ve never bothered to peer past the surface of his disdain.
HEINTZ: The grumpy grandpa trope has been everywhere.
You go see Bernie Sanders, and he's cranky.
Older, angry, cranky sometimes
You know, slightly cantankerous, but appealing, grandfatherly...
HEINTZ: You know there's another side to that. I spoke to a number of his current and former staffers for a story about the way that he's run his own senate office and his prior offices and I spoke to a number of people who referred to him as "rude" "short tempered" and occasionally "downright hostile." One former staffer said that as a supervisor said that, quote, "he was unbelievably abusive." There's sort of a story you hear a lot in Vermont political circles of "Bernie Sanders on his way to a town hall meeting, harassing his staff about how many hot dog buns they ordered." He believes in himself so strongly, he works very hard, he drives his staff very hard, but I think sometimes he may go a little bit too far.
BROOKE: Now, you've suggested that the national media when they characterize him as grumpy and cantankerous, miss the fact that what he's really grumpy and cantankerous about is them?
HEINTZ: That's one of the many things he's grumpy and cantankerous about. Just about every race he's run, people have said, well there's no way Bernie Sanders can win. So, he's really despised the media.
BROOKE: Here's a piece of tape of him in 1985 when he was mayor of Burlington at a conference called 'Does the Media Lie':
SANDERS: Now obviously you would be very excited if we stood on our heads and held the press conference swimming in the lake because that would be a news story. That would be very exciting. It's not absurd! That's what's news! 5 lunatics today were swimming in the ice cold water of Lake Champlain. And all of the news media was there and they talked about tax reform while you were there.
HEINTZ: Senator Sanders wants you to show up to his press conference and write, "Senator Sanders wants to end childhood poverty." And when we don't write that story, he thinks that we're shallow. What I think he misses is that it's actually not news for Senator Sanders to come out against childhood poverty. So naturally we are interested in asking him about other issues and he will refuse to answer questions on those, he will literally ignore the question or sometimes leave the room at the end without answering them.
BROOKE: We have tape of political reporter Peter Frein, then at the Vanguard Press, an independent paper, thirty years ago making pretty much that same point.
FRIEN: I asked the mayor when he said any other questions, yes, I have a question it's not on the electric rates, it's about Nicaragua, and you got up, which is the best move you have in terms of politician manipulating the news, you've mastered the art, when you're asked a question you don't want to answer, you leave the room. YOu got up and walked right out of there!
HEINTZ: Well he's gotten even better at it since then. You know, I was joking with a former reporter from Vermont, wondering if it would actually be possible to write a news story that Bernie Sanders would like, and we agreed that the only story he would like is the press release that his people wrote reprinted in the newspaper. That's the only thing that he would see as true journalism. One thing that's interesting about Senator Sanders is that for all of the railing against the press that he does, he spends almost every day trying as hard as he can to be in the press. He's done this through his career, he's done a very effective job at appearing at MSNBC every night, getting his message across.
BROOKE: And his supporters praise him for exactly that. He has a stunning level of consistency.
HEINTZ: He does. He has been making the same point for 40 years.
BROOKE: We can go down memory lane right now. In 1985 here he is addressing a Workers Pride Forum.
SANDERS: And the myth of what the system tells us is that we're all together. Well we're not all together, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer...
BROOKE: And here he is in 1993 speaking to a nearly empty house of Representatives.
SANDERS: The wealthiest 1% owns 37% of the lathe of America. That is significantly more...
BROOKE: And here he is last month on Late Night With Colbert.
SANDERS: It is a moral outrage that the top 1/10 of 1% today owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%.
HEINTZ: He said that his wife sometimes calls him Johnny One Note. And he said you know what, that's fine. Quote, nobody understands how bad it is - and he's referring to income inequality - that's why I think if I were on television or radio 24 hours a day saying nothing else other than that, it would be a contribution. But on other issues, he really just isn't so comfortable talking about. For instance, his record on gun rights. He's really not made clear a coherent consistent philosophy. It kind of depends on what the issue of the day is. So after the Aurora Colorado shootings in July 2012, he told local newspapers that decisions about gun control should be made as close to home as possible at the state level. And then after the Newtown shootings, he was radio silent. We requested interviews with him and weren't granted one for almost 3 months. By that point he had publicly embraced Obama's assault weapons ban and had really done a total 180. But when I sat down with him he really didn't want to talk about it. And I'm not sure it's necessarily that he's flip flopping. I think it's more that he just doesn't really care about that issue so much. And so he's not really sure exactly how he feels.
BROOKE: There is one area in which he and lots of candidates do seem to be on the same page. And that is they're running against the system. But Bernie's been a politician for decades. Do you think he's really outside it?
HEINTZ: This is a guy who has been in Congress since 1990. So, certainly he has been a part of the system, but he hasn't been at the center of that system. I mean if you look at him down in the US Congress he's eating alone at the cafeteria table.
BROOKE: Is he really?
HEINTZ: Yeah, he is, he really is. You know, he has sort of learned how to play well with others a little bit better over the years. When he ran for the senate he agreed to caucus with Senate Democrats and was eventually made a committee chair, which is a pretty remarkable thing for a guy who railed against the democratic party in Burlington in the 1970s and 1980s. But to say that he's some sort of inside player in Washington I think would be totally incorrect.
BROOKE: Do you think he sits alone because he's just not fun to eat with?
HEINTZ: I haven't shared a meal with him, so it's hard for me to say.
BROOKE: Paul, thank you very much.
HEINTZ: Thanks for having me.
BROOKE: Paul Heintz is the political editor for the Vermont based Seven Days. YOu can find its Bernie archives at BernieBeat.com. And Paul Heintz is also a former OTM intern.