Tapper to Sanders: 'We Never Considered You a Fringe Candidate' (UPDATED)

On CNN's State of the Union show Sunday morning, Jake Tapper appeared to try to carve out an exception for his network in how it has covered Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. After Sanders went into his "(we) started off as a fringe campaign" schtick, Tapper reassured the Vermont socialist: "For the record, sir, as you know, we never considered you a fringe candidate."

Well, that depends on who "we" is, Jake. (UPDATE: In response to this post, Tapper tweeted that "I meant the teams at The Lead and State of the Union ... Thanks for the comprehensive post." The original unrevised post follows the jump.)

Here is today's interview (relevant passage begins at the 2:07 mark):

Relevant portion of transcript (bolds are mine):

BERNIE SANDERS: And look, here's the other truth. The truth is that for a campaign that started off as a fringe campaign at three percent in the polls, we have enormous momentum. You have noticed that one of the recent national polls actually had us ahead of Hillary Clinton in state after state. Her margin is narrowing.

So I think people are responding to our message. Of a rigged economy where ordinary Americans work longer hours for lower wages and almost all new income and wealth goes to the top one percent, a corrupt campaign finance system in which billionaires are buying elections. I think our message is resonating. And obviously, the proof of that is that Hillary Clinton is more or less echoing much of what we are saying. I think that indicates the success that we are having.

JAKE TAPPER: For the record, sir, as you know, we never considered you a fringe candidate. But let's move on.

If Tapper is using the royal "we" in speaking just for himself, he may be right. My cursory review indicates that besides today, Tapper interviewed Sanders at least on February 7, October 25, roughly August 30, and early July, and likely several other times.

But if Tapper is referring to his own network, he's not being accurate. A month ago, the CNN's own Dylan Byers, one of many refugees from the Politico who has jumped ship during the past several months, wrote a lengthy column on how "How the media missed Bernie Sanders." Byers included CNN in the list of outlets which had given him short shrift:

... Since launching his campaign last May, Sanders has received vastly less media attention than his chief Democratic opponent, while his chances of becoming the party's nominee were largely dismissed by pundits and commentators — despite the fact that, like a certain senator before him, he draws far larger crowds, boasts a remarkably enthusiastic volunteer base, and, though he doesn't have as much money as Clinton, set an all-time record with more than 2.3 million campaign contributions last year.

... "Clearly, we were not getting coverage that was commensurate with our support among the electorate," Jeff Weaver, Sanders' campaign manager, said during an interview here at Hotel Vermont, where Sanders was preparing for Sunday's debate, the last before the Iowa caucuses on February 1. "Is it a frustration? Of course it's a frustration."

The failure to anticipate Sanders' rise points to a deep flaw with American political media, journalists and campaign strategists told CNN: Despite being proven wrong time and time again, many commentators and reporters continue to cling to an unshakeable faith in the conventional wisdom about the campaign while often ignoring realities on the ground.

... "People did not pay as much attention to him or take him seriously in the beginning because he is an older politician from a small state who they did not know much about," said April Ryan, the Washington bureau chief for American Urban Radio Networks.

The dismissal of Sanders, including on occasion by CNN as well as other outlets, is especially palpable for his supporters, who feel like the candidate was written off because of both his temperament and his political beliefs.

When Sanders announced his bid, a Washington Post profile described the "unlikely presidential candidate" as "an ex-hippie, septuagenarian socialist from the liberal reaches of Vermont who rails, in his thick Brooklyn accent, rumpled suit and frizzy pile of white hair, against the 'billionaire class' taking over the country." The New York Times — which had afforded its front page to similar candidacy announcements from Clinton, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and others — buried the Sanders story on page 21.

... The Clinton factor

Weaver also believes the media has an inevitable pro-Clinton bias because so many of the "Democratic consultants" who serve as pundits have relationships with the Clintons.

"Look at the political consultants on the air and Democratic pundits across the media. They're often Hillary Clinton supporters, right? Or former employees," he said. "That's not an indictment of anybody, but that makes them more open to a message that says, 'She's going to be successful. Bernie is not going to be successful.'"

... Several journalists on the campaign trail also conceded that the media had been too consumed by Donald Trump and the seismic Republican primary race that is dividing the GOP.

If Tapper was trying to speak for the press as a whole — he almost certainly wasn't — it's not even a close call. Confirming Byers's seat-of-the-pants observations, the Media Research Center, as part of a more comprehensive effort, tallied the Big Three networks' relative coverage of the candidates during all of 2015, presenting the following finding in mid-January:

GOP candidate Donald Trump received the most news coverage (579 minutes), more than Democrat Hillary Clinton (486 minutes) and far more than any of his GOP rivals. Second to Trump among the Republicans: Jeb Bush, who garnered 150 minutes of airtime, followed by Ben Carson (102 minutes), Ted Cruz (64 minutes) and Marco Rubio (62 minutes).

None of the other actual presidential candidates in either party accumulated an hour of evening news airtime, although the networks spent nearly two hours (111 minutes) speculating about whether or not Vice President Joe Biden would choose to run. He did not.

Sanders was obviously among those who failed to garner even an hour of the networks' attention, meaning that Hillary Clinton's 486 minutes represented at least eight times as much coverage.

For all his unrealistic policy ideas, the fact is that Sanders' campaign appears to have largely built its momentum on its own, with assists from a Hillary Clinton campaign which has all too often assumed that the primary campaigns and caucuses would be mere formalities leading to a convention coronation, and has also — obviously incorrectly — taken women's support for her for granted.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.