Two Months of Mislabeling: ABC, NBC Evening News Shows Haven't Called Sanders 'Socialist' Since July 3

September 9th, 2015 4:00 PM

Bernie Sanders is polling better than Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire, while the liberal broadcast networks continue to downplay his extreme views.

A New Hampshire poll released Sept. 8, 2015, indicated Sanders had pulled ahead of fellow presidential candidate Clinton. The networks jumped to report the poll’s findings, but ABC and NBC haven’t properly reported Sanders’ political views in more than two months. In fact, ABC World News has not mentioned Sanders' socialism in the last five years, and NBC has remained silent on the matter since July 3, 2015. 

Following the September poll, ABC, CBS and NBC described Sanders as Clinton’s “Democratic rival,” and CBS claimed that his “unabashedly Progressive message” resonated with Democrats. However, NBC and ABC evening news programs maintained their trend of incorrectly labeling Sanders by refusing to call him a “socialist” or his ideology “socialism.”

CBS Evening News broke its three-and-a-half month silence on Sept. 8, when CBS news congressional correspondant Nancy Cordes commented that Democrats, "don't seem to mind that [Sanders] calls himself a socialist."

NBC White House correspondent Kristen Welker was the last person to mention Sanders’ ideology on ABC or NBC evening news shows. In a July 3, news report she said, “The 73 year old once self-described socialist is riding a wave of enthusiasm among people who like his populist message.” But even in that case, Welker obscured the facts by implying he is no longer a socialist.

NBC Nightly News has only mentioned Sanders’ socialism a total of three times in the past year, and in two of those cases it said it in past-tense, despite the fact that Sanders’ current rhetoric falls perfectly in line with core socialist ideology, according to Voice of America. On April 30, NBC news correspondent Andrea Mitchell called him “a one-time socialist mayor of Burlington Vermont.” The only time Nightly News accurately labeled Sanders was on Sept. 14, 2014, when NBC chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd said “Sanders is a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist.”

Of the three evening news programs, ABC World News was the worst. In the past five years of reporting, ABC World News never called Sanders “socialist.”

Since Sanders announced his bid for the presidency, CBS Evening News was the only one of the three evening news show to admit that Sanders currently identifies as a socialist. However, before the most recent mention, it had been more than three months since that May 26 report. That night, CBS anchor Scott Pelley said Sanders, “calls himself a Democratic socialist.”  

While the evening shows have been whitewashing Sanders’ political ideology, CBS This Morning has openly discussed it, showing that CBS is not ignorant of Sanders’ political leanings and just did not often admit it to evening show viewers. The evening show has about twice the viewership of the morning show (6.5 million, compared to 3.24 million), according to TV By the Numbers.

On This Morning Sept. 7, 2015, CBS correspondent Dan Dahler asked CBS political director and Face The Nation anchor John Dickerson, “Is America ready for a self-avowed socialist president?” In response, Dickerson said that though America was “probably, not” ready for that, people “are enthusiastic about Bernie Sanders” because he is “candid” and “proud” of his long-standing socialist views.

The network evening shows’ continued refusal to identify Sanders as a “socialist,” came as no surprise, since ABC, CBS and NBC morning and evening news stories had already hidden it in 81.9 percent of stories mentioning Sanders from April 1, 2015, through Aug. 17, 2015. Not a single one of those stories included criticism of his views including his calls for a “political revolution,” in spite of the history of socialism around the world which has included oppression and human suffering.

Methodology: MRC Business examined transcripts for the evening news shows on ABC, NBC, and CBS between Sept. 8, 2014, and Sept. 9, 2015, which used the terms “socialist” or “socialism.” MRC Business also checked news transcripts of the evening news shows during that time frame that mentioned Bernie Sanders to see how the networks identified him. In a separate search, MRC Business also searched the last five years of ABC World News for mentions of “socialist” or “socialism.”