When was the last time a badly trailing presidential candidate in either major party won relatively late-in-the-game contests by lopsided victory margins of greater than 70-30, as Bernie Sanders did in Washington today, and greater than 80-20, as Sanders did in Alaska? I'm virtually certain that the answer to that question, regardless of what happens in Hawaii's Democratic primary much later tonight Eastern Time, is: Never.
Two of the three major news outlets I reviewed failed to report the size of Sanders' thumping victory margins. It is, however, quite telling that the third, the New York Times, though it had a blasé "he won" headline, conceded that Sanders' wins support "his argument that the race for the Democratic nomination is not a foregone conclusion."
Unlike the other two outlets, the Times did note the size of Sanders' victory margins in its report's second paragraph. Perhaps there really is trouble in paradise; the Times also noted that Mrs. Clinton is getting "annoyed" at the talk of Sanders' renewed momentum.
Reports at the Associated Press and the USA Today concentrated on how the deck is still stacked against a Sanders comeback. That's likely true, but readers are supposed to get the facts, and it appears that these two outlets deliberately withheld them.
(UPDATE, March 27: Near-final results show Sanders winning by 73-27 in WA, 82-18 in AK, and 70-30 in Hawaii.)
At the AP, in a story time-stamped 8:45 p.m., Lisa Lerer threw cold water on Sanders' wins in her very first sentence (bolds are mine throughout this post):
Bernie Sanders scored a duo of wins in Western caucus contests Saturday, giving a powerful psychological boost to his supporters but doing little to move him closer to securing the Democratic nomination.
While results in Washington and Alaska barely dented Hillary Clinton's several hundred delegate lead, Sanders' wins underscored her persistent vulnerabilities within her own party, particularly with young voters and liberal activists who have been inspired by her rival's unapologetically liberal message. The two Democrats were also competing in Hawaii.
Speaking at a campaign rally in Wisconsin as votes were still being tallied in Washington state, Sanders cast his performance as part of a Western comeback, citing recent victories in Utah and Idaho as a sign that his campaign still had a path to the nomination.
Lerer also had excuses at the ready in a later paragraph: "She barely campaigned," and she's focusing on "the April 19 contest in New York." If any other candidate were involved, the take on the latter excuse would likely be, although the polling currently says otherwise, that Mrs. Clinton, with 3-1/2 weeks remaining, is now more than a little bit worried about how New York will turn out. I would suggest that she not only needs to do more than just win her "home state," aka the state where her home-brew server was once located. She needs to win it by a double-digit percentage.
USA Today's Fredreka Schouten acknowledged that Sanders "swept" to his wins, but didn't elaborate. Her story had a bland, "he won" headline. Schouten also hinted that Sanders' wins really don't count for all that much because the states involved aren't particularly "racially diverse":
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders swept to victory in the Democratic caucuses in Alaska and Washington state Saturday, as he sought to cut into Hillary Clinton's commanding delegate lead and gain fresh momentum in his bid for their party's presidential nomination.
Sanders also sought to capture Hawaii's caucuses Saturday.
Washington state, with 101 delegates up for grabs, was Saturday’s biggest prize. Sanders fought hard for the state, holding big rallies in the last week to drive turnout among the kinds of young and liberal voters who have helped him prevail in earlier caucuses.
Sixteen delegates were at stake in Alaska and 25 in Hawaii.
"We are making significant inroads in Secretary Clinton's lead, and we have a path toward victory," Sanders told a cheering crowd in Madison, Wis., on Saturday, following his Alaska win. "It is hard for anyone to deny that our campaign has the momentum."
Sanders' drive to win Saturday's trio of Western states comes as the race heads back to the Midwest and Northeast next month, territory that could prove favorable to Clinton, who has outperformed Sanders in more racially diverse states. Next up: Wisconsin, which votes April 5. Clinton's home state of New York, where a whopping 291 delegates are up for grabs, will vote April 19.
But again, both outlets failed to cite Sanders' victory margins.
That wasn't how the press handled George H.W Bush's Michigan primary victory in May of 1980 over Ronald Reagan. But back then, the press was clearly rooting for a Bush comeback.
Bush's chances of overcoming his delegate deficit at that point were far more remote than Sanders' current chances against Mrs. Clinton. Readers should note that two separate stories at United Press International (UPI; here and here) cited the specifics of Bush's much smaller victory margin (57 percent Bush, 32 percent Reagan, the rest to others). A third UPI story mentioned that it was "Reagan's worst loss of the 1980 primary season." Two Associated Press stories at the time included Bush's and Reagan's respective percentages in their third and fourth paragraphs, respectively.
So who decides when such basic facts as the winning candidate's victory margin get left on the cutting-room floor? It looks like the answer is: When they might disrupt the momentum or perceived general-election prospects of the person the press really wants to see win their party's nomination. If they disrupt the momentum of someone they despise, however, it's big news. Meanwhile, the fact that the New York Times told its readers that Sanders rolled up 50-point and 60-point wins would appear, at a minimum, to betray a bit of anxiety over at the Old Gray Lady.
I believe that tonight's results support the analysis provided at my home blog after Tuesday's Arizona, Utah and Idaho primaries:
One suspects that Mrs. Clinton’s email, Benghazi and other problems are wearing down her support. Whether it’s too little too late for Sanders to catch up remains to be seen.
I suspect that my take is shared by many in the establishment press, but that no one who has that concern has the nerve to express it.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.