Feb 25, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Bernie Sanders' rise forces media to reckon with how to cover him

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Staff

Bernie Sanders' rise is forcing news outlets to come to terms with ways they should covering his candidacy as a frontrunner, instead of a fringe candidate.

Why it matters: The media finds itself in the same position as it was in the 2016 election, when Donald Trump began to pull ahead in the Republican primary.

Driving the news: MSNBC plans "to seek out more smart, pro-Sanders voices," shifting coverage amid criticism, Vanity Fair's Joe Pompeo reports.

  • The news comes on the heels of MSNBC's Chris Matthews apologizing on air to Sanders after making comments comparing Sanders' Nevada win to the Nazi invasion of France.
  • Other mainstream news organizations, like the New York Times, have since revisited their coverage of Sanders' 2016 campaign, to better understand their coverage blindspots when it came to covering Sanders' "underdog" campaign.

The big picture: The Sanders campaign has long-asserted that the mainstream media is biased against it.

  • Earlier this year, the campaign created "The 99," an in-house live-streamed show that highlights the campaign's policy initiatives in a way that looks and feels like a news media broadcast. 
  • Sanders' campaign manager Faiz Shakir argued on CNN in August that the campaign has had to create its own outlet because mainstream media is too incentivized by corporate interests to cover issues fairly. 

Be smart: Media companies are an easy target because media has become one of the most polarizing institutions in America, and particularly during the Trump era. But it's usually Republicans that are likely to cry foul over mainstream media bias, not Democrats.

Go deeper: The evidence doesn't back Democrats' panic that Bernie can't win

Go deeper

What to watch in tonight's Democratic debate

Bernie Sanders at a campaign rally in Colorado. Photo: Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Bernie Sanders is now the clear front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, and his opponents are ready to try to knock him down at tonight's debate in Charleston, South Carolina — especially Michael Bloomberg, who was the punching bag at the Las Vegas debate.

Why it matters: This is the last debate before Super Tuesday, when Sanders is expected to win California and Texas and could secure an insurmountable lead for the Democratic nomination. That's a direct threat to the entire field, but especially to Bloomberg, who skipped the early states to focus on the March 3 contests.

Bernie Sanders deactivates 2020 campaign Facebook ads

Photo: Scott Eisen/Getty Images

Editor's note: An earlier story inaccurately reported that Sanders was suspending his campaign. The correct story is below. Axios deeply regrets the error.

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign currently has no active Facebook ads, the morning after another disappointing finish in a series of primary contests.

Why it matters: A pause in digital advertising spend on Facebook has been a good indicator that candidates are dropping out of the 2020 race before. Pete Buttigieg and Michael Bloomberg made their Facebook ads inactive hours before they suspended their campaigns.

Bernie Sanders to "assess his campaign" after latest round of primary losses

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Bernie Sanders will move to "assess his campaign" after Joe Biden's sweep of the Florida, Illinois and Arizona primaries, his campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, said in a statement Wednesday.

The big picture: Sanders trails Biden by almost 300 delegates, making it statistically improbable that he can catch up in the primary race, according to the New York Times.