Why The Bern Report is encouraging support of writers through crowdfunding—and why we may be at the beginning of a new era in journalism
“We need a media that covers power, not a media that covers for power. We need a media that is a fourth estate, not for the state. And we need a media that covers the movements that create static and make history.”
– Amy Goodman
In the platform of Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the Democratic nomination for President, there are a lot of ideas whose time has come (or are overdue).
The movement surrounding Sanders’ bid for the nomination is often likened to a revolution. It is, on the face of it, very much about who will be President and what that President should intend to do. It is about politics, elections, money and economy, equality, fairness, democracy vs. oligarchy. It is, as I suggested in my last piece, about morality, ethics, and civic spirituality. It is also about culture. It is about integrity, and humanity, and even love.
And it is about media. It would be an understatement to say that media—both mainstream media and social media—have held a huge role in this election, and that our concept of media and its role has come under scrutiny. Since the advent of television, the media have wielded enormous power historically in creating narratives that help to elect candidates. And this primary cycle, with its dubious “front runner” and unexpected “spoiler” (at once welcome and unwelcome) may have produced some of the most ostentatious, blatant and contentious “manual steering” of an election in some time.
It’s extensively well-established that conventional coverage—and reprehensible lack thereof— has been destructive to the Sanders campaign. The documentation of this journalistic disgrace by now could fill several books. As a Common Dreams article recently cogently summed it up: “That Sanders has been able to break through these barriers and reach the people is remarkable. In a sense, he was never running against Hillary; he was running against the clock in a system which sought to keep him a secret until it was too late.”
Jim Hightower has said, “The one candidate who is effectively rallying large numbers of voters to oppose the rise of corporate oligarchy—including in the media— has the plug pulled on him.”
There’s all kinds of bias: there’s silence, snark, disinformation, minimization and marginalization. There’s ungrounded criticism, outrageous projection and even giggling. The media has “evolved” in its coverage±in stages somewhat along the lines of the famous Mandela quote: “First they ignore you; then they laugh at you; then they fight you; then you win.” First, he didn’t exist (blackout). Then he was mocked (by Clinton, her surrogates, on-air personalities).
Lately we’ve been in “fight” mode, whose official beginning may have been the night CNN reported that the Clinton campaign planned to “disqualify” him—immediately after which her friends at the Daily News set him up for and then headlined his supposed “failure” in an editorial board interview (swiftly and resoundingly refuted, but still no doubt harmful). She herself acted sanctimoniously outraged when he countered that her cozy corporate alliances and judgment errors might disqualify her. “Well, I never!” (This is a technique known as gaslighting, and it feels as toxic when done to voters as it does in a personal relationship.)
Some pretty famous commentators have joked about the extreme bias. After Western Saturday’s three caucus sweeps, Andy Borowitz of the New Yorker wrote a hilarious piece called “Media Unimpressed as Sanders Barely Gets Seventy Per Cent of Vote,” quipping:
Bernie Sanders failed to impress major media outlets over the weekend as he barely managed to win seventy per cent of the vote in three western primaries.
The major cable networks briefly mentioned Sanders’s vote tallies in Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii but noted that he ran out of steam well shy of eighty per cent.
“There’s no point in sugarcoating it,” one analyst put it. “Rough night for Sanders.”
According to one cable executive, Sanders needs to “put up some big numbers fast” if he expects the networks to continue giving his campaign airtime.
The joke was so terribly close to the truth, it was barely satire. After “Western Saturday” the literal AP headline was “Sanders wins three states; Clinton holds delegate lead”—so ungenerous a technicality that even MSNBC deigned to express outrage over it. Even with the momentum of winning eight out of nine contests and a mere 194-delegate spread, the most positive articles still dutifully auto-taglined, ad nauseam, “but it will still be very hard/impossible for him to win.” The media asks “What does he want?” after every contest, even when he sweeps it. What does he want? To win the nomination, dummies. You really can’t grasp that, even when the delegate spread is half what you’re calling a “close race” on the Republican side? And you call us obtuse?
The delegate count debacle alone—whereby mainstream media persists in broadcasting counts that include superdelegates (who don’t vote till the convention)—flouting the express instruction of even the DNC—has been undeniably damaging.
In short, the media have conducted their own form of voter suppression, a type that’s as insidious and destructive as the more direct form: reduced polling places and polling hours, shortages of ballots, voters being inexplicably purged from the rolls or having their affiliations randomly changed, races being called with just 1% of the vote counted and thousands still in line, closed primaries excluding 27% of registered voters, exit polls not remotely resembling machine tallies—and other charms that, as of March 25, had decorated all two of the contests that Hillary Clinton had won out of the last 10. (And that continue through March 26.)
Plus, now we know that an army of trolls have been unleashed: a million-dollar investment in professional journalists and PR people. You might think you want to go to Snopes and confirm this, but no. The org is proud; it actually put out a press release plugging its aims. (Because being the darling pet of every major network just wasn’t enough.) As Shaun Kig at the Daily Newswrote:
As head of the Correct The Record Super PAC for Hillary Clinton, David Brock has launched something called “Barrier Breakers”—an online mob of paid trolls designed to attack any and every person who says one cross word about Hillary Clinton on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, or elsewhere. This isn’t a conspiracy theory. They openly spin their strategy on the Correct The Record website.
What’s ugly is that we have no idea who these paid operatives are online. According to Correct The Record, many will be former reporters, PR executives, bloggers, and others. We have no idea if they truly say what they mean or mean what they say. Are they even using their actual identities? The Sanders campaign openly stated that they have never paid for any online comments.
THIS IS ALL obviously dispiriting stuff that you might already find has been making your heart heavy or your blood pressure soar. But although most of us don’t like to talk about “the opportunities of this revolution even if he doesn’t win”—for sober and profound reasons, we want him to win!—there IS an opportunity here.
As the Sanders campaign rouses slumbering giants left and right, people are beginning to wake up to who owns the mainstream media, what their intents and motives are, how they benefit from big money in elections in general and specifically from certain candidates, and how calculated and mendacious are their choices of what to report and how to report it.
We know MSM is dominated by just six major corporations, and by nature has a vested interest in ignoring a candidate who’s serious about campaign finance reform. Many people are still victims of it, and by extension, so then is Sanders’ campaign. But many are getting wise.
Said a piece in Inquisitr: “Reports about this movement are hard to come by…The sheer obstinacy of the mainstream media in refusing to report on this extraordinary blossoming of grassroots activism throughout America is making people sit up and take notice. …There are more eyes than ever on the manipulations of the media, and more questions being asked about who controls the media, which candidates they choose to fund and why, and how they might be a little more invested and a little less objective than they would like us all to think.”
And, not for nothing, Sanders has survived all this remarkably well. Miraculously, in fact. He has accomplished so much that is historical, unusual, and inspiring—against ridiculous odds—that the media’s absence from what would normally be a fantastic story is all the more glaring. He went into the (unfortunately multi-bungled) New York primary having won 8 of 9 previous contests, having rallied nearly 30,000 people multiple times, having out-fundraised Clinton again (without George Clooney), and having closed the delegate gap to 194. Tthe day before March 26 (when once again Sanders won the only open primary state) he had in fact won eight of ten states—and all two of the Clinton wins were both under investigation for fraud.
Even with all of Clinton’s advantages—a primary cycle that favored her for early wins, pre-game uber-ratification by the DNC, piles of money including freewheeling line-blurring between the DNC and the Hillary Victory Fund, massive name recognition, and much more—Sanders managed to crush her 70-point national lead into a neck-and-neck race between the start of the season and now.
One way the campaign has been able to penetrate the fog of diversion and disinformation is through social media in general. While Clinton supporters are fond of suggesting social media has been a source of disinformation about her (in general, the campaign is full of double standards—even about double standards!), the fact is that Sanders supporters are nearly always by definition issue-oriented and do their research. On him and her. Social media has been used to share what we know and learn—highly relevant specifics that the maddeningly obtuse mainstream media is unwilling or unable to pull its collective head out long enough to mention. Not emotional and groundless memes—as Clinton’s own social network will claim, even as it generates that exact type of pablum itself—but substantive examination of issues, actions, alliances, questions, and behaviors.
It’s safe to say Sanders could not have gotten as far as he has without “Main Street Media”—people simply sharing the decent and fair news we can find, along with his compelling campaign messages themselves, so that people might have a chance to get to know Bernie Sanders in spite of the deliberate and dogged Sanders embargo. Articles by alternative sources and honest reporters. Art and photos and videos by people who were there, even when the media trucks didn’t bother to go. Candidate history and polling numbers compiled by people with the time and passion to go find what really got said and done. People who can actually do math.
Social media is, for just one example of hundreds, how we got to see the way Clinton behaved toward the Black Lives Matter activist that interrupted her in South Carolina—and see Sanders gently, gamely turn over his podium to the Black Lives Matter activists who wanted to speak. It’s how we got to see Clinton stab her finger at a Greenpeace activist while angrily, blithely lying about her fossil fuel funding, or laughing at the (alternative media) reporter who asked her to release her Wall Street transcripts.
The Internet is how we get to see, in photos and videos and years-earlier coverage and their own words—what they really say and do, no matter their campaign rhetoric. (It’s how we get to see how consistently Sanders’s platform matches his entire history, and how Clinton’s rhetoric is often at complete odds with her reality.) So that they can tell us all they want “there’s nothing to see here, move along”—but actually, there is quite a lot to see. And now that we can talk to each other, we have a better chance of seeing it.
Of course, as noted, social media is used by the Clinton campaign as well—and, as mentioned above, in a rather more well-funded and orchestrated fashion. The camps’ motives and manners on social tend to be a microcosm of their campaigns: on one hand, largely authentic people sharing authentic and substantive views about a rare and unusual once-in-a-lifetime candidate, as a grassroots movement—real people sharing from real accounts, and from their hearts—and on the other, a largely fabricated, hypercrafted spinfest fueled by big money and the elite that candidate represents.
The motives underpinning the social movements tend to reflect the motives of the campaigns themselves: Sanders’ is about people, issues, social justice. Clinton’s is about her and about winning, at any cost. And as many of us notice (despite being more and more loudly and patronizingly told we are gullible, imaginative children, and that the emperor does have clothes), posts tend to reflect these motives.
The respected analytical tool TwitterAudit has found that no more than 44 percent of Clinton’s followers are actually real, active users of Twitter. Said this piece on CounterPunch:
Indeed, Bernie Sanders, among many others, has correctly noted that Clinton is in many ways the epitome of the ruling elite…she has no real support except for a near consensus of establishment policy-makers and powerful individuals. And yet, here’s Hillary marching into yet another major primary with a double-digit lead. How much of that is based on a perception shaped – at least in part – by social media?…social media goes far beyond just an image. Today, it has been made into an effective tool for the dissemination of misinformation and disinformation that conveniently buttresses whatever narrative the establishment wants.
So that’s social media. And there is a loose network of alternative media, whose material we share. But the need for a proliferation of serious, dedicated, and organized efforts to balance corporate news outlets is clear.
As a writer, artist, and citizen frustrated by the self-interested machinations of MSM, I’ve begun dreaming of such an expansion of “citizen news networks”—and I’m not alone.
How can we, the people, create news organizations, networks and systems that would—if not be perfectly neutral—at least operate in good faith to fill in the gaps and represent our interests,just as MSM represent corporations?
What might be possible in terms of funding experienced, qualified journalists (whose pro-Sanders pieces most mainstream outlets would not buy from us) to cover what we want to read about—so people are not merely spoon-fed what they want us to think?
In my own recent involvement with this, and in the story of what The Bern Report has moved to do in the last week, lies seeds of a larger opportunity I see for writers/journalists and citizens like.
I’m a good example of that quote about that’s been going around that said “At first I planned on just being a casual observer, but then I thought why not just let it consume my soul?” I was passionate about the election and about Sanders from the beginning. But that passion grew rapidly over just a couple of months’ time—from watching the debates and calling/canvassing for a day or two, to spending hours every day reading, posting and commenting on what I considered vital, quality material about both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.
I became a “content curator” who posted on FB daily the best quality, most pointed and powerful coverages of the issues and what’s at stake, or distributing otherwise-suppressed news, countering the bias and blackout of mainstream media.
In many ways, I feel like I was made for this task. A journalist and published writer since I was 16 years old, author of several books, and a marketing-communications pro with decades of experience in public and private sector, nonprofits and government—this IS what I do. I write, edit, gather, synthesize, articulate, explain, consolidate, translate. I’m good at it, and I love to use my skills to further a good cause.
I began spending hours every day on top of an ambitious life/work schedule (freelance marketing-communications writing and design, health coaching, writing my third book, going back to school, and music). It’s quickly come to supersede even my drive to write about health and the environment (because the very health of our planet is at stake, among other things, and I believe all other issues will become moot if the wrong person gets into office now).
A t least two dozen people told me they were coming to my Facebook timeline specifically every day to find content to share and catch up on the latest news. I began to feel like I was publishing my own little newsletter. I was asked to make my posts public. People told me that I articulated things in a way that made them feel expressed or understood. These comments were like little emotional paychecks.
Then I wrote a post on Facebook expressing my frustration with being called a “hater” or “misogynist” for raising concerns about Hillary Clinton. My Facebook followers went crazy for it and urged me to get it out to a wider audience. I had just shared a terrific piece I loved from TBR, so I knew about and contacted them. Glen said yes, absolutely. I shared it and it received over 770 shares. I thought—well, that works.
My next piece happened the same way—a particularly impassioned Facebook post that mushroomed into a longer article about how Sanders “demographic” is one that believes politics should be/could be infused with fundamental questions of morality.
After this last piece was published, I was stunned to see it shared 2,300 times in 24 hours (it’s now been shared 2,800 times). Other than my books back in the 1990s that sold a few hundred thousand copies, nothing I’ve done in the last 25 years that I know of has touched that many people that quickly.
Some kind of momentum was happening—in me, in my community, in my work. People literally wrote to me asking me to write more, even sending articles they wanted me to rebut, saying “Someone needs to counter this, and you’d be perfect for it!”
But I had just spent 20 hours polishing that last piece and had my own clients to get back to. I was frustrated because I WANTED to write more. I just couldn’t.
One friend asked, “Just wondering—what would it take for you to be able to devote yourself to this more, without guilt or financial hardship?”
I had been thinking along the same lines. More and more just recently, I pondered how interesting it would be if someone could somehow fund professional writers to pour their skills and hearts into these issues. (Kind of like what Correct The Record did—except with purer motives, on behalf of the people and the peoples’ candidate, not the establishment’s insider rep).
And then Glen of The Bern Report stepped in, having picked up the same vibe around the same time. His idea had less to do with one big donor and more with ALL of us funding—and I quickly realized that was perfect for what this movement is about. He suggested crowdfunding, through a fast-growing new crowdfunding platform called Patreon. He had been thinking for a while about how to help TBR writers receive some compensation for their work, and had considered and investigated a number of options.
With 48 hours, many TBR writers had set up Patreon accounts and TBR had posted buttons on our stories—and I had met one-fourth of my monthly pledge goal! That was through a few fairly big donors. I am profoundly grateful for that generosity, which on the very first day showed me it was viable to spend more time doing what feels most important right now, and where my heart is.
But it doesn’t need to be big donors. The big picture/long-term potential is for a citizen-funded media that has such a wide base, no one person need to shoulder much of the burden at all. It’s really the exact way the Sanders campaign itself has done its fundraising, and is appropriate to the Sanders’ grassroots movement. A citizen-funded media has potential similar to that of citizen-funded elections.
If every one of the now 2,800 people, for example, had pledged just 50 cents after sharing my last piece—or even half or a quarter had pledged one or two bucks, I would have had a part-time salary for the whole month that would justify the time I had spent, and the hours I spend daily curating and posting. Or might have been roughly equal to my pay had I sold the piece to a magazine.
Like Sanders himself, we don’t have a Super PAC. Although it’s not out of the question that a large individual donor could get behind the idea, we probably don’t have a lot of people who could give tens or hundreds of thousands, let alone a million, to fund a team of journalists and PR people. So this would not be like “Barrier Breakers,” the troll effort funded by the Clinton Super PAC.
What we do have is all of us. And we’re real; we’re not trolls; we’re who we say we are. We care about a country that works for everyone, not a tiny fraction representing an insider elite. We value authenticity and compassion—its one of the reasons we chose our candidate. Just as this small-donor of-the-people method has successfully funded a campaign (better than the big-money Super-PAC candidate!), it’s how we could fund the kind of journalism that would befit and support candidates like Sanders, and the values he’s representing. Truth, justice, honesty, lack of artifice, unpretentiousness, care—these could be funded in media, as in politics.
I want people to keep giving money to Sanders, of course. But a whole lot of us also giving just a few bucks a month to a cadre of dedicated, talented writers could help keep facts straight and keep campaign morale up—maybe even sway a few undecideds. and, beyond the election, to keep the awakened from falling back into slumber.
The Bern Report, of course, is not a perfectly unbiased source. Its name blithely acknowledges its leaning. But unlike CNN, it doesn’t pretend to be unbiased. And its intent isn’t to unleash an army of trolls on the internet to create misleading and unpleasant memes like “Bernie Bros,” build false narratives, divert attention, create and crush truth. It’s to disseminate the facts and opinions that the mainstream media will not.
There are others with some version of this “new media” idea: I myself support a few other models whose reporting I am enjoying and trust, such as The Young Turks (a membership model) , Common Dreams (a donation model). No doubt there will be more.
Like virtually every other TBR writer has stated, of course I will continue to write and curate and share, whether I am crowdfunded or not. I have done it as a volunteer, and I will continue to. I’ve also phonebanked and canvassed; volunteerism is deeply worthwhile and needed. An absolute ton of people work extremely hard on this campaign.
But some of us with useful skills want to apply them more extensively and specifically to this revolution. It is a labor of love—but it is labor, and as a self-employed creative, the many hours I spend every day on this, for love of a great cause, do have a cost for me. I’m happy to pay it, as I can—just as I’m happy to donate to Sanders as I can. When people tell me I am making a difference, informing and inspiring them, that is reward in itself. But some of those people have also asked how they can support me. Now we’ve come up with a way. For me, it’s like having another client—the one I want more than any other right now. The “client” is YOU. Us. The people.
So, if you like what you read and see here, and want to help TBR writers have more time to do it, feel free to kick in a bit for any of our pieces that you like and share. The red button is below the post.
In the long term, this is an opportunity to think about the kind of media organizations we want to create, just as Sanders’ campaign is an opportunity to think about the kind of country we want to create, the kind of democracy, the kind of health care and education and elections. One that—like all the other aspects arising from this campaign—reflects our values, rewards justice and truth, and supports reality and critical thinking.
Obviously, this is much bigger than me, or TBR. It is one experiment of what will probably be many, at the ground floor what I feel in my bones is going to be a much bigger thing. It’s one that I am excited to be a part of now, and see possibilities for being part of in some context or another in the future.
This revolution is waking up many people about many things. Hopefully, new structures will rise up from the fertile soil of awareness and with the fresh water of truth that is raining down on it. A strong citizen-funded alternative media network may be one of them.
Robyn Landis is a writer, the author of two bestselling health books, blogger, fitness trainer and award-winning songwriter who is passionate about the environment and social justice. Find her at www.robynlandis.net and www.robynlandis.com, and on Twitter @cagefreechick. She is a NYC native, a longtime Seattleite, and now lives in Tucson, AZ.