Over the weekend, the New York Times published an interview with Bernie Sanders that resonated along the partisan liberal lines that most of us would expect it to. Because the powers that be will never let the “Bernie Bro” narrative die (despite the fact that he has gone from 43% final support in 2016 to around 20% support now—which proves that it is his polices and establishment critiques that drew most people towards him in the last Democratic primary—not some supposed cult following), the fact that Bernie was rude to a female journalist is the main takeaway from this interview in parts of MSNBC-land.
In the people’s republic of leftists, the NYT’s war-mongering is the story. I’ll let you decide for yourself—here is the relevant exchange making waves across the political landscape, relating to the time early in his political career when Sanders visited Nicaragua:
Q. In the top of our story, we talk about the rally you attended in Managua and a wire report at the time said that there were anti-American chants from the crowd.
[Bernie]: The United States at that time — I don’t know how much you know about this — was actively supporting the Contras to overthrow the government. So that there’s anti-American sentiment? I remember that, I remember that event very clearly.
You do recall hearing those chants? I think the wire report has them saying, “Here, there, everywhere, the Yankee will die.”
They were fighting against American —— Huh huh —— yes, what is your point?
I wanted to ——
Are you shocked to learn that there was anti-American sentiment?
I’m going to call a quick timeout here, because there is vital context missing to this exchange that the NYT did not include. If you’re confused as to what point the NYT is trying to make here, don’t worry, that’s completely understandable given that they seem to be trying to quietly defend the indefensible. Here’s what was going on in Nicaragua at the time that may have had something to do with all that anti-American sentiment:
A Contra leader bragged that the CIA gave them large knives—“[E]verybody wanted a knife like that, to kill people, to cut their throats.” A survivor of a Contras’ raid in Jinotega province recounted: “Rosa had her breasts cut off. Then they cut into her chest and took out her heart. The men had their arms broken, their testicles cut off, and their eyes poked out. They were killed by slitting their throats and pulling the tongue out through the slits.”
Now that you have more context on the situation in Nicaragua than the NYT presented, let’s get back to the interview:
My point was I wanted to know if you had heard that.
I don’t remember, no. Of course there was anti-American sentiment there. This was a war being funded by the United States against the people of Nicaragua. People were being killed in that war.
Do you think if you had heard that directly, you would have stayed at the rally?
I think Sydney, with all due respect, you don’t understand a word that I’m saying.
The rest of this is actually a pretty straightforward interview, and my complaints with the line of questioning end with this exchange. But hoo-boy, is this a bad exchange for the NYT. This seems to be designed as something of a “gotcha” on Bernie—he attended a rally where some people were chanting some anti-American things, and…well…um…I guess that makes Bernie anti-American too?
Even if you accept that the reporter is not angling for a certain kind of answer here, and is genuinely asking a question aimed at getting Bernie to elaborate on his level of comfort being around anti-American chants, it is still a horribly naïve question—because it completely and utterly ignores the motivation behind the chants they are taking offense to. This framing is straight jingoism—no different philosophically from the kind of propaganda put out by despotic regimes around the world—and the logic is that the United States is inherently good, therefore anyone saying the United States is bad is bad.
In reality, the United States committed crimes against humanity in Nicaragua, and the country took the U.S. to the International Court of Justice in 1986. The ICJ ruled in favor of Nicaragua, concluding that the United States broke international law when the Reagan administration supported the Contras in their attempted overthrow of the socialist Sandinista government. The Contras committed some of the most heinous crimes of the late 20th century, fully backed by the United States government, as former contra Edgar Chamorro testified to the World Court:
”The CIA did not discourage such tactics. To the contrary, the Agency severely criticized me when I admitted to the press that the FDN had regularly kidnapped and executed agrarian reform workers and civilians. We were told that the only way to defeat the Sandinistas was to…kill, kidnap, rob and torture.”
This is what Bernie Sanders was protesting, and this is the genesis of the “Here, there, everywhere, the Yankee will die” chants. Asking a question about that specific chant without at least acknowledging the reality which led to it is journalistic malpractice. Yes, Bernie was rude to this reporter, but he also wasn’t wrong: this line of questioning demonstrated a startling lack of understanding of what she was talking about.
Just because Trump and the GOP are launching an attack on the media doesn’t mean that everyone needs to blindly defend journalists all the time. The mainstream press is woefully inadequate on foreign policy, because they blindly repeat American jingoism like it is a stated fact, and this exchange is a perfect demonstration as to how that happens. Again, everything that comes after that exchange is fair and what you would expect from a political journalist at a major institution like the New York Times, but this specific question completely omits the other side of the story in favor of characterizing it by one anti-American chant.
There is an inherent bias within our media. It’s not liberal. It’s not conservative. It’s an American bias. Major media supports American empire. It’s why this capital-J Journalistic chyron from CNN was so shocking, as they pointed the finger for the deaths of children at one of the major financiers of the American empire.
Screenshot via YouTube
That’s Not All, Folks
While there is some wiggle room on the depth of knowledge surrounding the Nicaragua exchange given that the event happened over 30 years ago—this? This is completely inexcusable. If I worked at Meet the Press and saw this framing, I’d feel humiliated and anguished this morning.
@BernieSanders said he won't apologize for supporting anti-Vietnam War efforts and voting against the war in Iraq. "I will do everything I can to see problems solved diplomatically instead of through war." #MTP— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) May 19, 2019
WHY WOULD HE HAVE TO APOLOGIZE!?!?!? HE WAS RIGHT!!!
If you had to pick two events in American history that better demonstrated the folly and hubris of empire, you couldn’t pick better ones than our quagmires in Vietnam and Iraq. Not only is it an objective fact that we lost both wars, but we killed millions of people in the process and destabilized entire regions for generations. American blood was spilled in the name of profit for defense contractors and stubborn politicians and generals who would rather let dead young Americans pile up than admit fault and reverse course.
We find ourselves in our present malaise partially because of our failure to fully understand the ramifications of our actions in both theaters. Not only did we commit countless crimes against humanity, but we diminished American power in the process. By brutalizing people with less power than us, we prove to be no better than your local warlord, and history shows that the locals will choose familiar evil like al-Qaeda over our unknown Forever War brand of evil. That’s why you see polling like this in countries like Venezuela, where a majority of people want “President” Maduro gone, but just 35% want foreign intervention to help remove him.
This is Bernie’s appeal—he’s been right on a ton of major issues for a very long time. Our current establishment powers sat on the opposite side of these issues, and there is absolutely no doubt that there is a concerted effort from certain power structures in media to really go after Bernie Sanders. That tweet from Meet the Press is proof. Bernie was objectively right on Iraq and Vietnam—so were lots of other people—what the hell does any one of them have to apologize for?
Hell, Barack Obama won the presidency largely because of his vote against the Iraq War! Opposition to the Iraq War is such a self-evidently positive thing that Trump lies and says he opposed the Iraq War in 2003. It is absolutely, positively, mind-blowing to see a supposed Very Serious journalistic outlet in the year 2019 frame as a potentially good thing, a war that killed around 300,000 people (around 200,000 of them being civilians), birthed ISIS, and created a power vacuum filled by Iran—among many, many other calamities that are still unfolding to this very day.
Bernie’s popularity owes itself in large part o his enemies. Things are bad and people are angry. I am a good example of how this kind of stuff from Meet the Press and the NYT creates momentum for Bernie: I am leaning towards Elizabeth Warren so far in this early 2020 Democratic primary, but every time something like this happens with a major establishment clearly taking a cheap shot at Bernie, I gravitate towards him. There are huge systemic problems in America—major media institutions like NYT and NBC being front and center—and unless we understand that President Trump is a symptom of our larger problems, things will continue to deteriorate and we will eventually wind up with a more competent version of Trump.
Iraq was bad. Vietnam was bad. Supporting fascist war criminals in Nicaragua was bad. It’s depressingly shocking that this is even a debate in American major media. There is a direct line between the ocean of blood undercutting those U.S.-backed atrocities and framing like what we saw above from the NYT and Meet the Press.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.