Blog Julie Hollar

When Centrists Lose, Corporate Media Love to Blame the Left

Mass media lost no time in helping the right wing of the Democratic Party blame its left wing for poor election results.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez immediately fought the Democratic Party line about recent down ballot losses. [nrkbeta / CC BY-SA 2.0]

By Julie Hollar / FAIR

Joe Biden hadn’t even been declared the victor of the 2020 election before establishment Democrats, in the face of poorer-than-expected results in House and Senate races, began pointing fingers at the left—with corporate media giving them a major assist.

Democrats had been hoping for big wins on election night, with the possibility of winning not only the presidency but also the Senate, and increasing their majority in the House. But while Biden has come out on top, the party’s most optimistic outcome in the Senate would be a 50/50 split (if they win both Georgia runoff seats), giving them a majority with the vote of Vice President Kamala Harris. And rather than gaining in the House, Democrats lost several seats.

In the wake of these disappointments, the right wing of the party immediately blamed its left wing for the poor showing, airing their grievances in a private conference call among House Democrats that was leaked to reporters.

WaPo: Centrist House Democrats lash out at liberal colleagues, blame far-left views for costing the party seats

The Washington Post (11/5/20) says that “privately, Democrats…have said the answer is obvious” why House Democrats are having problems: “The party in recent years has moved further left.” But before “recent years”—before the 2018 election—the Democrats had been in the minority for eight years, and for 20 of the last 24 years.

In a write-up about the call, the Washington Post‘s Rachael Bade and Erica Werner (11/5/20) quoted and paraphrased 14 sources blaming those who “endorse far-left positions” for Democrats’ losses, counterbalanced by only four sources defending the left. All of the progressive sources were named; half of the establishment sources were either quoted anonymously or presented as unspecified “moderates”—or, twice, simply as “Democrats,” committing the exasperatingly common journalistic sleight-of-hand that erases progressive Democrats as legitimate members of their party.

In addition to quoting a handful of participants on the call, Bade and Werner interviewed numerous “moderates” for the article (“Several moderate Democrats said in interviews…”), but only managed to interview two progressives: Alexandra Rojas, head of the leftist PAC Justice Democrats, along with Rep. Jared Huffman, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus—who took the side of the centrists.

Huffman’s contrary position, while perhaps surprising to some readers, and serving to portray the “centrist” view as even more of a consensus position, would have been less surprising to Bade, who had quoted Huffman just a few days earlier (11/1/20) about his opposition to leftists’ efforts to exert more influence within the party. In other words, the reporters appeared to seek out only one source who could have been expected to offer a forceful defense of bold leftist ideas, to balance a whole parade of attackers.

In its piece on the dust-up, in which “Democrats traded excuses, blame and prognostications,” the New York Times (11/5/20) quoted South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, who “cautioned against running on ‘Medicare for all or defunding police or socialized medicine,’ adding that if Democrats pursued such policies, ‘we’re not going to win.’” What the article didn’t mention was that Clyburn has taken more money from the pharmaceutical industry in the past decade than any other member of the House or Senate (Post and Courier12/16/18).

The piece then quoted Rep. Marc Veasey, who “warned his fellow members against anti-fracking talk.” Veasey ranked fourth among House Democrats in taking oil and gas industry money in the 2020 election cycle, and got 70% of his total campaign contributions from PACs. (To put that into perspective, the two progressives quoted in the Times piece, Pramila Jayapal and Rashida Tlaib, got 13% and 3% of their campaign contributions from PACs, respectively.) Readers might have found such information useful in analyzing the motivations behind those quotes.

CNN: This Democratic congresswoman just spoke some hard truth to her party

CNN (11/6/20) spares its readers the “hard truth” that it’s passing on advice about how to talk about police killings from a former CIA operative.

CNN‘s Chris Cillizza (11/6/20) jumped into the fray as well, praising Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA official (another piece of relevant context not mentioned by Cillizza) who had some of the harshest words for progressives, for speaking “some hard truth to her party”–like, “We need to not ever use the words ‘socialist’ or ‘socialism’ ever again,” as if the McCarthy era had never ended (FAIR.org10/9/20).

After quoting Spanberger extensively and then printing some of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s rebuttal (“You can’t just tell the Black, brown and youth organizers riding in to save us every election to be quiet or not have their reps champion them when they need us”), Cillizza wrote:

What’s beyond debate is that Republican strategists took comments made by liberals within the Democratic Party and used them to blast everyone from Spanberger on down.

Though all of these pieces offered plenty of suggestions that the left wing’s vocal support for things like socialism, Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and defunding the police cost the party seats in 2020, they failed to provide any actual data that might have helped readers evaluate the veracity of those statements.

It’s an important point, because understanding Democrats’ lackluster performance should help guide their platform and messaging moving forward. But these articles aren’t shedding light on the data—perhaps because it would thoroughly undermine the anti-progressive framing.

NYT: Why Trump’s Efforts to Paint Biden as a Socialist Are Not Working

A pre-election piece in the New York Times (10/14/20) included a rare acknowledgment that “many of the plans favored by the most liberal wing of Democratic leaders remain popular with wide groups of voters.”

As the New York Times‘ Jim Tankersley (10/14/20) reported just last month in an unusually frank assessment of the popularity of left-wing ideas, the right’s wall-to-wall attempts to bring down Democrats with the “socialist” label haven’t been very effective, despite Cillizza’s suggestion to the contrary. That’s in part because Biden and other centrists deny them so forcefully, but in part because “many of the plans favored by the most liberal wing of Democratic leaders remain popular with wide groups of voters, polling shows.” Tankersley pointed to a recent Times poll that found 2 in 3 respondents support a wealth tax, 3 in 5 favor Medicare for All (including 2 of 3 independent voters), and even higher numbers support free college tuition.

The Green New Deal is likewise broadly popular: One poll specifically of swing House districts (YouGov/Data for Progress, 9/19) found that respondents supported the idea by a 13-point margin, 49% to 36%—even when informed that it will cost trillions of dollars.

And with some races still not called, it’s safe to say that Medicare for All and the Green New Deal didn’t sink the Dems. Ocasio-Cortez pointed out (Twitter11/7/20) that every Democratic co-sponsor of Medicare for All in a swing district won re-election. And Gizmodo‘s Brian Kahn (11/9/20) found that of 93 Democratic incumbents who co-sponsored the Green New Deal—including five in swing districts—only one lost their race.

Intercept: Biden Wins, but Now the Hard Part Begins

Intercept (11/6/20): “Democrats insisting that progressive issues are losing policies have yet to articulate what their winning agenda would be.”

On the question of calls to “defund the police,” it’s important to clarify—as did the Intercept (11/6/20), but none of these establishment media reports—that such calls grew out of the Black Lives Matter protests, not the platform of progressive congressmembers, and that that movement led to a massive spike in Democratic voter registration. In other words, without the movement that gave us the slogan “defund the police,” the Democrats would almost certainly have witnessed even greater losses– including, quite probably, the White House.

As the Intercept also pointed out, it appears likely that left-wing organizing in Minnesota, Michigan and Pennsylvania resulted in decisive Democratic gains in key cities and suburbs in those swing states. And Ocasio-Cortez named many other problems with the establishment’s campaign strategies, running from underinvestment in digital campaigning to a lack of a ground game to a lack of recognition of or outreach to communities of color.

Clearly the 2020 election contains many lessons for the 2022 midterms, but it’s unlikely the right conclusions will be drawn from the fact-free centrist narrative presented by corporate media.

13 comments

  1. Progressives, of which I am one, and I’m a 74 y/o white grandma, who lives in a rural midwest state, have to contend with not only the GOP and all that it involves, but also with the Corporate Dems and MSM and we know who they all work for! I am SO tired of the lies and damage that both parties and MSM are doing to this country and it’s progressive citizens.

  2. It is incomprehensible for anyone in a “representative democracy” (which the USA certainly is not) to accept that the views of progressive members of the Democratic Party are “far left”. The US population shows in polls it wants peace, fair treatment in courts, housing, education, health care but these are considered impossible by the leaders of the GOP and the Dems as their proponents are “unelectable”. What choice is this? The media almost all selectively report opinions which reflect their bias.
    Just today I was astonished to find here in all the French papers a ludicrous item from the NYT claiming (from Unnamed Intelligence Sources-of course) that an AlQaida leader was killed (three months ago!!) in Teheran by Israeli assassins on motorbikes. This is news?? from a reputed paper of record??? Spread to the world!!!

  3. farcical–there is no “left” in USA—aoc is a right wing sycophant that pretends she is not more corrupt than biden…already having siphoned more than 1 million in contributions to her boyfriend’s “consulting” agency

  4. In 2022 and 2024 is going to be the time to show the corporate neoliberal wing of the party what it looks like when the progressive wing of the party doesn’t show up for them and instead starts voting for People’s Party candidates. Good luck winning anything ever again without 40% of the party to blame for your shortcomings.

  5. Every House member that endorsed M4A and a GND won their re-elections EVEN IN RED DISTRICTS!!! All of the moderates that lost didn’t support either policy. Tell us again who is responsible for the dems pathetic showing in the election?

  6. The most commonly used Republican go-to attack lines on Biden and all Democrat candidates in 2020 was the socialist brand and the threat of the anti-police slogans used by the BLM movement and supported by progressive Democrats.

    While the incrimination from both centrist and progressive Democrats is counter productive at this point (there has been scarcely enough time to conduct any serious and comprehensive inquiry into the reason for the Democratic failure to gain ground in the House and Senate), the refusal of progressives to even acknowledge that their vocal socialist and anti-police advocacy might be detrimental to electoral efforts in a centrist-conservative environment is bizarre, to say the least, while their go-to explanation to Democrats’ failures – that they are not ideological enough and that they are not left enough – is outright delusional considering the regressive, repressive and re-visionary radicalized right that had taken over the GOP.

    1. “the Telecommunications Act of 1996” was introduced by a Republican (Larry Pressler (R-SD)), passed by a Republican majority Senate (81 for-18 against) and a Republican majority House (no opposition). So even if Clinton wanted he couldn’t have veto the bill since both houses had the 2/3 majority to override his veto.

      Like NAFTA, which Neo Progressive Super spreaders of BS like yourself always blame on Democrats despite the fact it was negotiated and signed by a Republican president and Republican Congress, the act 1996 was only signed by Bill Clinton, who could not have veto it even if he wanted to.

      Other than that, what the blip does the act has to do with a single word I said?

  7. Extreme BLM and Antifa riots plus the de fund the police rhetoric hurt the left big time. Centrist knew this and that is why they are mad at the far left of the party. Americans are not interested in de funding the police they want reform and training. They want common sense and many people are worried and taxes, safety and the economy. They far left don’t easy fears or have a sound policy.

  8. I Think Cortez, should leave the Democratic party, and create a third one with Bernie, to save usa, both existing democrats and republicans don’t work for the people, only for the filthy rich. :P:D

    1. Well im not an us citizen so i cant help, but i can tell you something very promissing, if usa does not end all kinds of weapons, polutions and xenofobism, racism and all the negative vibes that fox your society, you will all end in not very pretty civil war, much worse than the one between south and north, this will be many diferent facctions figthing like nerds playing american football but with real weapons, this is not a joke, just a dream i had three weeks ago. May G0d Pr0tect you and your l0ved 0nes , if that snitz really happenz. And the solution is simple, just arrest the 1% filthy rich, free your economy and society, and that way the dream i had will be just a dream,

      Co0ngratz from danix@

      :P:D

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