Attribution Theory or why Media Elites don’t like Bernie Sanders

Right after the Democratic debate Ryan Lizza tweeted “Hillary Clinton won because all of her opponents are terrible.”  Other pundits were every bit as hyperbolic as the New Yorker‘s snarky reporter.  The Boston Globe declared “Hillary Clinton roars, Bernie Sanders stumbles“.  Politico insisted “Clinton towers, Sanders glowers.” 

Clinton reminded the Washington Post‘s Eugene Robinson of “Lebron James playing a pickup basketball game.”  For the same newspaper, Dana Millbank called Clinton a “woman among boys“.  Vox’s Matt Yglesias wrote Clinton was not debating “first-rate competition”.

The encomiums for Clinton and disparagement of Sanders came as instant online surveys and focus groups were saying Bernie won big and before the release of reliable polls showing the opposite.  In fact, most watchers emerged from the debate with an enhanced respect for Sanders and his poll numbers did rise in NBC’s post-debate poll just not as much as Clinton’s did.  Yes debate watchers preferred Clinton but they did not scorn Sanders.

What accounts for the big disconnect between the professional media class and home viewers?  Certainly, the fact that the Clintons have been reliably pro-big media since Bill approved significant media deregulation in the 90s plays a part.  Likewise, Sanders’ call for much higher taxes on the wealthy cannot be welcome in the rarefied air breathed by billionaire libertarian Jeff Bezos who owns the Washington Post, Politico’s 40-something multi-millionaire owner Robert Allbritton, or the suits at Time Warner/CNN.  Reporters and editors know the kind of coverage their bosses want and are eager to provide it.

But I think something more than servility to corporate masters explains the gloating tone Lizza, et al., employed against Sanders in the aftermath of the Silver State showdown.  Yglesias mostly freelances and his boss at Vox, the relatively progressive Ezra Klein, certainly doesn’t fit the casino capitalist mold even if Bezos and Allbritton do.  The real problem for Sanders is his core message – the “economy is rigged” – does not and, to a large degree, cannot appeal to media elites.

Men like Ryan Lizza, Eugene Robinson, Dana Millbank, Matthew Yglesias are achievers.  They have climbed atop the incredibly steep and slippery journalistic mountain.  Obviously, they have talent, smarts, and assertiveness but they also benefited, with the possible exception of Robinson, from growing up in upper middle-class or affluent homes.  Lizza and Yglesias attended elite private high schools and then matriculated at the University of California and Harvard respectively.  Milbank graduated from Yale and Robinson from the University of Michigan.  Lizza and Yglesias are still in their 30s.

Attribution theory posits that people explain or attribute good things that happen to them to their sterling character and intellect.  Likewise, they attribute bad results to external factors over which they have little control.  Top dogs are congenitally disposed to believe that they lead the pack because of speed, strength, and toughness not because they began the race way ahead.

When Sanders says the game is “rigged”.  He is telling poor and struggling folks what they already know or feel in their marrow.  They and their children are very unlikely to escape their straitened circumstances no matter how hard they work.  Only the remarkably skilled and fortunate are likely to escape poverty in America today.  But he is also telling those at the top of the ladder that they have benefited from an absence of competition from those who were not born on or near the upper rungs.

In essence, Sanders is saying to the thought leaders, “you didn’t build that” wildly successful career you’re basking in on your own.  You don’t write for the New Yorker (Lizza) or the Washington Post (Milbank and Robinson), you don’t have a wildly successful blog (Yglesias) just because you’re smart and shrewd and have a way with a phrase.  You also benefited from some or all of the following: an affluent background, good genes, a great education, and a heaping measure of good luck.  It should surprise nobody that the smartest guys in the room recoil from the man who delivers that cold wet douse of reality.

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3 Responses to Attribution Theory or why Media Elites don’t like Bernie Sanders

  1. Shade says:

    Is there anybody, even amongst us Democrats, that doubts there was information on HRC’s server that if released, would cost her the election? Hillary would have had no need to go to the extra effort of using a private server if she had not been concerned that her emails might ultimately get leaked. Hillary obviously knew in advance of their creation that such emails would exist.

    I read that the FBI is currently being possessive & not leaking much extraneous info from HRC’s server. However, I suspect that some in the Obama administration (as well as many Republicans) are already in a position to know how serious HRC’s email scandal (&/or any eventual leaks) could ultimately be. If Biden now runs, I suspect it will be because the administration knows the scandal will likely become increasingly serious and because of Biden’s sense of duty. In addition, if Biden runs, look for email releases/leaks (as necessary) to occur early enough to ensure HRC doesn’t get the nomination.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think we will see Dems within the administration leaking or releasing damaging info from HRC’s server early just to take HRC down unless there is a viable option to Bernie then receiving the nomination. The entrenched powers in the Democratic party don’t want to see Bernie win and they are likely to instead take their chances with HRC. If Biden holds back, we Progressives will just have to hope that any information leaked later doesn’t damage HRC too much during general election. I for one am not holding my breath.

    Unfortunately, although acceptable to the Democratic powers that be (and to Progressives as the lesser evil), I don’t think Biden is electable. Although the man is a decent sort, he has a serious case of foot-in-mouth disease.

    It is therefore my take that if Bernie continues to be too nice to take HRC down himself, he shows us he does not have the intestinal fortitude it takes to serve as President. If Bernie doesn’t reconsider &/or if Biden doesn’t now step up to the plate, it will fall upon O’Malley and his supporters to bring up HRC’s misdeeds and if possible, obtain and disseminate any damaging information they can get their hands on. While Bernie is still my favorite candidate, if he doesn’t change tack soon, he proves he doesn’t have what it takes to win and O’Malley becomes the most electable alternative.

    Here are my primary concerns about HRC. HRC’s server was not only illegal before the end of her service, but it was insecurely configured in a very amateurish way. The server was unnecessarily running software that was meant to allow other Intranet networked computers (behind a firewall) to access & control its contents. Unfortunately, this “feature” was improperly connected directly to the Internet, thus potentially allowing any web connected computer the possibility of accessing and controlling the server & its contents. There was also unmonitored Internet website hosting software running that Hillary didn’t need or use and no encryption, and this too left pathways that hackers could use to compromise the server. In addition, at various times there were backup “cloud” copies made of HRC’s server – only some of which the FBI has been able to track down. Some of these copies are still in private hands and are likely to be at least partially recoverable. You can bet there are some motivated Republican geeks out there that will now search for this data and try to recover whatever embarrassing information might still exist. We already know that many Republicans have no compunction about outing state secrets for their personal gain. It wouldn’t surprise me if someone eventually Wikileaks the entire contents of HRC’s server – likely just weeks before the general election.

    So here is the bottom line. In my eyes, HRC is quite possibly politically a dead man walking. Either HRC is in denial about the damage these emails might cause or she is insufficiently altruistic to bow out of the election without help – hoping against hope that the worst won’t come out. So the challenge for us Dems is to take action to take HRC out now. Bernie failed to take his best opportunity because he is just too “nice” (translate: soft, remember he is a conscientious objector). What Bernie doesn’t understand is that if we fail to act now, Republicans will act when it is most to their advantage – during the general election – after it is too late for Dems to recover and field another viable candidate. Somebody now, be it Bernie, Biden, O’Malley, or even HRC herself had better quickly recognize the situation and address it. Playing nice now as Bernie did ultimately may cost Dems the Presidential election, both houses of congress, and the courts.

  2. halginsberg says:

    Shade – I think you’re reading more into HRC’s decision to use a private address and server and not to preserve the emails at State. I think she’s a technophobe with little or no idea what she was doing. She may have told her advisors that she wanted to keep her old address since changing would be tough and they checked the rule and said it was okay. The “nuances”, like preserving the emails at State rather than on her private server, quite likely were beyond her limited ability to comprehend this new-fangled technology.

    I agree that Bernie should have been a less definitive in taking the emails off the table but he may not really understand the issue that well either. Both are at an age when new tech and languages are very difficult.

    Bottom-line: I’m far less confident than you are that there are some smoking guns on Clinton’s email server.

    • Shade says:

      What I’ll grant you is that HRC probably does not know what remains on the server (& its backups) for the FBI to recover & how much damage this might cause. I’m not so convinced that at least principle she didn’t know that DOS official business email belongs on secure servers the DOS has securely set up and approved. HRC is probably about your mother’s age, do you really think your mother would have been so stupid as to not at least bring in government pros to do the job? It took a lot of gall for HRC to think she could go around DOS IT security experts and have a private third party set up and maintain a server for her official DOS use. Worse, the people she choose to do the job were clearly amateurs. To me HRC demonstrated she is as flawed and paranoid as Nixon, though likely for good cause.

      The private server problem wasn’t HRC’s fault alone though – the situation is an indictment on the entire Obama administration. Every time an email was received from or to the domain clintonmail.com, DOS personnel were slapped in the face with this issue. Many obviously knew all about both HRC’s server and her Blackberry (Obama received special dispensation for his Blackberry). Worse, at the very same time HRC was using her private server, others DOS officials were reprimanded or lost their job for doing the same thing.

      Regardless of what HRC knew about the suitability of her server, she brought on her current email problems herself by mixing her personal and DOS email. Now due to this error in judgement, both her personal & DOS emails are in the hands of the FBI (and likely others). Some of these hands are certainly unfriendly, which is the very thing HRC was obviously trying to avoid. Unlike you, I think it can be just about guaranteed that there will be plenty on that server that (if carefully sifted) will do HRC significant harm. Some of the emails might merely be embarrassing, but I have no doubt that others will point to illegal “Clintonesque” activities and lies that she and the administration have told – in addition to conflicts of interest and fundraising irregularities. In my opinion, if you have heard whispers about it, the Clintons are probably guilty (as are many other successful politicians).

      Unfortunately for HRC, her misdeeds are now likely to be outed at an inopportune time. I’d be willing to bet that there are some Republican operatives out there that even now are still laughing so hard at us naive Dems for not pursuing the issue during the debates that they are peeing their pants. HRC has got to go in my opinion – unless she releases ALL her personal emails (which I think she knows she dare not do). The current existence of her emails in the hands of third parties and the FBI and (and thus many Democratic enemies) represents too great a risk – not only to HRC, but to our success in the 2016 election altogether.

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