At RNC, Media Put a Happy Face on Suppression of Speech

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Originally published at Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting.

News media could either be our ally or our enemy—we wanted them as an ally,” Laurie Pritchett said in a 1985 interview about his strategy as police chief in Albany, Georgia, during Martin Luther King, Jr.’s desegregation efforts in 1962.

Pritchett famously ordered his officers to enforce the city’s segregation laws nonviolently and arrest as few protesters as possible. He knew that if he had acted as other police departments had—like Bull Connor’s dogs and firehoses in Birmingham (1963) and Jim Clark’s Bloody Sunday in Selma (1965)—news media would show the country how brutally oppressive police were, inspiring greater public support for King’s cause. In short, he beat nonviolent protesters at their own game by exploiting the media.

At the Republican National Convention this past week, none of the fears about a violent disaster bore fruit. Journalists and private citizens who worried about Ohio’s open-carry gun policy and the recent increase in public tension between cops and protesters were relieved that the week passed without a single gunshot fired or tear gas canister thrown. Like Pritchett’s officers in Albany, police in Cleveland—whose department was found to have practiced a pattern of excessive force and civil rights violations in a Justice Department investigation—exercised restraint compared to how police have handled protests in Ferguson (military trucks, sound canons, tear gas, rubber bullets) and Baton Rouge (hundreds of arrests).

Just as Pritchett expected in 1962, media jumped to praise law enforcement. “Credit where it’s due: The police nailed it,” Vox staffer German Lopez (7/22/16) wrote. In a list that reads like a police officer’s handbook, he offered three detailed explanations for why the police “nailed it”:

Read the rest here.

Police Keep Blocking Access to Cleveland’s Public Square Using “T-Formation”

(See my Perisocope video of the police action here.)

For the past hour and a half, police have gradually pushed demonstrators and other members of the public out of the center of Public Square in Cleveland, the site of 2016’s Republican National Convention.

A local ABC reporter told (about 4:30 in the Periscope video) her TV audience that police used a “T-Formation,” though it was difficult to make out the T-shape from any side of the park.

Earlier, several different groups were demonstrating, including the Industrial Workers of the World, young people chanting “Black Lives Matter,” and a few Jesus proselytizers.

At the beginning of the police action, an officer informed me as I was leaving the square that I wouldn’t be be able to return. By the time I began heading back to the center, police had cleared the area.


One officer explained to me (about 8:30 in the Periscope video) the reason for the spatial restriction: “We had some issues before. Just, uh, keep everybody safe.”

Minutes later, police began to loosen their formation, letting people back into the center again.

As I began drafting this post, a line of bicycle officers rushed back into the center to reclose the square. There were at least three officers at the center with riot gear: plastic face mask, helmet and military-style backpack.

As of publication (about 6:05 p.m.), several of the bicycle officers rushed out heading east on Superior Avenue. A line of white-uniformed officers have entered the center of the square.

Several passersby have said, “good luck, guys” to the line of officers.

I will update this post as necessary.

Prophets of Rage Take Over Streets of Cleveland on Day One of Republican National Convention

Day one of the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, began with an eerie hush. The streets were empty for much of the morning as a few drivers and walkers (including Wolf Blitzer) alike tried to figure their way around the 10-foot tall fence – plastered with “No Drone Zone” signs courtesy of the Federal Aviation Administration – that surrounded the Quicken Loans Arena (“The Q”) and its neighboring buildings, dividing the city in half. The cloudy sky threatened rain.

By noon on the day whose theme was “Make America Safe Again,” crowds gathered for pro- and anti-Trump rallies, vendors set up shop to sell Trump t-shirts and hats, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations held a small press conference.

While corporate media reported from inside The Q and focused on demonstrations in downtown Cleveland, a little-covered rally hit the streets of Cleveland’s east side. Organize! Ohio’s End Poverty Now rally at a vacant lot on East 45th Street between St. Claire and Superior Avenues featured activists and performers from Cleveland and across the country. New York’s notorious Revolutionary Community Party flooded the crowd.

Breaking with the morning’s eerie hush and the clouds’ abandoned threat, Prophets of Rage – a supergroup featuring Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine (who hijacked the 2000 Democratic National Convention), Chuck D of Public Enemy, and B-Real of Cypress Hill – roared onstage. “Thank you for coming out today with your joy and your militancy. As soon as this next song is over, we Prophets of Rage, and you, are going to march for the End Poverty Now march, on that street right over there… We’re going to let those motherfuckers at the RNC know that we’ve had enough of their bullshit,” Morello told the sizeable crowd.

Prophets ended their set with “Killing in the Name,” one of RATM’s most famous songs, which, as Morello reminded everyone, has been used to torture prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. “This is our revenge. We’re now going to use this song to torture those sons of bitches at the RNC with your help,” he yelled.

Moments later many of the audience members joined Organize! Ohio on the march toward downtown. After heading south on E. 45th, it turned westbound onto Payne Avenue until E. 22nd where police blocked passage. The march ultimately reached downtown via Chester Avenue. As promised, Prophets of Rage marched with the crowd. A massive bicycle army of cops dressed up like Christian Bale’s Batman followed closely behind. (See my coverage of the march on Periscope here.)

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The rally and march were intentionally planned for the 50th anniversary of the Hough riots in which four black Cleveland residents were shot and killed by police and another 275 were arrested. “We insisted that we this not [sic] along the formal route, but on the East Side – to make that connection and show how little things have actually gotten worse,” one of the march’s organizers told cleveland.com. Cleveland’s east side has for decades suffered from police brutality, most famously for the 22-minute car chase in 2012 in which 13 officers fired 137 shots, killing both Malissa Williams and Timothy Russel. The decision to march in this part of town demonstrated how little corporate media cares about how the policies of the people it usually reports on actually afflict people on the ground.

As the march dissolved downtown, Prophets of Rage regrouped to play an impromptu “concert” at Public Square. While DJ Lord played the studio versions of a few RATM, Public Enemy, and Cypress Hill songs, Chuck D and B-Real sang through megaphones and Tom Morello air-guitared.

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“Inside the RNC, a thinly veiled racism, sexism and imperialism is being put forward as their platform. Out here, human rights, respect for the planet and resistance to oppression is what we sing about,” Morello said.

All photos and videos taken by me.

Q&A with Prof. Christina Greer on the Presidential Election

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A condensed version of the following interview, conducted on April 6, was originally published at the Fordham Observer. Until I can afford to upgrade my website, unfortunately I am unable to upload the audio file of the interview.

Gunar Olsen: This is Gunar Olsen with the Fordham Observer, and I’m speaking with Christina Greer, associate professor of political science at Fordham University and author of Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the American Dream. She appears regularly on MSNBC and NY1 to talk politics, and she’ll be on a panel about the election at Lucky Jack’s in the Lower East Side on April 14 ahead of the New York primary on the 19th.

Let’s start with the Democratic field. Compared to other Democratic primaries you’ve followed in your lifetime, where does this one stand in terms of substance, in terms of talking about actual issues, in terms of pursuing a progressive agenda?

Christina Greer: Goodness, that’s a loaded question. Well in the past I have to say, even in 2008, I can’t say the election was this exciting. If you all remember in 2008, John Edwards and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton – and of course John Edwards had to bow out – and we were essentially going state by state between Clinton and Obama, and there was sort of a different division obviously in how they wanted to get things done but not necessarily in what they wanted. Yes, there were conversations about war, whether or not Obama supported the war; he did not because he wasn’t even in the Senate at the time of the vote. And so that was sort of the biggest issue there.

This year it seems as though there’s a much larger core of ideas and how to implement them and some real divisions within the larger party about what the direction should be and what a Democratic candidate should look like. Should they be more centrist, like a Hillary Clinton, or should be in some ways, to use Bernie Sanders’ own terms, more radical? And there are many Democrats who don’t feel comfortable with the radical candidate just because they know that bipartisanship is the only way we’ve ever gotten anything done in American democracy, but others feel like this is the time. If not now, then when? She’s someone who’s not going to essentially look like a Republican half the time and really go for what Democratic ideals should be.

So we’re actually at more of a division than many people anticipated largely because many people did not anticipate Bernie Sanders even making the inroads that he has. He showed up, especially as a 74-year-old, pretty obscure senator from a small state. Most people have never heard of him before, and now we see he’s created a national movement in much the way Barack Obama did in 2008.

Gunar Olsen: One of the issues that has come up has been reparations. In an interview with Fusion in January, Bernie Sanders said he doesn’t support reparations for black people. His statement set off – what I found to be – a really important back on forth on the left about reparations. Ta-Nehisi Coates quickly criticized Sanders. And then people further to the left pushed back on Coates: Cedric Johnson in Jacobin wrote “An Open Letter to Ta-Nehisi Coates and the Liberals Who Love Him,” that got some good attention. Jacobin also ran a pro-reparations piece by Brian Jones. As usual, Adolph Reed said some things that were highly critical of Coates’ work. What did you make of this conversation?

Christina Greer: Well it depends on what you make of the conversation of reparations. I mean I think it’s an important conversation to have, but I think there are more important conversations to have about the institutions in which that money or those resources would be played out. What is the point of reparations in some ways if all the institutions will still be white owned and in some ways white supremacist? So I think that it’s an important question.

The fact that Bernie Sanders is entertaining the question says something about what he’s willing to do. I think a large frustration with people who aren’t supporting Sanders is that he never instigates any of these conversations. He’s always brought into the conversation often times reluctantly, and then he champions it, which is great, but he’s clearly not a leader on anything race related.

Gunar Olsen: One campaign tactic that Hillary Clinton has been using is the exploitation of identity politics, a type politics popular among social justice activists on college campuses, indeed especially here at Fordham. She’s been tweeting about intersectionality and recognizing her privilege. She’s using her gender to make the ‘elect a woman’ argument. Do you think these appeals are genuine? Do you think her policies will benefit the marginalized communities she’s claiming to help, or do you think, as Michelle Alexander wrote in the Nation, that “Hillary Clinton doesn’t deserve the black vote?”

Christina Greer: Well I mean Hillary Clinton is a complicated figure largely because she’s been known for so long. I’m actually still uncertain as to what exactly she believes largely because people are allowed to change, but we also do know that this is something she definitely desires.

When it comes to the black vote, as I talk about in my book Black Ethnics, how can we really define that? Yes, there are large – 90 percent of African Americans vote Democratically in the general election, but that’s for complicated reasons. And the group is not a monolithic group, ethnically, geographically, financially, whatever it may be. Republicans have essentially written off black Americans, and so the choices are limited. But I think black people are very strategic voters, so when they’re looking at someone like Hillary Clinton, who in many ways is the presumed nominee, there’s a reason for many black voters to vote to protect their interests as opposed to take a gamble and vote for a possible candidate that might not make it.

You also can’t assume that just because one is black that they’re also liberal. So they may vote Democratically, but there’s still several conservative Democrats out there. If we think about southerners – not just black Southerners –  but southerners period, we know that a Democratic southerner from say Texas is more conservative than probably a Republican from New York City. So when we have these labels, we also have to recognize that these labels are multifaceted and pretty complex depending on our geographic space and who and what we’re talking about.

Gunar Olsen: Both Michelle Alexander and Shaun King at the New York Daily News said that the problem with Sanders is that he’s running in the Democratic Party, a party dominated by right-of-center neoliberals like Obama and Clinton. When asked whom she is supporting, Angela Davis said that we need a new party. What is your take on Sanders in the Democratic Party or a third-party run?

Christina Greer: I think what this race is really showing us is that the labels we are using are in many ways inaccurate. In the old days, Sanders would be a Democratic, Clinton would be a Republican, and then the Republicans would just be off the pond. We have no idea where they would be because they have shown themselves to be so extremist on the presidential level. Now obviously on the local level it’s a little bit different.

We know that Obama is not a liberal. Lots of people have been disappointed. Unfortunately they weren’t paying attention to anything he said in 2008 because if you were looking beyond his skin color, you would know for a fact that he never said he was going to be a liberal, he never said he would implement liberal policies. His skin color is liberal but that’s pretty much it. And he’s a centrist Democrat, and that’s, in the past, who we’ve tended to elect to be our president, centrist Democrats. So when it comes to the comparisons of the Obama era and today, we also have to be real about why and how we voted for Obama, and for some people, with the excitement of voting for Obama, they weren’t paying attention to some of the rhetoric that was quite clear that they weren’t paying attention.

Gunar Olsen: So what advice would you give to (1) the Sanders campaign to pick up more delegates in the remaining primaries and (2) the Clinton campaign to keep up her pledged delegate lead.

Christina Greer: Well the Sanders campaign so far they’re galvanizing young people and they would just have to keep stressing turn out and that this movement is real and not be discouraged even if the math doesn’t look in their favor. For many people, if Sanders is their first choice, they are making the argument for themselves, saying well, he probably won’t win, so I’ll just vote for my second choice and that’s what happens quite a bit. If he can convince people to vote for their first choice, I think he’s got great momentum.

Similarly though for Hillary Clinton, I think she needs to convince people that she needs to be judged as 21st century Hillary Clinton, and that even though she may have cosigned on her husband’s record, is it a fair assessment for her to be judged a) for things that she said 25 years ago – Biden said some pretty horrendous things, I’m sure if we all look back on ourselves, we aren’t the people we are today, hopefully we’re not, we’ve evolved – and really convince people that she’s the smartest person in the room, which I do think, you know, is usually the case. But lots of people have such a bad feeling about her, and she’s actually not a great candidate. And in governance, that may be a different story, but as far as on the campaign trail, she just doesn’t know how to bring it home. If she can convince people that she has the CV that no one else in the world has, and that we should trust her, even though we’ve known her for so many years, then I think she can make those inroads.

Gunar Olsen: Let’s move to the Republican field. How do you explain the violence inflicted by Trump supporters on nonviolent protesters, particularly black people, at his rallies? What does it signify and what does it say about the United States? Do you think it could get worse?

Christina Greer: Oh I definitely think it could get worse because it’s the fabric of this nation. We have a presidential candidate who’s essentially said, “We no longer have to live in the shadows.” And so the silent majority can now speak, and that means they can say pretty horrendous things about multiple people. These groups have been in existence, they’re not new, many of them though haven’t voted before or they reluctantly voted for a Democrat that didn’t satisfy their – or a Republican that didn’t satisfy their needs. And Trump is essentially saying, “It’s okay to say these inappropriate statements out loud, it’s acceptable because you’re with me now.” And I think a lot of people are feeling really relieved that he’s given them the permission to say and do things that they’ve felt for quite some time.

Gunar Olsen: So a question about the media. Glenn Greenwald wrote that the rise of Trump shows the danger and sham of compelled journalistic ‘neutrality.’ You were recently on a panel at the New School and you talked about the media’s role in the rise of Trump. What’s the connection?

Christina Greer: Well I think the media is complicit, and there are lots of people who disagree on this point. The fact is that he’s gotten $2 billion in free media since he announced. The only person who gets more free media is the president of the United States. So when journalists keep asking, “Why is Trump surging in the polls?” Well because you’ve been talking about him nonstop on air in a 24-hour news cycle, and so if you stopped doing that, we might see that maybe – it sort of depends on [inaudible] the dog. For a lot of people who weren’t paying attention or who didn’t think of him that seriously or they’ve heard every single journalist talking about him consistently, and so then they started to think about him more and more. And he’s already had a 10-year head start on many of the candidates because he’s a celebrity with his reality shows.

Gunar Olsen: What’s all this talk about a contested Republican convention? How could this play out?

Christina Greer: Oh I think it can play out, and if the Democrats aren’t careful, I think it will also play out in Philadelphia as well. So essentially there are lots of different rules in place. I mean I always tell my students, “The beauty and the curse of American democracy is that even though we have something written down, we always have a trap door where we can circumvent it.” So there are rules, the rules for Democrats are somewhat different than the rules for Republicans because Democrats have superdelegates. But Reublianas have to get to a certain number. If Cruz takes his win in Wisconsin and starts surging in the polls, we may see that neither Republican gets the requisite amount to actually win the nomination straight out at the convention. If that’s the case, it could be contested. That also means that Reince Priebus, who the head of the RNC, could exercise certain provisions in their bylaws where they could throw in a third candidate as well, someone obviously with the name like Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney have been thrown around, someone who’s a little bit more palatable to the vast majority of Republicans in the party. Unfortunately in America, we have such low voter turnout for the primary, many times these people are not representative samples of the larger party.

Gunar Olsen: Currently the frontrunners in each party — Clinton and Trump — are very unpopular among the general electorate. In a recent CBS/NYT poll, 57 percent of voters said they have unfavorable views of Trump and 52 percent of Clinton, the highest numbers since the poll began in 1984. (This is in contrast to Sanders, who has 60 percent favorable and 33 percent unfavorable ratings in a CNN poll.) How is this happening? And how strong is the argument that Democrats should elect Sanders because he has a better chance of beating Trump?

Christina Greer: Right, and I don’t necessarily think that Sanders has a better chance of beating Trump. I think Sanders benefits in many ways from what Obama benefited from in 2008, which is that he’s relatively unknown. So yes he’s been in the Senate but his record in the Senate is not terribly impressive. And so there’s not much to stick to him based on what he’s done or hasn’t done because that a) wasn’t his office and b) he’s been living the great life of a senator and been delivering for the state of Vermont as he should as a senator.

With Hillary Clinton, she has a lot more net negative largely because we’ve known her for 25 years, she was secretary of State, she did cosign some of her husband’s most draconian policies in the 90’s, and even some upstate New Yorkers have issues with her from when she was senator obviously and voted for the Iraq War.

So both of these individuals, Clinton and Trump, have large negatives, but we also need to look at the number of people who are actually showing up. So if we think about Washington state, I believe Bernie Sanders got 19,000 votes and won the primary. When Obama won the Democratic state of Washington, he got 1.9 million votes, so we’re seeing a huge percentage of the Democratic primary not showing up for a primary because many people when they about elections, they think about November, they don’t think about early 2016.

Gunar Olsen: What worries you most about a Hillary Clinton presidency, and what worries you most about a Donald Trump presidency?

Christina Greer: A Hillary Clinton presidency, I worry that she’s a hawk. We see that Obama presented himself as a dove, and Hillary Clinton presented herself as a hawk in 2008. We see that Obama has a lot of hawk in him when it comes to foreign policy and also middle of the road policies when it comes to the welfare state and poor Americans. I think Hillary Clinton will be more hawkish than our current president, that does worry me because if obviously we think about interacting, intervening abroad, that does have real economic consequences domestically when it comes to education, infrastructure, and our day to day lives.

With Donald Trump, everything worries me because a) not only does he not have a record but I do think he has narcissistic, megalomania qualities and you can’t really take him at his word. So one day he’ll say he’s for something and the next day he’s against it and the third day he says he’s for it again. So I don’t feel comfortable with a person like that interacting with Putin or Kim Jong Un or our allies at the UN because tough talk and big talk in the boardroom is very different when you’re talking with heads of state where you can just call them pigs, and obviously his gender politics I think are probably the nadir of American politics and we probably haven’t seen someone so [inaudible] ever in our democratic history.

Gunar Olsen: So speaking of foreign policy, while Bernie Sanders was the only candidate to decline to speak at AIPAC, Clinton seemed like she was trying to position herself to the right of Donald Trump on Israel. Although Sanders reaffirmed his support for guaranteeing Israel’s survival, he did call for an end to the blockade of Gaza, criticized Israel for controlling water in the West Bank, and for mounting disproportionate responses to attacks. How does this affect his campaign? And more broadly, do you see Sanders’ speech as the beginning of a trend of national politicians who aren’t afraid to strongly criticize Israel?

CG: I don’t think it’s the beginning of a trend. I think that for people who are progressive in this country, it’s refreshing to hear a candidate not actually cater to this particular group, which Democrat and Republican candidates always cater to this specific group. So he is one in very few that I do not think are this national trend because many Democrats and Republicans alike believe that to get the support of AIPAC financially but even just on paper means a lot, not just in the campaign phase but also in the governance phase. Keep in mind the position of Israel in the Middle East is a very strategic position, and many world leaders want that relationship as strong as possible for all the things that we do in the dark.

Gunar Olsen: Since you teach a course on campaigns and elections, how would you design a primary system to either maximize or minimize the ability of an outsider candidate, like Trump or Sanders, to break through?

CG: I don’t think that democracy is set up to minimize people. I think if the public speaks then we should listen. My issue is that it’s only a small percentage of the public speaking. I really wish we could figure out a way to get more people involved, to actually turn out to vote. We know that there are costs to voting, not just $2.75 to take the subway to your polling station but trying to find childcare and healthcare and get off of work if you’re working two minimum wage jobs and you could lose your job if you leave early to go vote. So we really need to think about the strategies that other countries utilize that are really effective where they have weekend voting on a Saturday and a Sunday, or certain states where you can vote for two weeks or early voting or make it really easy to just mail in your ballot.

Some people argue that it shouldn’t be easy to vote, but we make it pretty difficult for people and it’s a pretty complex system. We’re a highly educated people, and I talk to my students all the time, and they’re even still confused about where they should register. Do they go online? Should they have to show up? There are a lot of intricate processes. They’re really confused about the date in New York: we’re voting in April for the presidential primary in June, for the congressional primary in September, for the state legislature primary, and then in November for the general election. Many people don’t understand what all these dates mean, and so it’s a larger education process that also needs to happen to explain to American voters what all these different levels and layers of American government really mean because they don’t really know who they’re turning out for. And part of the problem is that we have such an incumbency advantage for people who have already been in office. Many people aren’t inspired to turn out for someone who’s already been in office for 20 years and they just assume well they’re gonna be in office anyway and they essentially run pretty much unopposed every single time they’re up for office.

Gunar Olsen: Again, I’ve been speaking to Christina Greer, associate professor of political science at Fordham University and author of Black Ethnics. She’ll be discussing the election at Lucky Jack’s on April 14th. We will link to your book and the panel at the Observer’s website. Thanks so much for chatting!

CG: Thank you, Gunar!

What Gets Asked at Debates–and Who Gets Asked It?: A FAIR study of presidential primary debate questions

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Moderators at the presidential primary debates. First row: Bret Baier (Fox), Megyn Kelly (Fox), Chris Wallace (Fox); second row: Anderson Cooper (CNN), Jake Tapper (CNN), John Dickerson (CBS); third row: Nancy Cordes (CBS), Don Lemon (CNN), Gerard Baker (WSJ)

Originally published at Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting. Reposted at Common Dreams.

It’s not 2016 yet, but the 2016 presidential election cycle has already seen two Democratic primary debates, four Republican primary debates and four Republican “undercard” debates (for the GOP candidates who weren’t considered ready for primetime). A fifth pair of Republican debates will be held tonight, December 15.

With all this debating, you might think voters were getting a broad view of the policies that the major-party candidates were offering. But as in past elections (FAIR Media Advisory, 10/26/12), the establishment media figures who have moderated the debates have thus far focused the discussion on a narrow range of topics, a FAIR analysis of debate questions finds.

The 536 questions asked in the first four Republican debates, four Republican undercard debates and two Democratic debates were divided into six categories: economic, social, international, immigration, environment and non-policy questions. If the same question was asked to multiple candidates, it was counted each time, but clarifying and follow-up questions to the same candidate were not counted.

FAIR also studied the percentage of questions each candidate was asked. While moderators clearly took candidates’ positions in opinion polls into account when distributing questions, some seemed to get asked more—or less—based on media assumptions about who was and was not a serious contender.

What Was Asked About

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CNN partnered with Salem Media in the 9/16 debate and with the New York Times and Des Moines Register in the 10/13 debate; in the 11/10 debate, Fox Business Channel partnered with the Wall Street Journal.

One hundred sixty-four (31 percent) of the questions were categorized as non-policy related. A subset of these questions—14, or 3 percent of total questions—involved questions about candidates’ records in public or private life, as when Marco Rubio was asked about “your absentee record in the Senate.” Six of the 14 questions regarding candidates’ records involved Hillary Clinton’s handling of email as secretary of State.

The non-policy category also included questions about electability (of Bernie Sanders, “How can any kind of socialist win a general election in the United States?” or to Lindsey Graham: “How do you explain why so many of your constituents would rather have Donald Trump as the Republican nominee than you?”), general questions about other candidates (“Would you feel comfortable with Donald Trump’s finger on the nuclear codes?” or  “Do you want to tell Secretary Clinton why she shouldn’t get the crown?”), personal questions (“Which enemy are you most proud of?” or “What is your biggest weakness?” or “What experience would you draw on in a crisis?”) and questions about party loyalty (including the first question asked in the entire debate season: “Is there anyone on stage who is unwilling tonight to pledge your support to the eventual nominee of the Republican Party?”).

Twenty-eight of the non-policy questions (5 percent of all questions) might fairly be categorized as silly, e.g., “What would you want your Secret Service codename to be?” or “What are the three apps that you use most frequently on your cellphone?” or “Should the day after the Super Bowl be a national holiday?” Even the more substantive questions in this category, though, tended to illustrate Paul Waldman’s observation in the Washington Post (10/29/15) that “the defining characteristic of almost every debate in recent years is that the journalists doing the questioning go out of their way to try to create drama.”

The next largest category was economic policy, whose 143 questions constituted 27 percent of all questions. Taxes (42 questions) dominated those discussions, followed by social spending (21) and economic growth (21). The questions about social spending (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) were often framed to Republicans as a question of bootstraps (“How do you get Americans who are able to take the job instead of a handout?”) or in terms of costs (“Considering the mounting cost of Medicare, was [President Ronald Reagan] right to oppose it?”).

Some economic questions did address more progressive concerns: There were eight questions about the minimum wage, six about inequality (“Are there specific steps you would require from corporate America to try and reduce the income inequality?” or “In all candor, you [Clinton] and your husband are part of the one percent. How can you credibly represent the views of the middle class?”) and three about corporate crime.

The 96 questions about social issues comprised 18 percent of all questions. There were 12 questions in this category about surveillance, sometimes unhelpfully personalized (“Edward Snowden, is he a traitor or a hero?”) and other times policy-focused (“Would you shut down the NSA surveillance program?”). Questions about women’s health (12) were often in the context of Planned Parenthood (“Would you be willing to shut down the government when it comes to defunding this group?”) and sometimes about appointing Supreme Court justices (“Is it time for conservatives to impose a litmus test on abortion?”). The 11 questions on gun control were sometimes framed from the right (“Would encouraging more people to be armed be part of your response to a mass shooting?”) and sometimes from the left (“Is Bernie Sanders tough enough on guns?”). There were seven questions about marijuana, seven about marriage equality and five about education.

In the international policy arena, whose 90 questions constituted 17 percent of all questions, the 37 questions about the Syrian civil war, the Islamic State and the “War on Terror” more broadly took center stage. These questions were largely asked from the right, seemingly urging candidates to adopt more hawkish positions: “Under what circumstances would a President Sanders actually use force?” or “How do you propose we screen [Syrian refugees] to keep citizens safe?”

This pattern was particularly pronounced in the CBS Democratic debate the day after the Paris attacks, as when Sanders was asked, “In the previous debate, you said the greatest threat to national security was climate change. Do you still believe that?” or when Clinton was queried: “A couple of days ago you were asked if you would declare war on ISIS and you said no. What would you say now?”

Other international questions dealt with general policy (“When are we going to get some names on your military and your foreign policy advisers?” or “Is [Clinton] too quick to use military force?”), Iran (12 questions) and, unsurprisingly, Benghazi (5).

Thirty-six (7 percent) of all questions were about immigration—counted as a separate category because of its mixed domestic and international aspect. Many questions in this category were framed in the context of unauthorized immigrants (“What do you say to the family of illegals? Are you going to break them apart?”), how immigrants affect the economy (“At the heart of this issue is the effect that illegal immigrants are having on our economy. What will you do about it?”), healthcare and education (“Do you support the undocumented immigrants getting Obamacare?”) and birthright citizenship (“Ms. Fiorina, the vast majority of countries do not have birthright citizenship…. Donald Trump is right about that. Why is it pandering when he says this?”).

What Was Not Asked About

Some topics deemed important by large segments of society got quite little—if any—attention. Although climate change is often regarded as the single greatest threat to humanity, moderators asked only nine questions about it—less than 2 percent of all questions. None of the six questions regarding campaign finance asked what candidates would do about the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions, or their plans to limit the influence of money on politics; they focused, rather, on whether candidates can personally be trusted, given their contributions from wealthy donors.

There were more questions about Hillary Clinton’s emails (6) and Benghazi (5) than about police brutality (2). Questions regarding institutional racism, including police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement (phrased in the unhelpful binary: “Do black lives matter, or do all lives matter?”), came up less than 2 percent of the time. The only question about the rights of transgender people was not about healthcare or the increasingly disproportionate rate trans people are being murdered, but rather about how trans people serving in the armed forces affects the “definitely changing culture of the American military.”

None of the economics questions mentioned organized labor, or the US’s $500 billion trade deficit.

While there were zero questions about Sub-Saharan Africa, the only questions about Latin America were in the context of Trump’s claims that the Mexican government is sending rapists and drug dealers and criminals across the border. South Asia was ignored, while the only questions about East Asia were five that brought up China in the context of cyberwar and currency manipulation. Despite the heavy focus on the Middle East, no questions dealt directly with the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Whom Was Asked

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Predictably, some candidates got asked more questions than others. In the Republican field, Donald Trump led the way, taking on average 16 percent of the questions in the main GOP debates, followed by Ben Carson and Jeb Bush (12 percent each). Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee, with 7 percent each, got the lowest percentage of questions in the major debates they took part in. The two leading Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, got nearly the same percentage of questions (33 vs. 31 percent), while the fewest questions on the Democratic side went to Lincoln Chafee, with 13 percent of the questions in the one debate he participated in.

Clearly, the moderators took the candidates’ relative positions in opinion polls into account when distributing questions, but there seemed to be other factors at work as well. We compared the percentage of questions asked each candidate to their average standing in polls at the time of each debate (using the Huffington Post’s poll-tracking feature). These two percentages aren’t directly comparable, since the polling positions of all the candidates on stage didn’t add up to 100, but they do give a basis for comparing popularity and debate attention.

One striking outlier is Jeb Bush; though Ben Carson polled on average more than twice as well as Bush (17 percent vs. 8 percent), they each were asked about the same percentage of questions (12 percent). Similarly, while Ted Cruz polled almost twice as well as Rand Paul (7 percent vs. 4 percent), moderators asked Paul a slightly larger portion of questions than Cruz (10 percent vs. 9 percent). (Paul’s share of questions got a boost in the third Republican debate, which focused on economic issues–topics where Paul is more in line with the Republican establishment than he is on other issues.)

On the Democratic side, the less-crowded field allowed for a somewhat more egalitarian distribution of questions. Martin O’Malley, for example, got approximately two-thirds as many questions as the front-running candidate, Clinton, who outpolled him 25-to-1. On the Republican side, the lowest-ranked candidates on the main stage got about half as many questions as frontrunner Trump, with about one-tenth as much support in polls. Although Jim Webb complained repeatedly about how few questions he was asked in his first and only debate, in terms of percentages it was almost as many (15 percent vs. 16 percent) as Trump was asked on the more crowded GOP stage.

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Pundits Thought Clinton Beat Sanders – But Did Viewers?

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Originally published at Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting. Reposted at Common Dreams.

A New York Times article (10/14/15) by Alan Rappeport about who won last night’s Democratic presidential debate reported today that “Hillary Rodham Clinton was the clear victor, according to the opinion shapers in the political world (even conservative commentators).”

The Times quoted National Journal columnist Ron Fournier (“Hillary Clinton won,” 10/13/15), Slate writer Fred Kaplan (“She crushed it,” 10/14/15), New Yorker staffer Ryan Lizza (“Hillary Clinton won because all of her opponents are terrible,” Twitter, 10/13/15), Red State blogger Leon Wolf (“Hillary was (astonishingly) much more likable and personable than everyone’s favorite crazy socialist uncle,” 10/13/15), pollster John Zogby (“Mrs. Clinton was just commanding tonight,” Forbes, 10/13/15) and conservative radio host Erick Erickson (“I’m still amazed the other four candidates made Hillary Clinton come off as the likable, reasonable, responsible Democrat,” Twitter, 10/13/15). If these so-called “opinion shapers in the political world” declare Hillary the winner, then Hillary must be the winner, according to the Times.

What the Times and these pundits failed to mention is the fact that every online poll we could find asking web visitors who won the debate cast Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders as the winner—and not just by a small margins, but by rather enormous ones.

Who Won the October 13 Democratic Debate?Seventy-one percent of participants in Slate’s online poll, for example, favored Sanders, while only 16 percent preferred Clinton. Time’s web poll of nearly 235,000 had Sanders at 56 percent and Clinton at 11 percent (Webb: 31 percent).

At Daily Kos, which caters to hardcore partisan Dems, 56 percent of nearly 22,000 participants said that Sanders won, vs. 38 percent for Clinton. MSNBC’s poll of 18,000 had Sanders at 69 percent and Clinton at 12 percent.

Sanders also showed appeal among the visitors to right-leaning sites: The conservative Drudge Report found that of more than 315,000 people, Sanders polled at 54 percent and Clinton at 9 percent (former Sen. Jim Webb got 25 percent). A poll by KSWB-TV, Fox’s San Diego affiliate, found that 78 percent of 45,000 respondents thought that Sanders won, as opposed to 15 percent who favored Clinton. The Street, a financial news website, found that 80 percent of 13,000 respondents dubbed Sanders the winner, while only 15 percent thought Clinton won.

Although these polls only represent the views of these sites’ visitors who volunteered to participate, the consistently high share saying that Sanders prevailed in the debate, across a range of websites with wildly varying audiences, is striking.

Adam Johnson, associate editor at AlterNet and frequent FAIR.org contributor, pointed out (AlterNet, 10/14/15) that not only had Sanders won every online poll “by at least an 18-point margin,” he also was picked as the winner by various media-convened focus groups: “Sanders won the CNN focus group, the Fusion focus group and the Fox News focus group; in the latter, he even converted several Hillary supporters.”

Another, more rigorous gauge of Sanders’ debate performance came from an analysis of Google searches. According to Google, Sanders was the most-searched candidate for almost the entire debate. After the debate was over, he was the most-searched candidate in all 50 states.

GoogleDemDebateThere is one outlier in the data about the Democratic debate, but it’s one that should carry some weight, given that it’s the only poll so far ask a random sample of respondents about debate performance. This poll, conducted via automated telephone calls by research firm Gravis Marketing (One America Network, 10/14/15), found that 62 percent thought Clinton won, while 30 percent gave it to Sanders.

The poll, however, is described as a “random survey of 760 registered Democratic voters across the US”—not as a survey of people who actually watched the debate. Given that there are some 43 million registered Democrats in the country and 15 million people who watched the debate, not all of whom are Democrats, it’s highly likely that a large majority of the poll’s respondents got their impressions of who won the debate secondhand.

If they relied on corporate media to tell them about the debate, as no doubt many of them did, it’s no wonder that most of them thought Clinton won.