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The “New York Times” vs. Senator Bernie Sanders

We expect the newspaper of record to be unbiased. But when it comes to Sen. Sanders, the Times goes after him in snide ways.

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Bernie Sanders at a rally for Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum., Photo: Jeff Mitchell/Getty Images

I have not endorsed a candidate in the primaries. I have not chosen a favorite. I will vote for any Democrat who runs against Trump.

That said, I’m very concerned about the New York Times’ consistently negative coverage of Senator Bernie Sanders.

We expect the newspaper of record to be unbiased. But when it comes to Sen. Sanders, the Times goes after him in snide ways.

First, there was an article that delved into his anti-war views of thirty-five years ago. Its overall tone is hypercritical of Sanders for his leftist views, especially his efforts to undermine the Reagan administration’s policies towards the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

A New York Times review of Mr. Sanders’s mayoral papers — including hundreds of speeches, handwritten notes, letters, political pamphlets and domestic and foreign newspaper clippings from a period spanning nearly a decade — revealed that from his earliest days in office Mr. Sanders aimed to execute his own foreign policy, repudiating Mr. Reagan’s approach of aggressively backing anti-Communist governments and resistance forces, while going further than many Democrats in supporting socialist leaders.

Mr. Sanders’s activities during his mayoralty bring into relief the fervently anti-imperialist worldview that continues to guide him. They also underscore his combative ideological persona, which has roiled national Democratic politics as thoroughly as it upended municipal government in Burlington. As mayor, Mr. Sanders denounced decades of American foreign policy that he portrayed as guided by corporate greed, and outlined a vision of international affairs defined by disgust at military spending and sympathy for Marxist-inspired movements in the developing world...

Mr. Sanders’s deep-rooted foreign policy values have the potential to not only earn him support from voters who have grown tired of overseas wars, but also make him vulnerable to attack from rivals in both parties who are eager to depict him as too radical for the presidency.

Mr. Sanders, a Vermont senator since 2007, initially declined an interview for this article. But after it was published Friday, he requested a phone interview, during which he described his opposition to the Vietnam War and criticized an American foreign policy in the 1980s that he said had revolved around overthrowing governments and “installing puppet regimes."

“I plead guilty to, throughout my adult, life doing everything that I can to prevent war and destruction,” he said...

In the interview Friday, Mr. Sanders called the Soviet Union an “authoritarian dictatorship” but said that stopping nuclear war was more important to him in the 1980s.

“I was going to do everything that I could to prevent a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union,” he said.

The article paints Sanders as an ideological extremist and radical who was out of the mainstream. Imagine a mayor who is anti-war! What an outrage!

Is it fair to expect everyone to have exactly the same views over their entire life? Is it fair to judge a person today by what he said and did 35 years ago? I don’t think so. My views have evolved. Some have changed dramatically. Most people supported the war in Vietnam when it happened. I expect many (including me) now see it as a disaster. Maybe the same is true about the war in Iraq, which turned into the war in Afghanistan, which might soon become the war in Iran. Bernie Sanders opposed them all.

Presumably the Times will tear apart Biden for the votes he cast long ago and the views he espoused that he now regrets.

And the Times will do the same to every other Democratic candidate, thus assuring Trump’s re-election, since his rabid base doesn’t care what he has done or said in the past.

Most infuriating recently was the New York Times’ hit job on Sanders’ thoughtful education plan, which was co-written by veteran education journalist Dana Goldstein and Sydney Ember, who to my knowledge has no education knowledge or experience.

The Sanders plan for education is incisive, intelligent, well-informed, and bold.

He proposed a tripling of funding for Title 1, the funding stream that directly affects the neediest children.

He proposed increasing the federal contribution to the cost of special education to 50%. When Congress mandated special education services for children with disabilities, it pledged to pay 40% of the costs. It has never paid more than 10-12%. If Congress were to raise its payment to 50%, it would provide immediate fiscal relief to every school district in the nation.

He made clear that his administration would prioritize desegregation.

He called for a ban on for-profit charter schools and a moratorium on charter schools, echoing the NAACP, until it could be determined whether they are having a negative impact on public schools and whether they meet the same standards of accountability as public schools. He noted that But few “billionaires like DeVos and the Waltons, together with private equity and hedge fund executives, have bankrolled their expansion and poured tens of millions into school board and other local elections with the hope of privatizing public schools.” This statement is a matter of fact, not campaign rhetoric. The millions spent by billionaires like Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates, the Waltons, and hedge find managers (DFER) to influence school board elections and referenda are real.

He committed to rethinking the national reliance on property taxes and to ensuring that all schools are equitably funded.

He promised to work with states to establish a minimum teachers’ salary of $60,000.

Every parent, every educator, every citizen should read his plan.

But consider how the New York Times reported Sanders’ visionary plan. 

Dana Goldstein and Sydney Ember barely mention Sanders’ historic funding proposals and focus instead on his critique of charter schools, which is a relatively small part of his plan. They write that Sanders’ support for racial integration was “overshadowed by more divisive elements of the proposal: Mr. Sanders’s plan to freeze federal funding for all new charter schools, and the link his plan made between charter schools and segregation.”

It goes on to say that “Many Democrats, most notably Barack Obama, support charters as a way to provide more options to families, especially those that are too poor to move to a higher-quality school district or pay for private school. The impact of charters on school segregation is hotly disputed in education circles, and by linking these elements, Mr. Sanders touched a nerve in a highly charged debate within the party.”

They then quote Amy Wilkins, a paid lobbyist for charter schools (“a vice president at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and a longtime advocate in Washington for racial equity in education”), who finds the linkage of charter schools and segregation to be “galling.” She thinks that the Brown decision gave black parents the right to choose where to send their children, ignoring the fact that racist governors and senators said exactly the same thing and enacted freedom-of-choice plans that were repeatedly struck down by federal courts.

The article balances Wilkins by acknowledging that “The Sanders plan lists a number of causes of school segregation, such as inaction from the courts and federal government. It also cites data from a 2017 Associated Press investigation, which found that 17 percent of charter schools had student populations that were 99 percent nonwhite, compared with 4 percent of traditional public schools.

While no one disputes that charter schools serve high concentrations of black, Hispanic and low-income children, many charters were founded explicitly to serve that population of students, some of whom would otherwise attend segregated district schools with track records of academic failure. Urban charter schools have demonstrated solid performance, but not without drawing critique for harsh discipline practices and for serving fewer students with special needs.

Some integration advocates celebrated the Sanders proposal, and said its focus on charters was fair.

“I am actually one of the people who thought Bernie Sanders really missed the boat on dealing with issues of race in his campaign last time,” said Gary Orfield, a leading researcher on segregation and professor of education at U.C.L.A. “But this is a very forward looking plan and a dramatic break.”

“I hope it is picked up by other campaigns,” he added.

Professor Orfield cited research finding that in cities like New York and Washington, charters are more intensely segregated than district schools. A large body of scholarship shows that nonwhite and poor children perform better academically at integrated schools, and go on to have higher incomes as adults.

But here comes a zinger:

Teachers’ unions, an important constituency to Democrats, have long considered them a boogeyman, arguing that charter schools draw students and funding away from traditional public schools. The issue helped fuel a weeklong teacher strike that roiled Los Angeles in January — one of a wave of educator walkouts that have taken place across the country since 2018.

Ah, so now we see that Sanders is pandering to teachers unions by criticizing charters, because charters are the “bogeyman” of the unions.

There are plenty of parents and others who don’t belong to teachers’ unions who oppose setting up a parallel system of public schools. Do the Times’ writers know that? Do they know that voters in Georgia and Massachusetts overwhelmingly defeated Republican efforts to lift the charter caps in those states in 2016? The teachers union is strong in the latter, but not the former.

Doesn't the Times have an ethical obligation to determine whether charters have a fiscal impact on public schools? Is it hard to figure out that charter schools draw students and resources away from public schools? Couldn’t they have cited Gordon Lafer’s pathbreaking work on the “stranded costs” that charters impose on public schools?

The real stinker in the Times’ article comes at the end, where the writers quote someone unfamiliar to me. I know many education activists in South Carolina, but I have never run across Jarrod Loadholt.

Jarrod Loadholt, a Democratic strategist who has worked on education policy in South Carolina, said he appreciated many elements of Mr. Sanders’s plan, including its support for expanding funding for schools that serve large numbers of low-income students — “That’s how you break the cycle of poverty,” he said — and a proposal to invest in school infrastructure.

But while the charter-school issue might be relevant in cities, Mr. Loadholt said, it was hardly top-of-mind for voters in the state’s expansive rural areas, where charter schools are rare.

“To a hammer, everything is a nail,” he said. “And to Sanders, everything is an issue created by millionaires and billionaires.”

I googled.

He is a lawyer and lobbyist in Washington, D.C. who was born in South Carolina. I can find no evidence of any involvement by him in any education issues. His specialty seems to be consumer finance. Why was he called upon to put down Senator Sanders’ factual statement that the Waltons, the DeVos family, and hedge fund managers are behind the push for charter schools? Senator Sanders made his statement in South Carolina, and Loadholt was born there. South Carolina has dreadful education policy. When did Loadholt work on it and with what results? To the naked eye, he was called upon as a Beltway insider to cut Bernie Sanders down with a false statement.

Shameful.

Diane Ravitch is a historian of education and Research Professor of Education at New York University.