The 2020 election — thus far — has been messy, to say the least. “Bernie Blackout” details the grueling year of media coverage, or lack thereof, the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign experienced. The Vice documentary eviscerates corporate media and provides a voice to independent journalists and Sanders supporters who fought to expose the truth.
The film breaks down the media’s blatant unfair treatment of Sanders. From diminishing his lead throughout the caucuses to perpetuating the false tale of rampant "Bernie bros," everything is put on display. I am a Bernie supporter, which I’m happy to admit, so I’ve been acutely aware of the media’s favoritism toward more moderate candidates throughout the election. However, seeing it all linearly on display in a neat Vice package with commentary from Sanders advisers, journalists and other experts was like watching a car crash in slow motion.
Despite my heartbreak regarding the film’s subject matter, it was brilliantly made. With statistics, infographics, news clips and expert voices — voices of former Sanders advisor David Sirota, Nina Turner, Cornel West, among various independent journalists and activists — the film makes a rock-solid case of the unfair treatment of Sanders. The documentary proves, without a doubt, the media actively worked against Sanders. There are numerous examples within the film that display blatant erasure and a consistent manufactured narrative of his politics.
Statistics in the film debunk the heavily media-influenced notion that Bernie Sanders supporters are disproportionately cynical, hateful and misogynistic. The film features computer scientist Jeff Winchell, who created a program which analyzed the data of 100 million tweets from the supporters of the 2020 democratic candidates. It was found the rhetoric used in these Tweets were equally negative across the board — coming in at 2% for each of the candidate’s supporters — thus debunking the narrative that “Bernie bros” are a unique and real threat. By putting these concepts into perspective, the film dissects the consistent and sadly successful media campaign against Bernie.
“Bernie Blackout” presents a perfect explanation of this approach: The Karl Rove Strategy. This is the idea that attacking the greatest strength of your opponent is more effective than going for their weaknesses. Sanders’ grassroots support has always been his greatest strength — to turn people against his supporters is to turn them against Sanders himself.
The documentary also shows media consistently omitted Sanders from their reporting. A graph shown in the film shows only two days during the campaign trail major networks reported on Bernie more than other candidates: following his Super Tuesday loss and after the suspension of his campaign in April.
This documentary was hard for me to watch, solely because it’s so close to my heart. I am a journalist who will likely end up in a newsroom run by a media conglomerate, and I’m a political person who is painfully aware of the injustices that run deep in this country — injustices Bernie has been fighting to end most of his life.
The film notes the war within the democratic party, one which keeps them from nominating a thoroughly progressive candidate who will transform the system. Transformation of the establishment is a threat to Democrats and Republicans alike, so they will do whatever is in their power to limit true progress. It sounds like a dystopian view, I know, but it is somehow our reality.
“Bernie Blackout” confirmed my thought that the 2020 election was rigged. Between media intervention in the public perception of the election to the unfortunate voter suppression that came from no action taken by our government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic’s affects on last month of primaries, there is no doubt in my mind the outcome of the election was not up to the people this time around.
This film exposes some very harsh truth about the systems that shape public perception and our reality. It’s important we question what we are told and sold and documentaries like this assist in removing the wool from the collective’s eyes.