Monday, September 14, 2015

Don Quijote Sanders and the Spanish media: why are they ignoring him?

Major Spanish language media in the United States are extensively covering Hillary Clinton and other mainstream political figures but almost completely ignoring news about Bernie Sanders.

This despite Bernie Sanders being a great journalistic story. There's a saying among journalists that dog bites man is not a story, but man bites dog sure is. And this is a classic man bites dog.

An underfinanced, crotchety old Senator from a tiny, virtually all-white state, with no national organization or a single significant endorsement, who (in the United States!) proclaims himself a socialist, no less, mounts his horse, picks up his lance, and rides off to tilt at windmills, thinking they are giants.

And the giants start to fall.

Ignored by the mainstream media and even the "progressive" outlets, his message spreads nonetheless. People come out by the thousands to hear and cheer him. The campaign raises millions from donations that average less than $50.

Yet a study of the web sites of the five most important Spanish-language news outlets in the United States --two TV networks and three daily newspapers-- reveals a lopsidedness that is impossible to justify except as an expression of systematic and generalized bias on the part of journalists and editors.

The study looked at the number of stories or other items that included a given candidate's name in the headline as of the afternoon of September 14. It was accomplished through Google searches with the time frame set for one month.

This time frame was chosen because the primary motivation was to check into the degree to which the Sanders campaign is being ignored. By mid August, it was clear Sanders was even more than a major candidate, he was becoming a rock star.

He had been through an extraordinary rise in the polls and had taken the lead in New Hampshire, the state that holds the first primary. He had attracted a total of 70,000 people to campaign rallies over three days. The English language press had increased their coverage somewhat, making information much easier to get.

In gathering the data, for the Democrats I searched for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, as well as the once and (perhaps) future candidate Joe Biden. On the Republican side, Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Jeb Bush, the current top three, as well as Marco Rubio who is of special interest to the Latino community.

By far the most important Spanish language news outlet is Univision, with a combined total of 3.4 million viewers of the two editions of its newscast (6:30 and 11:30 PM) and nearly 6.7 million unique visitors to its web site in January. The Univision results among the Democrats were:

  3  Stories with Sanders in the headline
  5  Stories with Biden in the headline
19  Stories with Clinton in the headline

Even non-candidate Biden has more stories than Sanders!

And there's been no dearth of Sanders news worth covering: his spectacular rise in the polls including the CBS/YouGov survey relased Sunday showing Sanders way ahead in the first states to hold presidential contests, by 10 points in Iowa and an astonishing 22 percent in New Hampshire.

His mega rallies have also been ignored, including the one that drew 27,000 people in Los Angeles, and which that city's Spanish-language daily, La Opinion, did not even mention. Not one of the five major Spanish language outlets whose web sites I examined has covered any of the rallies.

For the five outlets together, now including the Republicans<sub>1</sub>, the results were:

  5 items with Ben Carson in the headline<sub>2</sub>
  7 items with Bernie Sanders in the headline
20 items with Joe Biden in the headline
21 items with Marco Rubio in the headline
43 items with Jeb Bush in the headline
66 items with Hillary Clinton in the headline<sub>3</sub>

I think the conclusion is inescapable: the Spanish language press is failing spectacularly in providing even-handed coverage of the Democratic presidential election. The favored candidates of the political and donor classes are receiving way disproportionate amounts of coverage and attention.

And, from my point of view as a life-long journalist, they're writing the same old boring inside-baseball campaign tactics trivia and completely missing a really great story. And it's not just the Quixotic quest story, there's a social media story, there's a youth story. Sanders had 66% of the 18-34 year old vote in a survey last week.

And then there's the most important story of all, that Sanders is doing this not with charisma, not with Hollywood stars, not with saturation bombing of TV ads, but with a program, a track record of integrity, standing for the same thing today as he did ten years ago and thirty years ago, and an honest admission: that he cannot bring about the changes he is proposing even if he wins the presidency. Making the changes will require a fight by an organized political movement of working people.

This could well turn into the story of a lifetime, and it seems everyone in the major Spanish-language media is clueless.

Some notes on the numbers:

1. Trump far outscores everyone else with 395 headlines. I leave him out of the chart: among Latinos, he is viewed as a distinct, separate phenomenon apart from the rest of the Republican field.

2. Ben Carson's score is not really comparable to other Republicans. He has only just begun to receive a lot of coverage, but mostly in the context of poll results which, on the Republican side, are being followed very closely because of Donald Trump. And it has only been in the last week or 10 days that he's emerged as being in second place among Republicans. We'll have to wait a little longer to judge how the Spanish language press is treating him.

3. Clinton has more coverage in part due to the emails imbroglio. I'd guesstimate without that she'd probably have a total similar to Jed Bush's.

The five media organizations studied and their approximate reach:

Univision, 1.9 million for 6:30 PM news; 1.4 million for 11:30 PM show. 6,670,000

Telemundo 854,000 for its 6:30 PM news 3,150,000

La Opinión, (Los Angeles), 107,000 441,000

El Diario, (New York) 32,000 406,000

El Nuevo Herald, (Miami) 48,000 428,000

All figures come from an April, 2015, report by Pew. The viewer figures are from Nielsen. The print figures are audited average daily circulation. The web figures are unique visitors in the month of January.

Mobile web access outnumbers desktop access roughly 3 to 1, but there is probably overlap, with people using two or more devices counted as a unique visitor for each one,.