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Feelin' The Bern: Sanders Devotees Speak Out About NPR's Coverage


Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, speaks at the 2015 International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers Conference in July.
Jacquelyn Martin, AP
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, speaks at the 2015 International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers Conference in July.

I came back from a few days away to a barrage of emails from supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination. Many emailers cut and pasted this message, part of this Reddit thread, which objected to Monday's Morning Edition conversation between political analyst Cokie Roberts and host Renee Montagne.

The segment, which was pegged to questions about whether Vice President Joe Biden would enter the race, was headlined "Will Another Democrat Make A Bid For The Presidency?" The complaint says the piece "implies not only that there is currently no Democrat offering a serious challenge to Clinton for the 2016 presidential nomination, but that if there was to be one, it would be Joe Biden. Both of these points are incorrect-there IS a challenger to Clinton already, and it is Senator Bernie Sanders."

I asked Morning Edition executive producer Tracy Wahl about the segment. "We do lots of conversations where we talk about candidates and not all of them are about the field," she said, adding, "This conversation in particular was really about Biden. We wouldn't want to go through the whole list every time we mention one candidate." That particularly holds true on the Republican side, she said, where there are 17 declared candidates with national standing. "If we mentioned one Republican candidate we just couldn't mention them all."

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The piece was framed by the introduction from Montagne, who said "And on the Democratic side of the presidential race, presumed front-runner Hillary Clinton is running into some headwinds." Later, Roberts talked about other developments in the Clinton campaign, including new ads.

It would have been easy enough to slip in a few words about the other Democratic candidates; unlike on the Republican side there are only four other declared Democratic candidates with national standing, including Sanders. But the piece did not say Clinton had no other opponents nor did it imply that, at least in my reading of it.

Many listeners and readers who wrote added that they feel NPR has ignored Sanders' campaign, or framed it largely as a counterpoint to that of front-runner Clinton. I've been getting variations of that complaint since even before Sanders launched his bid for the nomination. I've already written about what I thought was NPR's overuse of the label "long-shot" to describe Sanders early on and an unfortunate exchange between Sanders and Diane Rehm, host of an NPR-distributed program.

But as I've written back to Sanders supporters who feel their candidate is getting short shrift, I don't find that NPR has been slighting his campaign. In the last two days alone, NPR has covered the Democrats' climate change stances and reactions to the Republican debate and Sanders has been well in the mix.

NPR has aired or published several stories that did indeed look at Sanders in relation to Clinton, such as this somewhat dismissive one (from the very savvy Ron Elving, who may be entirely right in his assessment of the final outcome), and many others that did not, including a piece on his small donor-fueled fundraising, one on the large crowds he is drawing and this wide-ranging interview.

This campaign season, with more than 20 declared candidates so far, is already an unusual one, and the upshot seems to be that not every story may get told with the timeliness or thoroughness that every candidate's supporter would like to see. But with nearly six months before the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary kick off the nominating process, there is still plenty of time for detailed reporting about each of the candidates.

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