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August 24, 2009

Sanders Takes Back Anti-Alt Remark, Sort Of

BernieSanders  Sure is great to live in a small state. Your senator calls you back personally when you complain. At least, if you're a constituent who happens to co-own a local media outlet.

Vermont's junior senator, Bernie Sanders, recently got himself in a bit of hot water in unlikely quarters — the alt press. Specifically, the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, of which Seven Days is a member. In an August 10 press release (on the Huffington Post) about his new online mini show, "Senator Sanders Unfiltered," he excoriated the consolidation of media ownership and the resulting decline of "robust debate" on critical issues. Not to mention the right-wing monopoly of AM radio airwaves and a certain cable news channel.

Fair enough. But Sanders (or whoever actually wrote this release) went too far when he said: "Even the alternative weekly newspapers, traditionally a bastion of progressive thought and analysis, have been bought by a monopoly franchise and made a predictable shift to the right in their coverage of local news."


Sure, there has been some "chaining" within the alt-weekly biz over the past decade or so, but a "monopoly franchise"? Hardly. Nor has there been a clamp-down on editorial independence at individual alt weeklies that I'm aware of. (In case you're wondering, Seven Days is independent and locally owned. In 2007, Bernie invited my partner Paula Routly to participate on a panel discussion in Burlington about media consolidation — noting that Seven Days is an exception to the rule.) From what we've seen, the alties are still pretty damn feisty, and concerned about the same kinds of issues Sanders is. To be lumped in with mainstream media was simply insulting.

And AAN didn't take it lying down. Board Chair Mark Zusman (editor of Willamette Week in Portland, Ore.), along with AAN Executive Director Richard Karpel, quickly issued a letter on the organization's website "correcting" Sanders' comment. According to Karpel, someone from Sanders' office got in touch with him, but there was no communication from the senator himself.

Until Friday, when I sent an email to Bernie via communications director Michael Briggs. Within the hour, I got a call from Sanders' Vermont-based outreach director Phil Fiermonte in Burlington, saying, "The Senator can talk to you at 1:15. Will that work for you?"

You betcha! (And that is the last time I'm going to quote Sarah Palin.)

The good senator started out with "You know I love you guys, don't you? You do great work over there."

I told him that I had thought he "loved" us, and that was why I was so surprised and dismayed to see such a negative, blanket statement about the alternative press in a release attributed to him.

Bernie let me know that his office sends out "hundreds" of releases every day and that "I don't always read them carefully." In our ensuing conversation he had lots of praise for alternative media, though he was just a teensy bit defensive. It wasn't like he'd come out with a big statement against the alt press; it was just a remark in passing, etc., and furthermore, in his view AAN was making too much of it. And he is, after all, truly concerned about the consolidation of media.

I agreed with him on that point, acknowledging that he has a great many battles to fight in the Senate and that, oh, say, health care reform might be a tad more pressing. But I just wanted him to know that his published opinion did mean something to us — and that, frankly, it was ill-informed at best.  It was clear Bernie wasn't going to provide a written apology to AAN, but he did offer this: "If I have offended anyone in the alternative media, I'm sorry for that."

He also said I was welcome to write up whatever I wanted from our conversation and share it "with your people in Washington." And so I did.

Sorry, but it would seem that the giddy nature of this post and the not-so-veiled implication of the cozy relationship between the author, her paper and the elected official would only seem to validate Sanders' initial assertion: There is little that is "alternative" in today's mainstream alternative publications.

Why, for example, would the "alternative media" so proudly proclaim its "love" relationship with a leading member of the political and economic elite?

Who cares if Sanders "loves" you? Your job is to hold his to the fire, not kiss him under the mistletoe...

I.F. Stone would not be proud.

Colby, you think that Sanders is a "leading member of the political and economic elite."


I think that he's the skunk at the garden party for the political and economic elite.

The point of the whole post is to point out Bernie's misstep -- to say that he was wrong.

Sanders has been drawing a public salary as an elected official for decades and he's now a millionaire. If that doesn't spell "political and economic elite" for you, I'm not sure what would.

When, exactly, do we demand some results from the "skunk at the garden party?"

And, no, morphing from a "skunk" to a "Democrat" doesn't count.

Thanks for playing.

Yes, Notso Fasto (great name), that was exactly the point of my post. I still view Bernie as head-and-shoulders above most of the [insert expletive here] in Washington, but have yet to get "cozy" with the good senator. That "love" comment should be taken as it was intended: facetiously.

But I still give Bernie credit for calling me personally. He didn't have to do that.

"Bernie let me know that his office sends out "hundreds" of releases every day and that "I don't always read them carefully.""

I'm shocked. Shocked, I say! Bernie talks first, and reflects later??? Shocked!

"If I have offended anyone in the alternative media, I'm sorry for that."

Umm, coincidentally, isn't that pretty much what Fast Eddie just said?

For the first (and probaby last) time in 1,000 years, I agree with Colby: Bernie is now -- and always wanted to be -- a member of the political and economic elite. He says what he knows will be popular in ultraliberal Vermont to get elected to power. He's a millionaire. Guess that makes him different from every other politician. NOT.

And I'm afraid Colby's first observation is correct, too (although he and I would never agree on the implications). I don't consider 7D to be "alternative." To be "alternative" in my book, you have to be alternative to something. Really, what exactly is SevenDays "alternative" to? The dominant conservative culture in Vermont? Ha! That's a laffer. 7D perfectly reflects the college-educated, materially-comfortable, liberal, wine-and-cheese eating, self-satisfied political culture that totally pervades, dominates, and defines Vermont. Almost everyone in VT agrees with everything that's in 7D. How's that alternative? If you reflect what most people around you think, that's NOT alternative.

I'll keep reading 7D, because I'm a local news junkie and I want to know what the dominant liberal culture is thinking and doing.

Hey, Alternativetowhat, the "alternative" in our breed's brand began more than 40 years ago, when, granted, the distinction had different edges. But now as then, it refers to an alternative to the mainstream media, not specifically to the "dominant culture."

No doubt you'll find something snarky to say about that, and that's fine. But I'm confident there are still a few wee differences between a small, independent, locally owned newspaper such as Seven Days and the conglomerate owned by, say, Rupert Murdoch.

But if you think "nearly everyone in VT agrees with everything in Seven Days," then I say yippee! What a great place to live! Now tell that to the folks who call or write to bitch at us about this or that.

And if you think there are stories we should be doing that we're not, I'd love to hear about them. You're also welcome to come visit — say, during our 14th birthday on September 11 (also Art Hop). Thanks for reading.

Some people are just angry. Angry at everyone. Angry at everything.

Indeed, "he has a great many battles to fight in the Senate and that, oh, say, health care reform might be a tad more pressing."

So why is Bernie's assertion causing such a knee-jerk reaction up in your (ANTI) corporate office, or could it be said that the very press that loves to criticize the corporate right has become just as reactionary as the other side of the spectrum?

Perhaps its time to take a peek above the smogless clouds that roll off our pristine lake and notice that the rest of the country isn't so much as getting a response from their incompetent legislators, let alone a personal phone call. This sarcastic piece only shows the obvious - when a senator from our state so much as makes a comment that disagrees with the rampant liberalism in our press, it is reasonable grounds for whining.

“The press should be not only a collective propagandist and a collective agitator, but also a collective organizer of the masses." - Vladimir Lenin

Senator Sanders is doing everything in his power to organize America to fight greed and corporations, so where is our "Alt" press?

Yeppers, pissypants 24/7.

"Senator Sanders is doing everything in his power to organize America to fight greed and corporations, so where is our "Alt" press?"

Oh, please.

Bernie is doing everything in his power to empower himself.

What is this 'alt' business anyway? Are the publications of this media conglomerate considered 'alt'?

C. Wright Mills cautioned years ago that the problem with the "power elite" is that they begin to think that everyone has the kind of access and influence that they have. Polston propagates this myth with her folksy -- and, of course, cutesy -- introduction that seeks to empower both herself and our senator: "Sure is great to live in a small state. Your senator calls you back personally when you complain."

Wouldn't it be great if 7Days did a story about all the people who have tried to be in touch with Sanders but have been ignored -- or arrested -- by him?

Or, while I'm at it, how about a story about all the Sanders staff members who have left because of his mean-spirited ways? Can you say: Pollina?

Or how about a story about how he tried to keep as much of his multi-million-dollar campaign fund in his family by hiring his wife to do his media buys? Socialism for his family, indeed.

Just saying.

Yes, Ivan, the papers owned by Village Voice Media are still considered alternative newsweeklies, which is the official name of a genre of newspapers (though all are now also online, of course, dating the term "papers"). You raise a good question, and one that has been debated heatedly by the members of AAN (Association of Alternative Newsweeklies).

What happens to papers when a large entity buys up a bunch of them, as VVM did, or reproduces itself in other cities (a chain)? What should AAN do when an alt is purchased by a daily? The organization has watched these trends carefully, and scrutinized individual papers for evidence that they no longer are qualified to be an AAN paper. If you want more info about the organization and its member papers, visit

What we have seen with some of the larger and more corporate entities are typical capitalist practices that some of us do not consider consistent with "alternative" or progressive views. Some of us have been forced to accept that a business-as-usual approach regarding a company's bottom line does not mean the publishers choose to sacrifice editorial integrity. Indeed, the papers in VVM, or in the New Times chain out west, for example, are some of the best in our industry.

That might be TMI, but taking your question at face value, that's my answer.

Colby and I agree about Sanders from entirely different (and undoubtedly irreconcilable) perspectives, but he's absolutely right: the guy's a fraud.

Wanna be "alternative"? Then instead of calling Bernie's office and being all kissy-kissy, do the kind of expose on Bernie that Ken Picard did on Fast Eddie. You know, actually do some hard research and challenge the guy's carefully-honed "man of the people" image. Colby's short list would be a good place to start. And don't forget to remind the current generation of starry-eyed, historically-ignorant, teeny-bopper Bernie lovers about how he squeaked past Pete Smith for the Congressional seat in 1990 by accusing Smith at the last minute of being "anti-handgun" and turning out the NRA vote. Gun-nuts for Bernie! Yeah, that's right: a calculated strategy of appealing to the NRA is exactly how "socialist" Bernie became Vermont's Congressman. Hey, anything to win, cuz the ends justify the means, right?

Love the new moniker, Pissypants! It seems to suit you.

Bernie is the biggest joke this state has ever played on itself. He's an arse and the majority of the people fall for the BS.

Pamela, thanks for the illuminating response. I was exposed to the Miami New Times for a while and thought it to be rather hit-or-miss content-wise and loaded with entirely too many ads.

Whenever I travel I try to pick up whatever looks like the popular alt-weekly and often come across similar looking publications. I only recently learned that so many are owned by VVM.

Calling people who put tough questions to their local "alternative" newspaper "pissypants"? Jeezum. For someone whose writers and columnists dish out harsh judgments and personal attacks every single week (well, except against the flawless Bernie, of course!), and who played host for many years to the biggest gossipmonger and character assassin Vermont has ever known, that seems a little sensitive.

Hey, maybe I (and obviously a few others) are all wrong about your paper's seeming love affair with Bernie. So instead of just calling us "pissypants," show me the past editions where you've done a hard, tough, in-depth, no-holds-barred, the good-bad-and-ugly, follow-the-money critique of our junior Senator's 18-year congressional career, his electoral strategies, and his accomplishments.


Fascinatin' repartee goin' on here, but I notice that Ms Polston hasn't really answered Michael's first comment.

"7D perfectly reflects the college-educated, materially-comfortable, liberal, wine-and-cheese eating, self-satisfied political culture that totally pervades, dominates, and defines Vermont. Almost everyone in VT agrees with everything that's in 7D. How's that alternative? If you reflect what most people around you think, that's NOT alternative." ALTERNATIVETOWHAT neglected to mention the City Market shoppin', latte drinkin' Pwog crowd, all of whom probably voted for the alternative Obama.

I mean, just look who's benefited from the 7 Daysies? Calling all 7 Days shoppers!

I might be aging myself, but back in my dark-age college student days, we had a real alternative weekly (as opposed to the censored, admin-controlled student news rag)... produced on mimeo!

As for 7D bein' alternative stuff.... uhm no. Not when it's political columnist starts whoring the.. erm... "alternative" [sic] view on NBC affiliate major tv outlet, WPTZ, each week or (heavens!) WVMT's Charlie, Ernie & Lisa morning program. It's acceptable-to-the-corporate-owners commentary.

Bernie is to 7d what Bush is to Fox News - an iconic do-no-wrong figure whose policy should never come into question... that is until he begins to criticize the propaganda itself. Be it corporate or "alt", no press should have a love affair with a prominent politician.

More proof that Seven Days sucks.

In the 15 or so years that Bernie was our only U.S. Rep., and in the 3 or so years he's been our junior Senator, I don't recall ever seeing an article in 7D that's EVER called anything Bernie ever said or did into question, much less an in-depth, full-length article critique-ing the guy. 7D may consider itself "alternative," but that is true only in the narrow sense that it is not the BFP. It does not question, but rather supports and promotes, the dominant social and political orthodoxy of Vermont. And, IMHO, it is certainly not "Vermont's Independent Voice," as it calls itself. It is the voice of the majority Left and, in particular, it is an adoring public relations arm of the Bernie Sanders cult.

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