In the late 1970s Bernie Sanders, then still known mostly as the perennial Liberty Union candidate and freelance writer, wrote a critique of mass media and television for the Vanguard Press, an alt-weekly that ran from the mid 1970s into the early 1980s.
In the critique, Sanders holds contempt for the mainstream media, which he said abided by the "well-tested Hitlerian principle that people should be treated as morons and bombarded over and over again with the same simple phrases and ideas."
Sanders noted three major functions of the television industry.
"First, it is supposed to make as much money as possible for the owners of the industry and for the companies who advertise," he wrote. "Second, like heroin and alcohol, television serves the function of an escapist mechanism which allows people to 'space out' and avoid the pain and conflict of their lives — and the causes of those problems. Third, television is the major vehicle by which the owners of this society propagate their political points of view (including lies and distortions) through the 'news.'"
Today, the socialist Vermont senator who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination still views mass communication as an important issue facing the country. He maintains a page on his website where he notes, "media consolidation suppresses diversity and ignores the needs and interests of local communities."
The Vermont weekly Seven Days has dug deep in Sanders' history in the state, as a perennial candidate, mayor, congressman, and senator. A "Bernie Beat" archived details his record in the state coming back into the early 1970s. This article is among those posted in their extensive archives.
Sanders noted a "fundamental contradiction" in television like many aspects of a capitalist society. He said owners of the mass media industry don't want to educate people because "to do so would be to act against their own best interests."
"What the owners of the TV industry want to do, and are doing, in my opinion, is use that medium to intentionally brainwash people into submission and helplessness," wrote Sanders.
"With considerable forethought they are attempting to create a nation of morons who will faithfully go out and buy this or that product, vote for this or that candidate, and faithfully work for their employers for as low a wage as possible."
Sanders said if "the television industry encouraged intellectual growth, honesty, and the pursuit of truth, it would put most major corporations out of business." He noted "most advertising consists of lies designed to sell products which are either identical to the competition, totally useless, grossly overpriced, or dangerous to human health or the environment."
"The last thing that the owners of the TV industry would want is for people to know the truth about the products sold on the air," he wrote.
Sanders concluded by noting control of television is a political issue that is necessary to address for those "who are concerned about living in a democratic and healthy society."
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Andrew Kaczynski is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Andrew Kaczynski at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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