Sanders supporters hound FCC with complaints about media bias

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Bernie Sanders supporters have hounded federal regulators with allegations about bias in the media, according to records obtained by The Hill through a Freedom of Information Act request.

A review of about 850 complaints to the Federal Communications Commission about the three major cable news networks throughout the campaign season found that one of the most popular objections came against CNN in the days after the first Democratic debate last October. 

{mosads}In what looked to be a coordinated effort, more than 160 complaints alleging CNN bias in favor of Hillary Clinton were filed. The complaints pushed a now-debunked story claiming the cable news network deleted favorable polling that showed Bernie Sanders won the debate. 

“CNN hosting the debate while backing Hillary Clinton. There [sic] phony polls and editing of the debate,” read one October complaint to the FCC originating from Layton Utah. “Bernie Sanders not getting a fair shot!”

Though somewhat misguided, the flood of complaints highlights the reach of the digital army of Sanders supporters, who have become a force on Reddit, Facebook and other social media platforms. 

Sanders supporters more than once have bombarded official government channels to lodge their complaints this election cycle, as Clinton’s path to the nomination gets more and more likely. 

Another instance came after Super Tuesday in March, when a petition from Sanders supporters caused a rush of traffic to the Justice Department’s election complaint webpage after Bill Clinton was seen shaking hands with voters inside a Boston polling place. 

The FCC has no real authority to regulate CNN.

The FCC cannot restrict content from CNN and other programming that is transmitted over cable rather than broadcast airwaves. While the commission gets many complaints about news on actual broadcast stations, its scope to respond is narrow since it is barred from censorship or infringing on the First Amendment right of the press. 

Nonetheless, the FCC is a popular stop for complaints from television viewers.

Fact checkers have debunked the claim made in many of the complaints about CNN that poll results favorable to Sanders were deleted. 
Politifact gave the idea a “Pants on Fire” rating in October. 
Many of the FCC complaints connected allegations to large donations that Time Warner, the corporate parent of CNN, has made to Clinton throughout her career.

The allegations appeared to get started on Reddit, and were then picked up by Now This, a news company dedicated to social media.

That spawned a petition and a website, registered a few days after the debate by a person named Michael Kovich, which called for people to complain to the FCC. 

Kovich, a Sanders supporter, has no official affiliation with the campaign but said the complaints were meant to hold “the process, and everyone involved in it, accountable.” He eventually received a response from the FCC saying CNN is not subject to FCC regulation. 
CNN did not respond to a request for comment. 

Trump Complaints

About a dozen complaints said that the news networks were giving too much or too favorable coverage to Donald Trump.

A handful of complaints expressed the opposite — that Fox or other networks were out to smear the candidate.

A few others complained about Trump’s rhetoric. 

Cable access complaints

One of the next most popular complaints was about access to the debates.

About 50 people complained that many of the debates were limited to cable networks, which people with basic TV packages might not have.

Cable networks have hosted the majority of GOP debates, but most of the Democratic debates have been hosted by broadcast stations. While many of the debates were also streamed live, about 27 percent of homes do not have internet connections. 

“Now that the debates are controlled by cable networks, Fox and CNN, they are not available to people that only have regular non-cable TV or who pay for only the most minimal cable access,” according to one complaint from a person in Patchogue, New York.

The whole batch

The batch of documents range from Aug. 5, the day before the first GOP debate, until March 15 of this year.

They include any complaints made against Fox News, CNN or MSNBC during that time period — about 850 complaints over 890 pages.

The names of the individuals who filed the complaints were redacted by the FCC. 




Tags Bernie Sanders Bill Clinton CNN Donald Trump Fox News Hillary Clinton MSNBC

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