Consuming Journalism: According to people familiar with the X

I made the mistake of reading the news late tonight. I make that mistake a lot. I also made the mistake of deleting my original post, so this is going to be an abbreviated redo.

I saw a few stories trending about a 2018 meeting between Sanders and Warren in which Sanders allegedly expressed skepticism about a woman being able to win the presidential election. I clicked on a CNN article by MJ Lee. There are a lot of problems with the article. Here’s the headline.

Bernie Sanders told Elizabeth Warren in private 2018 meeting that a woman can’t win, sources say

What the f*&k Bernie? It’s 2020. You told your supporters to vote for HRC, even though HRC’s campaign would have preferred you do it sooner. This is a weird thing for a seasoned politician to get caught out saying, especially when you’re courting women’s votes.

We can agree that it’s a weird and careless thing to say, right? Is that spidey sense tingling? It should be.

“…sources say…” Why does the article rely on sourcing and not a first-hand statement from Warren? That sourcing better be good. Let’s find out. I’ve pasted the first three paragraphs below.

The stakes were high when Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren met at Warren’s apartment in Washington, DC, one evening in December 2018. The longtime friends knew that they could soon be running against each other for president. 

The two agreed that if they ultimately faced each other as presidential candidates, they should remain civil and avoid attacking one another, so as not to hurt the progressive movement. They also discussed how to best take on President Donald Trump, and Warren laid out two main reasons she believed she would be a strong candidate: She could make a robust argument about the economy and earn broad support from female voters.

Sanders responded that he did not believe a woman could win.

How many people were in the meeting? We need to know that. If it was just Sanders and Warren, the claim of four sources (see below) is misleading. It implies that CNN sought to corroborate the information, but there can’t be corroboration if it all goes back to one ultimate source, Warren. Is that Warren’s direct claim about what Sanders said? Is Sanders’ (Sanders’s?) response verbatim? It’s hard to tell from the article. (This is dangerous ground here because women have been dealing with this shit forever. But so far, I haven’t seen this spelled out as Warren claims X, Sanders claims Y. Instead, it’s four unidentified people claiming X based on their understanding of what Warren discussed with them or on their familiarity with the meeting, whatever that means.) [Update: I think this came up in the 14 January 2020 debate. I didn’t watch it, and I haven’t read the transcript.]

The description of that meeting is based on the accounts of four people: two people Warren spoke with directly soon after the encounter, and two people familiar with the meeting.

Four people – “two people Warren spoke with directly soon after the encounter and two people familiar with the meeting.” We need a lot more information and context about the sources. Is Warren one of the two people familiar with the meeting? Are they trying to obscure Warren’s participation in this article or is the information second-hand?

MJ Lee does add a statement from Warren in an update.

After publication of this story, Warren herself backed up this account of the meeting, saying in part in a statement Monday, “I thought a woman could win; he disagreed.”

That’s an odd way of phrasing it. I’d like to know if Sanders explicitly stated that he did not think a woman could win.

The article then takes another strange turn, wording wise.

That evening in 2018, Sanders expressed frustration at what he saw as a growing focus among Democrats on identity politics, according to one of the people familiar with the conversation. Warren told Sanders she disagreed with his assessment that a woman could not win, three of the four sources said.

Those two sentences could be related, but it’s impossible to tell. There isn’t a clear link between the two ideas. Sanders expressed frustration about X. Warren disagreed with his assessment about Y. If a growing focus on identity politics is the same thing as assessing that a woman could not win, the author of the article needs to explain that further.

Here’s Bernie’s response.

Sanders denied the characterization of the meeting in a statement to CNN. 

“It is ludicrous to believe that at the same meeting where Elizabeth Warren told me she was going to run for president, I would tell her that a woman couldn’t win,” Sanders said. “It’s sad that, three weeks before the Iowa caucus and a year after that private conversation, staff who weren’t in the room are lying about what happened. What I did say that night was that Donald Trump is a sexist, a racist and a liar who would weaponize whatever he could. Do I believe a woman can win in 2020? Of course! After all, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 3 million votes in 2016.”

I don’t know Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. I’m skeptical of all politicians, and that holds true for them, but they both seem like smart, capable, hard-working people who genuinely want people across the board to be better off tomorrow than they are today.

Maybe Bernie doesn’t think a woman can win, and he’s been smart enough to avoid saying that in public. But I don’t think this article helps me make a more informed decision about what he said in that meeting. Where does that leave us? I’d argue that the author of the article or someone else has to ask Warren directly and then get Sanders’ response. Unnamed sources familiar with the meeting just doesn’t cut it. I know that a statement from Warren is included in the article, but as I mentioned, the wording is strange, and we don’t get to see the question she was asked. You can criticize me on that. How many times does she need to say it? I can understand that criticism, but there are too many odd things about this article, particularly the vague sourcing. Sit the two candidates down and ask them directly.