MSNBC Panel Questions ‘Problematic’ Way Sanders Talks About Being a Millionaire

Analyst spreads false claim that most millionaires inherited their money

Panelists on Stephanie Ruhle's MSNBC show debated Thursday how Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) can go forward with a class warfare message when he has celebrated the work he did to become a millionaire himself.

Sanders has promised he will release his tax returns, and reports came out showing he's a millionaire thanks to writing a bestseller. He defended his wealth as rightfully earned by saying "if you write a bestselling book, you can be a millionaire, too." Bloomberg Opinion editor Tim O’Brien said this typified the "problematic" way Sanders celebrated his own success.

"Not everybody can write a bestseller, and I think what’s problematic about it is he should have a more sophisticated and thoughtful approach to telling people how to actually earn a living and how to empower themselves through jobs," O’Brien said.

"He should also be talking about what he's willing to pay in taxes on these millions that he's made and how much he's willing to contribute to his own ‘Medicare for all' plan," said Politico’s Ben White.

MSNBC contributor Jason Johnson, a frequent critic of Sanders, said he once again came across as a "grumpy curmudgeon." However, Johnson also blasted the very idea of millionaires taking credit for their own wealth, spreading the wildly false claim that most millionaires inherit their wealth.

"Most millionaires actually get their money because they inherit it from their millionaire parents, it's not necessarily because they went and worked hard," Johnson said.

"That's not most millionaires," Ruhle replied.

"A large number of the millionaires in this country, it is from wealth that is inherited," he said. "We don't have that many Jeff Zuckerbergs [sic], we don't have that many Jeff Bezoses, and the American people don't believe in that."

Johnson may have been referring to Jeff Zucker or Mark Zuckerberg, the former being the president of rival network CNN, the latter being the founder of Facebook.

In reality, statistics show a very small percentage of millionaires in America got even 10 percent of their wealth from inheritance. Only 12 percent of American millionaires inherited one-tenth or more of their wealth, according to a 2017 study cited in U.S. News and World Report.

Ruhle pushed back on Johnson and also asked whether Sanders's newfound wealth would temper the "rich versus poor war" he has engaged in as a politician. No one on the panel thought that would be particularly likely.