Warren Issues Broadside Against Mainstream Media as Campaign Falters

Massachusetts senator charges unequal treatment from mainstream media outlets

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) / Getty Images
February 14, 2020

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) issued a scathing denunciation of the mainstream media on Friday, accusing several outlets of ignoring her campaign in favor of lesser candidates and blaming that coverage in part for her campaign's failure to gain traction with primary voters.

In an email to supporters on Friday, Warren's campaign said it could no longer "count on the media to cover our campaign fairly." It argued that other candidates, such as former vice president Joe Biden, received more coverage despite posting less impressive results in early primary states.

"The night of the Iowa Caucuses, CNN didn't air Elizabeth's full speech. But they aired the speeches of other candidates she beat," the email said. "In New Hampshire on Tuesday night, networks played Vice President Biden's speech from South Carolina despite the fact that he left the state before polls closed—but not Elizabeth's even though she outperformed him, again."

The campaign's criticism comes after Warren's disappointing performances in Iowa and New Hampshire. Despite surging national polls in September, Warren finished third and fourth, respectively. She amassed no delegates in the Granite State despite its proximity to her home state of Massachusetts. There are also signs her campaign faces financial trouble. Over the past week, Warren has canceled or shifted more than $1.2 million in ad buys in Nevada and South Carolina.

Warren has enjoyed favorable coverage during the primary. In January, CNN released a report alleging that Democratic presidential frontrunner Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) told Warren "that he did not believe a woman could win" in a private conversation. Despite adamant denials from Sanders, the network repeated the story. When Sanders denied the comment in a CNN debate the day after the report was released, moderator Abby Phillip stated the accusation as fact.

"Senator Warren, what did you think when Senator Sanders told you a woman could not win the election?" Phillip said after Sanders's denial.

CNN political commentator Jess McIntosh doubled down after the debate, portraying the report as fact.

"I think what Bernie forgot was that this isn't a he-said, she-said story," McIntosh said. "This is a reported out story that CNN was part of breaking, so to have him just flat out say 'no' I think wasn't nearly enough to address that for the women watching."

Media outlets have also dismissed potentially damaging stories about Warren. When the Washington Free Beacon released government records in October that appeared to contradict Warren's claim that she was fired from a New Jersey public school for being pregnant, CNN national political reporter Maeve Reston leapt to Warren's defense, calling the report "conspiracy theories" from "right-wing media sites."

"Of course it's our job as reporters to check out every story, as we do, but you know this is so much a part of the different treatment that female candidates often get on the campaign trail," she said.

Reston also defended Warren's much-criticized Medicare for All plan, downplaying the Massachusetts senator's weakened support for the policy as a "rhetorical shift." MSNBC initially referred to Warren's plan as "the ultimate clapback."

Multiple mainstream outlets have praised Warren for taking photos with supporters. CNN, CBS, MSNBC, the Washington Post, and the New York Times have all expressed amazement at the Massachusetts senator's ability to pose for "selfies."

"The fact that she can do this for even four hours … in and of itself is pretty remarkable," CNN correspondent MJ Lee—who broke the story accusing Sanders of making sexist remarks—said in September.

CNN and the Warren campaign did not respond to requests for comment.