Sen. Bernie Sanders torched CNN host Jake Tapper at Tuesday night’s Democratic primary debate for grilling the candidates about their health care proposals in between commercial breaks that featured advertisements for major drug companies.
“Jake, your question is a Republican talking point,” said the Vermont senator after Tapper pressed multiple candidates to say whether they would raise taxes on most Americans in order to pay for universal health care coverage.
“And, by the way, the health care industry will be advertising tonight on this program,” Sanders continued over crosstalk. “They will be advertising tonight with that talking point.”
Like clockwork, it happened:
Subsequent commercial breaks featured an ad paid for by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) that celebrated drug breakthroughs and an ad redirecting to a website that discusses “what the biopharmaceutical industry is doing to make medicines more affordable.”
The ads bookended a heated exchange among Sanders, Tapper and Sen. Elizabeth Warren over the cost of a “Medicare for All” plan for middle-class taxpayers.
Tapper tried to extract from both progressive senators an admission that their Medicare for All proposals rely on raising taxes, brushing past their arguments that that net cost of health care would decline for most middle-class taxpayers, which would offset tax increases.
Tuesday night was not the first time Sanders and his team had linked skeptical coverage of his policy proposals to the companies who advertise on the news network.
Appearing Sunday on the CNN show “Reliable Sources,” Sanders 2020 campaign manager Faiz Shakir said this about Sanders’ longtime criticism of “corporate media”: “This isn’t a personal commentary on you or any other journalist,” Shakir told host Brian Stetler. “But in about a minute or so, or two minutes or so, you’re going to cut to commercial breaks, and you’re going to see pharmaceutical ads.”
With the ads “basically paying your bills and the bills of all of this,” Shakir said, “what that ends up doing is incentivizing you and others to make sure you’re asking the questions and driving the conversations in certain areas and not in certain areas.”