TV news ignores Nazi flag flown at Bernie Sanders rally

The incident took place amid a massive resurgence in anti-Semitic attacks.

Bernie Sanders Phoenix rally 3/5/20

Citation Gage Skidmore / Creative Commons

On Thursday night, a man unfurled a Nazi flag at a Bernie Sanders rally in Phoenix, Arizona, and major news networks have so far failed to cover the incident despite a growing number of anti-Semitic attacks in the United States and abroad.

A Media Matters review of broadcast and cable news channels found that none mentioned the incident of a man unfurling a swastika flag in the crowd at the Sanders rally. The video of the incident was posted on Twitter shortly after it happened, and it has been viewed more than 1.2 million times.

Another bystander video shows the man shouting a racial slur as he left the event. A spokesperson for the Sanders campaign said the Vermont senator was “disturbed” by the incident and Brianna Westbrook, a campaign surrogate, told The Washington Post that she “never thought [she] would have seen a swastika at a political event.”

Robert Sterkeson, the man who’s taken credit for the flag stunt, is a self-proclaimed Nazi who in 2017 was filmed attempting to interrupt an event held by the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Mesa, Arizona, that featured Women’s March co-founder and regular right-wing target Linda Sarsour.

Thursday’s incident occurred at a time when there’s a massive resurgence of white supremacist rhetoric and attacks in the United States, a lot of which target Jewish people and their houses of worship.

Media coverage about Sanders, whether it concentrates on his Jewish heritage or not, has far too often tended to be anti-Semitic. Outlets have chosen to run articles with accompanying photos that resemble anti-Semitic caricatures of Jews and have on several occasions chosen to use metaphors about Sanders sourced from the Old Testament. In August 2019, for example, a New York Times columnist described Sanders as “wild-eyed, scowling and angry as an Old Testament prophet on the downside of the prediction racket.” Many right-wing personalities have repeatedly likened Sanders to a Nazi as well, even though he lost family in the Holocaust.

According to a recent review:

This particular metaphor comes to the minds of a great number of journalists covering Sanders: e.g., Washington Post, 9/24/19; Newsday, 9/17/19; London Independent, 1/24/16; New Yorker, 10/5/15; Bulwark, 1/8/20). The New Yorker (10/19/19) wrote that Bernie’s tone is “equal parts old Brooklyn grandpa and Old Testament preacher,” managing to squeeze two stereotypes into one sentence.


Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC for the any of the terms “Bernie” or “Sanders” within close proximity of any of the terms “nazi,” “flag,” “slur,” “rally,” “Phoenix,” or any variation of “Jewish” for March 6, 2020, from 4 a.m. to 2 p.m EST.