Bernie Bits: Media Declares Open Season on Sanders' Love Life | Off Message

Bernie Bits: Media Declares Open Season on Sanders' Love Life

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At a town hall meeting last Thursday in Fort Dodge, Iowa, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) complained that the media "regards politics as either a baseball game or a soap opera."

The baseball game, he said, "is who's winning, what are the polls today and how much did somebody raise?" The soap opera, he continued, "is what happened in your life 87 years ago, this, that and the other thing."

What happened in Sanders' life 46 years ago became a hot topic Thursday when three news organizations published accounts of the candidate's lost years in the 1960s and 1970s — a period during which he moved to Vermont, worked odd jobs and dabbled in politics. The grand revelation in each story: that Sanders' son, Levi, was born out of wedlock, years after the senator's first marriage dissolved and years before he remarried. 

Though rumors of Sanders' love life have long circulated in Vermont — including during his 1996 reelection campaign — all three news outlets noted that its details had not previously been reported.

VTDigger's Jess Wisloski, whose story was published first Thursday morning, wrote that neither the senator's first wife nor Levi Sanders' mother "has been previously identified in news reports." Hours later, the Daily Mail's Martin Gould breathlessly exclaimed that he'd gotten the "EXCLUSIVE."

Gould's headline: "Bernie Sanders' very 1960s love life revealed - his first wife, the woman who had his son, and the sugar shack home where he lived as a 'revolutionary.'" 

Thursday evening, Politico Magazine published the most detailed piece on the subject, which made clear that reporter Michael Kruse had been researching the topic for weeks. The details of Sanders' early life, he wrote, came as "a surprise to some who have known him for decades."

Kruse continued: "It’s also very much a product of an unwritten compact between Sanders, his supporters and local reporters who have steered clear rather than risk lectures about the twisted priorities of the press."

"Compact" may be too strong a word, but it's certainly true that Vermont reporters generally avoid writing about politicians' personal lives, unless the details relate to public business. Indeed, it took years for the press to even mention Gov. Peter Shumlin's longtime girlfriend, Katie Hunt. VTDigger's Anne Galloway finally did in a profile published shortly before Shumlin's reelection last fall.

Many Vermonters will surely roll their eyes at Thursday's news. After all, Sanders was hardly alone in living an unconventional life in the Green Mountains during the '60s and '70s. Whether voters in more conservative parts of the country will react similarly is hard to say — as is what will next emerge from the Sanders archives.


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