Congressman Peter Welch and Sen. Bernie Sanders at a press conference Monday morning at Burlington International Airport
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) backed out of an interview with Seven Days Monday morning after the newspaper refused to accept conditions his staff attempted to set. The senator then accused a Seven Days reporter of being a "gossip columnist."
A spokesman for Sanders, Daniel McLean, called the reporter Sunday evening to offer up an interview with his boss the next morning. McLean said Sanders could make time for a brief interview after appearing at a press conference at Burlington International Airport and before boarding a plane to Washington, D.C.
But McLean made clear that two subjects would be off the table: Sanders, the spokesman said, was not interested in answering questions about "political gossip" nor about the senator's family. He did not elaborate on either condition. (Sanders' wife, Jane O'Meara Sanders, has been under scrutiny by federal prosecutors over her role leading the now-defunct Burlington College. His stepdaughter, Carina Driscoll, is running for mayor of Burlington.)
The reporter informed McLean that Seven Days does not allow politicians to set such restrictions in exchange for access. He also noted that it would be impossible to ask substantive, policy-oriented questions in such a brief exchange.
On Monday morning, as Sanders arrived at the airport press conference, McLean reneged on the offer. "I don't think there is time today," he wrote in an email. Sanders also, apparently, did not have time for the press conference itself. While it was still taking place — and his colleague, Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.), was still speaking — the senator walked away from the podium, gathered his belongings and walked toward the airport's security screening area.
"Hey, Senator, do you have time for that interview?" Seven Days called after him.
"Pardon me?" Sanders asked.
"Do you have time for that interview that we've been talking about?" Seven Days repeated.
"No," the senator said as he handed his ticket and identification to a Transportation Security Administration officer. "Not right now."
"You think you could make time at some point in the coming weeks?" Seven Days pressed.
"Well, as I think Dan indicated, we talk about issues. We don't talk about gossip," Sanders said. "And anybody who wants to talk to me about real issues, I'm happy to—"
"That's precisely what I want to talk with you about," Seven Days interjected. "So will you make time, then, to talk about real issues?"
"I don't talk to gossip columnists," the senator shot back. "I talk about issues."
The slight is hardly a new one for Sanders. At a 1985 forum at Burlington City Hall, Vanguard Press political columnist Peter Freyne accused him of "master[ing] the art" of "manipulating the news" by refusing to answer questions he found uncomfortable. "Peter, you are basically a gossip columnist," Sanders told Freyne, who would go on to write for Seven Days. "You like gossip."
At the airport, Sanders thanked the TSA agent and walked toward a baggage scanner. McLean, who was standing nearby during the exchange, told the reporter he would "try to find an opportunity again" for an interview.
"I have lots of questions for you about the issues," Seven Days called out to Sanders as the senator walked away. "But we don't accept conditions from politicians in exchange for interviews. Not a policy at Seven Days."