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Backstory: Shortest 'Interview'


Published December 28, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.

Sasha Goldstein (right) trying to get a word in with Sen. Bernie Sanders - GLENN RUSSELL
  • Glenn Russell
  • Sasha Goldstein (right) trying to get a word in with Sen. Bernie Sanders

This "backstory" is a part of a collection of articles that describes some of the obstacles that Seven Days reporters faced while pursuing Vermont news, events and people in 2022.

I had no expectation of getting a comment from U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) when I set out to cover one of his stump speeches for Becca Balint during the primary campaign for Vermont's sole U.S. House seat. All of our reporters were busy, so I offered to go.

Although I'm a news editor at Seven Days, I did quite a bit of political reporting in the past year — mostly stories about who was financing the candidates. I broke the story that Nishad Singh, an executive at cryptocurrency exchange FTX, had funneled $1.1 million through the LGBTQ Victory Fund's political action committee, which used the cash on pro-Balint ads, before FTX melted down.

In a perfect world, I could ask the Bern to comment about national groups supporting Balint's candidacy. Unfortunately, the senator hadn't given Seven Days an interview since April 30, 2015. Since then, he'd been reelected to the Senate, had unsuccessfully run for president — twice — and become one of the nation's most popular politicians. But in that time, despite his alleged distaste for "corporate" media, he refused to talk to this local, independent newspaper. Was it something we wrote? Our award-winning coverage of him was not always glowing.  

Still, I had to try. 

Before the speeches began that July day at Burlington's City Hall Park, I'd asked Bill Neidhardt, a political consultant working for the Balint campaign, to get me just a few minutes with Sanders after the event; he said he'd try.

But when it ended, Sanders made a beeline for the alley next to Burlington City Arts, headed for Church Street. I raced after him.

"Can I get a — Bernie, can I just get a couple questions from Seven Days?" I huffed as I sidled up to him. He kept walking, barely glancing my way.

I launched in anyway. Given his rhetoric about "the billionaires" and super PAC spending, both of which he decried at the rally, I wanted to know his thoughts about the outside spending on Balint's behalf. He deftly deflected, and as I asked a more direct follow-up question, Neidhardt, the consultant, caught up with us and intervened.

"Thank you very much. OK. Thank you," Sanders said as he walked off.

He'd left me in the dust, without a satisfying answer. And I'm still not sure if that 60-second interaction counts as an interview.