What 1970s? Sanders campaign website omits some history

The timeline on Sanders' site is missing one decade that was pretty packed for the candidate. (Screenshot taken from BernieSanders.com, and Flickr/Brookings Institute. Illustration by VTDigger.org.)
The timeline on Sanders’ site is missing one decade that was pretty packed for the candidate. (Screenshot taken from BernieSanders.com, and Flickr/Brookings Institute. Illustration by VTDigger.org.)

Despite the scores of megabytes devoted over the past two weeks to Bernie Sanders’ sexual manifesto in a 1972 fringe publication, printed in the same decade that he launched his life in Vermont’s political scene, there’s one corner of the World Wide Web where fans of the man can escape any acknowledgement of the candidate’s life before his first big win.

That place: Sanders’ own campaign website.

An interactive timeline – which pulls up stories about his humble Brooklyn roots, and early activism as a student living in Chicago eliminates the tale of his life in 1970s Vermont altogether.

In a series of buttons that can be found in the “Meet Bernie” page of his site, led by a big red button that says “View Timeline” a user can read through an “Intro,” and a tour complete with archival photos, to see what Sanders was up to in the “1960s,” the “1980s” and, his more notable “1990s,” “2000s” and “2010s.”

But when it comes to filling in the gaps about his personal and public life prior to winning the role of mayor of Burlington in 1981? There’s zilch.

A campaign worker responding to an email inquiry by VTDigger explained: “Leaving out the 1970s was a choice that we made, because the timeline is about showing the largest events in Bernie’s life.”

In the 1970s, Sanders was a new dad, filed for divorce from a “college sweetheart,” and gained the traction that brought him from 1,500 votes in a special Senate race in 1972 to 11,300 in a failed bid for governor in 1976.

Here are a few highlights:

1968: Moved to Vermont, part of a wave that boosted the population here by 30 percent over the decade, landing in a rustic abode in Middlesex.*

1969: Welcomes son, Levi, into the world.

1971: Divorces with first wife, his college girlfriend.*

February 1972: The controversial sex-fantasy screed appears in Vermont Freeman, an alternative publication.

September 1972: Loses first U.S. Senate race in a September special election, scoring just 2 percent of the vote, with 1,571 votes.

October 1972: First televised debate, for the governor’s seat, after he criticized the Burlington Free Press for excluding him from an earlier debate.

November 1972: Loses his run for Vermont governor, landing 1 percent of the vote, or 2,175 votes. A month later, he writes about his adventures on the campaign trail in Chittenden Magazine.

  Fragments of a Campaign Diary | Chittenden Magazine | Dec. 1972

November 1974: Loses second U.S. Senate race to Patrick Leahy (D), but scores 4.1 percent with 5,901 votes

November 1976: Loses his second gubernatorial election, losing to Republican Richard Snelling, but nets 11,317 votes, and comes in third with 6.1 percent of the voters.

October 1977: Sanders quits the Liberty Union Party, saying the party failed to “remain active on a year-round basis in the struggles of working people against the banks and corporations that own and control Vermont.”

When campaign adviser Michael Briggs returned a request for comment, he said Sanders’ failed bids for office weren’t being covered up, just that they hadn’t yet made it on to the campaign website.

“For the last year he has spoken about that race,” he said, speaking of the 1976 gubernatorial race. “There was a great question from a 3rd-grade or 4th-grade girl in the audience (in Iowa) who had just lost for a student election, and he just very touchingly told her about how how he ran his first several races and did very poorly and to never, ever give up,” he recalled.

Briggs pointed out that Sanders has never shied away from discussing his losses.

“And if the folks who put together the Web page haven’t reflected that, at this point, I’m sure we’ll do something to reflect that on the timelines soon,” he added.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the year that Sanders’ first child was born.*

* Editor’s Note: These items were originally written using information found at various online news outlets, which we sourced via links. Our follow-up story on July 9,  Bernie Sanders’ Early Days in Vermont: His Life, Loves, and Circuitous Route to Politics corrects the record. The original text here intentionally reflects earlier press errors.

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Jess Wisloski

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  • Jerry Kilcourse

    The fictitious article referred could hardly be called a “manifesto” sexual or otherwise. Also maybe we should know if Bernie ran for student council in college or high school?

    • Jerry Kilcourse

      Actually most of us who were here in the 70’s know all about Bernie’s political history with Liberty Union etc. Very persistent, same message that finally resonated…In any case welcome to Vermont Jess, from a fellow alum decades ago.

  • Rich Lachapelle

    So, Bernie is being chastised for omitting a few tidbits of his personal past from his campaign info? If his primary opponent Ms. Clinton’s sordid past had been appropriately vetted in the public forum, the major media and the criminal justice system she would be doing life without parole in federal prison. The Clinton “crime family” has benefited from the indemnity and protection of the major media their entire political lives because they toe the party line. The Democrat Party leadership allows Bernie to play a minor bit part in their agenda so long as he plays ball. As soon as he becomes any level of threat to their mainstream candidates’ future, they will pounce on him. Please don’t let VT Digger play any part in this smear conspiracy that has even managed to ensnare Vermont’s Governor by way of his ill-timed endorsement.
    A message to Bernie: the list of those who have had potentially incriminating dealings with the Clintons over the past 35 years and ended up mysteriously deceased is long and comprehensive.

  • Mike Ferzoco

    Wow. republican operatives hard at work already.

    • Rich Lachapelle

      Republican operatives, really? The Republican mainstream should be excited about a candidate drawing Hillary to the left. Any serious anti-Bernie efforts will be originating from the well-heeled Clinton camp and they will stop at nothing. Bernie has always benefited from Vermonters’ dislike of dirty/negative campaigning but it will be interesting to see how the Bernie Nation reacts to Clinton Inc. playing dirty pool
      against a straight shooter like Bernie.

      Ralph Nader had some rather candid descriptions of Hillary recently:

      “I think Hillary is not the Hillary of when she was 30 years old. She made peace with the power structure, and she is a deep corporatist and a deep militarist. One can almost forgive the corporatism. She moved to New York with Bill because that’s where the power is and Wall Street, but her militarism is absolutely shocking,” Ralph Nader

    • Jess Wisloski-Martin

      Hey. I’m not a Republican. Or an operative. Just nit-picky.

  • christopher daniels

    I’m glad to see that the phrase “sexual manifesto” was replaced with “gender role manifesto” in the teaser, but the article still contains the loaded phrase.

    The article seems premature to me. So the reporter noticed that info from the 70s was missing. The campaign adviser says it’ll get up there. Why not give the campaign a couple of weeks and then revisit it before writing a story? There really could be nothing to this, but if you let it play out, you’d find out if there truly was something to chew on. It’s not like we’re a month away from the primary and there’s this huge secret about Bernie’s activities in the 70s that the campaign has been actively hiding.

    Several more things:

    1) Why the quotes around “college sweetheart?” Were they the words of someone else? Or is this an attempt to diminish who his first wife was? This is unclear.

    2) SevenDays deserves attribution for first reporting on the Chittenden Magazine diary by Bernie. The Scribd link takes the reader to the SevenDays site, but it should be attributed.

    3) Linking twice in the Feb 1972 event seems overkill. And some election results are linked to, while others are not. Inconsistent.

    I hate being so critical, but this piece just didn’t seem like it was edited prior to publication on the front page.

  • Jess Wisloski-Martin

    Hi there. It’s Jess. I put quotes around college sweetheart, because, yes, they’re the words of the source, a magazine, that I linked to there. You are right, Seven Days did first grab that Chittenden Magazine article, but we embedded it from a public file-sharing site, which itself cites Seven Days as the source. URL’s are really handy, because they tell you were the web reporting came from!

    When other outlets mention the same find, the VT Freeman article, I consider it to be public knowledge by that point. I use the term ‘sexual manifesto’ because I grabbed that from mainstream media, it’s become common use. While it may be true that the entirety of the manifesto is more about gender roles in sexual relationships, it opens with the lurid, violent, not-safe-for-work sexual scenario. And ends with that. So I think my choice of a term qualifies.

    The last point you make is a great one – but the source for several timeline items was the same for all, which is why it’s not linked across. I thought it would be tedious and annoying for the user experience. I will delete the second outbound link in that 1972 item, if it makes sense to do so. I am sorry if so many outbound links offended you, but it was a curated story, and I think it’s value to the reader to do such a thing, even, sadly, when it feels like ‘overkill.’

    • christopher daniels

      Thank you for responding, Jess. I’ve nothing further to add, but wanted to take a moment to express my appreciation for addressing some of my comments and concerns.

  • Pamela Root

    If anyone thinks this is article is unfair, then they haven’t been paying attention to politics in the Internet age. I think it was well written, well researched, and to be expected. Digging history up from 40 years ago is part of life. I would hope, that people are sophisticated enough to realize what a non issue this information is. What I do take issue with is how information from forty years ago can be easily distorted in attempt to sell sensationalize journalism.
    Everyone who lives in Vermont knows people’s lives are an open book here. I’ve always said, you can’t have an affair in a state with less than 700 thousand people. It’s pretty close to impossible to hide who you really are. Bernie knew going into this run for the presidency his past would be scrutinized.
    I think he’s an honest, decent person, who was a young adult at one time, but has a moral compass that the people of the U.S. haven’t seen the likes off in a long time.