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Should Bernie Be Giving The Local Media More Access?

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Jane O'Meara Sanders at a podium in 2016 with Sanders' campaign website displayed.
John Locher
Associated Press
Commentator Keith Oppenheim reflects on Sen. Bernie Sanders ongoing stand off with Vermont paper 'Seven Days' and the Senator's responsibility to local media and his constituents.

It was in April almost three years ago that Bernie Sanders last gave an interview to Seven Days. Since then, he’s pretty much refused.

I like Sen. Sanders’ policy positions, but otherwise, I tend to regard him as sometimes arrogant and always enigmatic.

After the paper gave details about the lengths he’s gone to not to talk to them, Sanders office kind of agreed to an interview as long as there were no questions about his family or what he called “political gossip.”

When Seven Days political editor Paul Heintz explained that the paper has a policy not to agree to restrictions in order to get access, the Senator’s staff called off the interview, which had been supposed to happen after a Burlington airport news conference.

Credit Read the article in 'Seven Days', here:

At the airport, Heintz chased the Senator down, asking if he’d ever give the paper another interview. But Sanders walked away, saying he wouldn’t speak to the paper about “gossip.”

I think we’d find this behavior unacceptable with most public officials, but Sanders seems to be getting away with it.

I get it that his feud with Seven Days is probably because he hasn’t liked their coverage of him, particularly when it comes to stories about a federal investigation into his wife, Jane’s, financial management at Burlington College.

But I think the issues here are more complex than the senator’s relationship with just one newspaper.

In recent years, he hasn’t paid much attention to most other local media outlets either.

I suspect his view is he doesn’t really need to, since his support in Vermont is, after all, pretty solid. And he’s now walking on a national stage, giving access to cable news and big papers, even perhaps flirting with another run at the White House.

So, one might argue that he no longer has a primary obligation to speak to reporters and news outlets in Vermont on a regular basis at all.

But I think he does.

And you know, I don’t think it’s really complicated.

When we elect our state and local leaders, we have a right to expect them to talk directly to us — not filtered through CNN or MSNBC or the New York Times.

So speaking to all of our local and state media comes with the job.

And as long as he’s our Senator, he should take that part of the job seriously.

Keith Oppenheim, Associate Professor in Broadcast Media Production at Champlain College, has been with the college since 2014. Prior to that, he coordinated the broadcasting program at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan (near Grand Rapids). Keith was a correspondent for CNN for 11 years and worked as a television news reporter in Providence, Scranton, Sacramento and Detroit. He produces documentaries, and his latest project, Noyana - Singing at the end of life, tells the story of a Vermont choir that sings to hospice patients.
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