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Those Photographs Of Bernie Sanders Are Real Despite What You've Heard

02/13/2016 12:58 pm ET | Updated Feb 13, 2016
  • Richard Zombeck Richard Zombeck is a freelance writer and a podcaster at TandZTalk.com.

The Clinton campaign's artful smear of Bernie Sanders is wrong. That is him in the photographs.

You may remember the Clinton campaign circulating a photograph of Barack Obama wearing a turban in an effort to portray him as a Muslim sympathizer. It was a little push to stoke the xenophobia and paranoia bubbling up at the time. It worked. That photo is still used today by some on the right as clear evidence that Obama is a secret Muslim terrorist trying to destroy our country.  The Clinton campaign recently tried the same tactic with Bernie Sanders.

A photo of Sanders speaking at a sit-in to protest segregation has been making the rounds recently and has been causing some uproar. Sanders supporters were posting the image as proof of his involvement with the civil rights movement. It's also been used in a lot of his campaign material.

The photograph is in a biographical video on his campaign website.

"At the University of Chicago," Sanders says in the video, "I got involved in the civil rights movement. We ended up engaging in a sit-in demonstration."

It's on the campaign's Tumblr feed.

"As the Civil Rights Movement grew, Bernie led a sit-in to desegregate off-campus housing at the University of Chicago," the caption reads. Sanders also used the photograph in a 2013 video to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

I remember the day very well and I remember the moment, the period well, because up at the University of Chicago, where I was then going to school, we were working with young people in the South.

Last week, almost every news outlet started systematically releasing reports that the photo was a fake and that the person in the image was not Bernie Sanders, but was actually Bruce Rappaport, a fellow student activist with a similar haircut, glasses and stature, who died in 2006.

CNN and MSNBC aired interviews with the Sanders campaign interrogating spokespeople about the photo and insinuating that Sanders was pulling the wool over the eyes of his supporters and the American people.

"Time" ran what they called an exclusive report about clear evidence that the man depicted in the photo was not Bernie Sanders. The "Washington Post" demanded that people, "Stop sending around this photo of 'Bernie Sanders'," writing:

Sanders's supporters have been posting that picture everywhere to imply that he was in the trenches fighting for the rights of African Americans when rival Hillary Clinton was a Republican-supporting "Goldwater Girl." Never mind she backed Democrats in the subsequent presidential elections. Or that her civil rights bona fides go back to 1972, when she investigated school discrimination in Dothan, Ala., for the Children's Defense Fund.

Pretty nice unbiased reporting, right? What's especially telling is the way the Washington Post article portrays the photo in question as an attack on Clinton and then goes on to imply that it was fabricated by the Sanders campaign.

What's at issue is Sanders's misleading use of a photograph to burnish already solid credentials. For a candidate who garnered 92 percent of New Hampshire Democratic voters who said the most important trait for a candidate was that he or she be "honest," the least his campaign could do is remove that photo from its Tumblr feed and stop physically placing him where he existed only in spirit.

Both the "Times" and "The Washington Post" cite as their sources for the accusation two Chicago University alumni, Sally Cook, class of 1966, and Robin Kaufman, class of 1965, who said they believed the photo showed Rappaport.

What neither The Post nor Time did was to ask the photographer who took the picture. Because if they had, they would have written something completely different.

Danny Lyon, the guy who took photos said that the photographs of Bernie Sanders are real and are of Bernie Sanders. 

In 1962 and the spring of 1963 I was the student photographer at the University of Chicago, making pictures for the yearbook, the Alumni Magazine and the student paper, The Maroon. By the summer of 1962 I had taken my camera into the deep South, and become the first photographer for SNCC.

Lyon was there and involved in the movement.

That winter at the University of Chicago, there was a sit-in inside the administration building protesting discrimination against blacks in university owned housing. I went to it with a CORE activist and friend. The sit-in was in a crowded hallway, blocking the entrance to the office of Dr. George Beadle, the chancellor.

He remembers the particular event.

I took the photograph of Bernie Sanders speaking to his fellow CORE members at that sit-in. Bob McNamara, a close friend and CORE activist, is in the very corner next to me in the picture. Across the room from me is another campus photographer named Wexler, who taught me how to develop film.

He remembers it very clearly.

I photographed Bernie a second time after he got a haircut, as he appeared next to the noble laureate and chancellor Dr. George Beadle. Time Magazine is now claiming it is not Bernie in the picture but someone else. It is Bernie, and it is proof of his very early dedication to justice for African Americans. The CORE sit-in that Bernie helped lead was the first civil rights sit-in to take place in the North.

There it is, from the guy who took the picture - a professional photographer who was there. But "Time" and "The Washington Post" thought two former students who conceded that it was difficult to say for certain the man is not Sanders, was enough to write some articles insinuating that Sanders is a liar - not to mention major cable networks perpetuating the claim by repeating it on nearly every talk show.

You can read more from photographer Danny Lyon in "The Photos Of Bernie Are Real and " The Photos I Took Of Bernie Sanders."

Ironically, Clinton likes to accuse people of artful smears, as she did in one debate with Sanders; and this highly artful smear by her campaign almost worked.

Jonathan Capehart, who wrote the article in "The Washington Post" and also appears regularly on MSNBC should be ashamed of himself for the lack of research that went into his hit piece. At the very least he should update his article to reflect these facts. Time had the decency and integrity to update theirs, writing:

On Feb. 11, 2016, Danny Lyon, the photographer who took the pictures of the sit-in posted photographs of Sanders at the same event. The rediscovered photos show Sanders seated and facing the camera, wearing a rough, dark sweater and a white shirt, similar to the activist in the disputed photo. Lyon said all the photos are in the same series, leading him to conclude that Sanders is the man in question.

How difficult would it have been for Capehart or Time's Sam Frizell to research this? Is it too much to expect from reporters to research an issue before using unreliable hearsay to publish what essentially amounts to a biased and irresponsible hit piece?

Watch the CNN interview with Jeff Weaver, Bernie Sanders' campaign manager talking about this.

Listen to my conversation with Tony Trupiano on T&Z Talk

Listen to Richard Zombeck & Tony Trupiano on the T&Z Talk podcast.

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