The compelling picture can be found in the senator’s biographical video on his campaign website. “At the University of Chicago,” Sanders says as the photo fades in and out, “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,” reads the timeline under 1962. And Sanders used it in a stirring 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,” he says as the photo passes by, “because up at the University of Chicago, where I was then going to school, we were working with young people in the South.”
But that’s not Bernie Sanders in the photo. It is Bruce Rappaport.
Classmates of the two men started raising concerns about the discrepancy last year. According to Time, four University of Chicago alumni told the magazine in November that they believed the man to be Rappaport, also a student activist, who died in 2006. At the time of the story, the photo was still captioned as Bernie Sanders in the University of Chicago’s photo archive. But the picture’s caption has since been changed.
“Alumni who knew them well said that was Bruce Rappaport [pictured],” a University of Chicago official told me Wednesday. The caption was changed in January. “This was just a case of honest misattribution,” the official told me.
When Time asked Sanders campaign strategist Tad Devine about the photo discrepancy last year, he said, “This is the first we’ve heard of it. As we sit here right now I still think that’s Bernie. But we’ll take a look at it.” Three months later, here is what Devine told me when I asked him about the discrepancy and whether the campaign planned to remove the photo from the Tumblr feed or the campaign video:
When I originally used this photo back in May/June is was because the U of Chicago had identified the guy standing as Bernie. It certainly looked like him, and Bernie remembers being there as part of the protests. Then Time Magazine months later raised a question about whether that was him standing. To be honest we are not 100% sure if it is or not. As to why we would leave it in the video, I think it is an accurate representative scene of something that he was part of at the time, so I did not think I needed to redo the video we made months ago. There is no dispute he was there and part of these protests, just like there is no dispute that he was at the March on Washington, where we again used representative visual images.
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.
Sanders’s involvement in the civil rights movement and his commitment to equal justice are not in question. Another old picture that appears in campaign literature and video of student-activist Sanders with the university president is not in question. That most definitely is him. 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.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj