Like many of the greatest media-propelled narratives, the notion that Bernie Sanders' online supporters are uniquely malicious harassers lacks credibility.
But this hasn't stopped several left-of-center news sources from making the striking, mostly false claim claim that armies of pro-Sanders activists on Twitter—animated by misogyny—constantly lash at members of the Hillary Clinton campaign and their allies in the press.
"The bros who love Bernie Sanders have become a sexist mob," asserted Mashable. "The Sanders campaign knows the 'Bernie Bros' are a problem," declared The New Republic's Jamil Smith. "Bernie Sanders' Campaign Is Concerned About the 'Berniebro,' As They Maybe Should Be," suggested Jezebel. Buzzfeed News upped the ante with, "The Bernie Bros Are a Problem and the Sanders Campaign Is Trying to Stop Them."
It's true enough that some Sanders staffers are making an effort to encourage social media users to be respectful toward people involved with other campaigns, and have apologized to a few specific recipients of Sanders-inspired hate. But here's the thing: There's scant evidence that said apologies are actually warranted.
Baltimore Post-Examiner columnist Carl Beijer investigated the phenomenon and discovered this:
Or you will find the flat refusal to provide any examples at all.
Or you will find the repeated and demonstrable misrepresentation of quotes, as in the case of Rebecca Traister's article. Or as in a Jezebel article posted yesterday, where the "Berniebro" quoted turns out to be a woman.
Sometimes you'll get a variation on this when another journalist cites the misrepresented quote, as Jessica Valenti does for the article above. Or more recently, when BBC and Mashable both quote uncritically another journalist, Emily Nussbaum, claiming that "the Feel the Bern crew" called her "psycho"—when it was, in fact, a Tea Party Republican Congressman from Georgia….
UPDATE: Turns out one the Republican Congressman who called Emily Nussbaum a "psycho" doesn't even exist. So just to clarify: this Berniebro story exists because
1) Wonkette's Kaili Joy Gray is citing
2) The New Republic's Jamil Smith, who cited
3) Mashable's Emily Cohn, who cited
4) New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum, who credited to a Berniebro a quote from
5) A Republican Congressman's Twitter account, who turns out to not even be a Congressman, but rather
6) A random troll who created a character "based on J.D. 'Boss' Hogg from the classic TV show, 'The Dukes of Hazzard'".
To elaborate on the Jezebel allegation: A purported Bernie Bro left the following comment on the Facebook page of Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who supports Clinton: "You should have supported someone with integrity instead of a lying shitbag like HRC." First of all, the commenter was a woman, not a man. Second of all…Clinton is a lying shitbag! How can it be harassment to harshly criticize a federal lawmaker for backing her?
Similarly, it certainly looks like at least some of the journalists who are so upset about being called out for their Clinton-shilling…are shills for Clinton.
It's not harassment to tell the truth. It's not misogyny to assert that a Clinton presidency would be a disaster for women. Many women think that. Sanders is actually more popular among young women than Clinton is.
The Nation's Liza Featherstone, a supporter of Sanders, called the contention that Sanders' people are disproportionately abusive trolls "grotesquely exaggerated." In an email to Reason, she wrote:
I was called an ugly cunt on the Nation magazine's comment section by liberals and libertarians, back when these alleged Berniebros were still in preschool. Political discourse on the internet can be unpleasant. It would be surprising if Bernie Sanders had no knuckle-draggingly sexist followers given the prevalence of alienated and misogynist men on the internet. If all Sanders supporters were sweet sensitive males it would be a sign that he wasn't reaching anyone outside the Burlington famers market, I'm sorry to say. But the Berniebro phenomenon is grotesquely exaggerated—we are seeing an epidemic of think pieces and hundreds of references to "Berniebros" per day, with laughably little substantiation. Everyone writing and tweeting this garbage should be embarrassed. Misogyny is real, but accusations of misogyny have become the new red baiting. It's a way for centrists and media elites to bash the left while sounding progressive, and we're going to see it intensify especially if Sanders does well in these early primaries.
Not all Sanders supporters are dicks. Not all Sanders supporters have dicks. The mainstream left-leaning press's attempts to insist otherwise are a shameful indictment of the fact that many of them are in the tank for Clinton—and they don't like being called on it.