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We’ve had a year for conspiracy theories.
From the meme that spawned an alien-themed music festival just outside of Area 51 to suspicion surrounding Epstein’s death, conspiracy theories have been at the forefront of internet culture. On Thursday, the hellish post-debate news cycle gave us Smooth Bernie.
Democratic candidates took to the debate stage for a fifth face-off on Wednesday night. Post-debate polling shows Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders both tied at the top, Emerson Polling reports.
But the real takeaway, according to conservative website The Washington Free Beacon, is that the Vermont senator looked “suspiciously smooth” during the debate. A Free Beacon article published Wednesday night questions whether Sanders went under the knife to get rid of his forehead wrinkles, pointing to a Getty photo taken during the debate that shows the 78-year-old with an unusually smooth brow.
The article also includes this intense side-by-side photo cutout of Sanders’ forehead.
The photo in question shows the senator mid-sentence during the debate. A spokesperson for Getty Images noted that the photo was taken during the Oct. 15 debate in Westerville, Ohio, not the one that took place on Wednesday in Atlanta, Georgia.
“Plainly, no this image was not edited. We adhere to strict editorial guidelines and are committed to editorial principles, practices and process,” the spokesperson continued.
Sanders appears significantly less smooth in other photos taken during the debate, which were taken by various photographers.
There are a number of factors to take into consideration before jumping on the Smooth Bernie tinfoil hat train. For one, wearing makeup during televised debates has been a standard practice dating back to the historic debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. While Kennedy appeared youthful and vibrant on camera, Nixon’s poorly matched shade of drugstore makeup infamously melted under the hot lighting, making him appear “strange and sweaty,” Vox wrote in 2016.
Sanders may have been prepped with some sturdy primer, light foundation, and sent to the stage with a spritz of setting spray. We live in the age of beauty gurus — who says a presidential candidate can’t appreciate some BB cream?
Lighting also plays a part in how subjects appear on camera — bright, harsh lighting will highlight the grooves of someone’s forehead. Lighting diffused through gels will soften features and be more forgiving.
Some lenses are more gentle than others for portraits, photography site Fstoppers explains. Particularly sharp lenses will highlight skin texture, but a wider aperture — how much light the lens lets in — can soften and blur out imperfections.
When The Young Turks reporter Ken Klippenstein tweeted about the bizarre theory that Sanders received pre-debate Botox, other Twitter users responded with horrifying versions of Even Smoother Bernie.
Twitter users also drew comparisons between Smooth Bernie and Smooth Yoda, who is just as unsettlingly smooth.
Sanders’ campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment regarding the senator’s alleged wrinkle-loss.
UPDATE: Nov. 22, 2019, 9:54 a.m. PST A Getty Images spokesperson responded with this statement: “Plainly, no this image was not edited. We adhere to strict editorial guidelines and are committed to editorial principles, practices and process.” They also noted that the photo in question is from the Oct. 15 debate, not the one that took place Wednesday.