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If you were watching CNN before the Democratic presidential debates on July 30th, you might have come away with the impression that there was a fierce army of Elizabeth Warren supporters outside Detroit’s Fox Theatre, dwarfing a minuscule showing of support for Bernie Sanders.
And according to Sanders supporters who were on the scene—and a review of CNN’s footage—that appears to have been by design.
Multiple supporters for Bernie Sanders who were part of the “visibility zone” area—an area designated by CNN for supporters of candidates to stand with their signs and cheer on camera—told Status Coup that efforts were made by both CNN and local police to visually diminish their presence as compared to the supporters of other candidates like Warren.
“Four different police officers said we could not go that way, as it was reserved for the other candidates’ supporters,” Sanders supporter Victoria Bowman told Status Coup. “One even used a bullhorn to dissuade us, but we ignored them and carried on. A Bernie campaign person got us past the last battalion of officers intent on blocking us. That campaign person went back out into the streets to bring more Bernie people in, then she was not allowed back into the “cheering section.” There were very few Bernie supporters allowed into the lot that was full of Warren, Williamson, and Biden supporters. Their cheers nearly drowned out the voices of Bernie’s supporters.”
Bowman’s account was confirmed by other supporters who faced similar roadblocks from the police blocking them from entering the cheering section that other candidates’ supporters appeared free to come and go from as they pleased.
“As soon as we walked out of the parking structure with a large Bernie sign, we were stopped by the police and told we could not enter the barricaded area,” Nicole Reid, a Sanders supporter, told Status Coup. When she explained she was there to be in the visibility zone as a Sanders supporter, the officer sent Reid to another street corner that was completely barricaded.
“We were standing on the Northeast corner of the intersection, in front of the barricade, looking at our phones, trying to figure out where the rest of the Bernie people were,” Reid continued. “A police officer yelled at us that we couldn’t stand there because it was a safety hazard. There were several other civilians standing around, [and] even a woman leaning on the barricade who were allowed to stay.”
Mel Herrera-Baird, a supporter of Sanders since 2010 and an organizer, made it into the visibility zone—but was bombarded with calls from fellow Sanders supporters being blocked by police from entering.
“The whole time I was getting phone calls and text messages saying ‘hey they’re not letting me in, I’m here, where’s everybody else?'” Herrera-Baird told Status Coup. “They were telling people to go around the corner to where there was another action happening or telling them that they couldn’t make it into the visibility zone because the visibility zone—I was told from one of our people—that the visibility zone was for Williamson and Biden supporters only.”
When Sanders supporters verbally pushed back against police, they were told to “take it up with CNN,” Herrera-Baird said, making her feel as if the police were following marching orders from CNN (for the record, a security guard told Status Coup at the MSNBC Miami Democratic debates that security was instructed by the network not to allow journalists near the visibility zone to interview supporters of candidates).
David Bethea, a Bernie Sanders supporter, told Status Coup that the police were giving the Sanders supporters the “run around” while freely allowing Warren supporters inside the visibility zone.
“The police were giving the Green New Deal [marchers from an earlier event] and the Bernie supporters the run around telling us we can’t come in, we can’t go around this side of the street, you can’t go around that side of the street, they won’t let our people in with signs, they won’t let people in with Bernie shirts,” Bethea told Status Coup, before pointing out that while Sanders supporters were being blocked and misdirected by police, Warren supporters were allowed to come in with huge signs.
“There were almost 200 people [Sanders supporters] lost,” Bethea said. “It was the progressives they [CNN] was trying to keep out of here.”
Video footage from CNN confirms this discrepancy between the large signs Warren supporters were able to bring in compared to the smaller signs Sanders supporters were holding. The footage also confirms another serious complaint multiple Sanders supporters made to Status Coup— CNN’s cameras were prominently showing Warren supporters while barely showing Sanders supporters in the visibility zone.
“They showed Warren, they showed Biden…as soon as they got to Bernie supporters, they turned around,” Bethea said about CNN’s camera shot focused on candidates’ supporters going into and out of commercial. Footage Status Coup reviewed shows CNN prominently showing both Warren and Biden supporters–while barely displaying Sanders supporters, who were essentially blocked from the camera shot by a massive CNN logo set up in the parking lot.
Herrera-Baird, who was standing right next to a Warren supporter, said the cameraman who was panning left to right showing Williamson, Warren, and Biden supporters abruptly stopped when he reached Sanders supporters.
“He [the cameraman] stopped and walked away,” Herrera-Baird told Status Coup. “And when one of our people called him out and said, ‘hey, we just saw what you did, you have to show equal representation,’ he had no verbal response and just shrugged and walked away.”
She concluded: “It’s so obviously what happened in 2016 all over again,” Herrera-Baird said. “We know how this ends.”
CNN did not immediately respond to Status Coup’s request for comment on the allegations made by Sanders supporters. Representatives from the Sanders campaign also did not respond by the time of the publishing of this story.
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