Others who have commented on this particular “bad optics” moment for MSNBC have already used similar taglines, but let’s face the fact. This is the type of “voter suppression” you probably didn’t see coming and it’s not the sort of thing you want your news network being associated with. When disabled Air Force veteran James Berrie showed up in his handicapped enabled van to vote at his Houston area precinct, he was met with an unpleasant surprise. A news van from MSNBC was set up in the handicapped parking spot doing some B-roll footage and blocked his access to the polling place. (Mediaite)
That’s a headline no press outlet wants to see about one of their reporters, but exactly what MSNBC got, when disabled veteran James Berrie garnered national attention for his Facebook post calling out MSNBC’s Mariana Atencio and her crew for blocking, and refusing to move from, the handicapped parking spot outside of his polling place.
“Different kind of voter suppression,” said Houston resident and Air Force veteran Berrie, who has multiple sclerosis.
“Went to vote, and found this waiting for us,” he wrote. “The only van accessible spot and they’re filming in it. We asked them to move, pointed out how it was wrong, then went to vote, because it takes time to load up. But came out and still there. Not even packing up, still getting ready for their shot.”
Was this some sort of insidious plan by MSNBC operatives to suppress the vote? Not a chance. But what it definitely qualifies for is some sort of award for stupidity. There’s only a single handicapped van parking spot at the polling place and that’s where you set up for your shot? And after the guy in the wheelchair tells you that you’re blocking his access to the polls, you tell him you plan to move but then keep on going with the video shoot?
The reporter in question did end up issuing a public apology… sort of.
We made the wrong call today by using a disabled parking spot for our live shot in TX. There’s no excuse. I apologize to the two people who were on their way to vote as it’s one of the most important parts of our democracy; we’d never want to jeopardize anyone’s ability to do so
— Mariana Atencio (@marianaatencio) October 30, 2018
This doesn’t entirely qualify as all’s well that ends well, but there is some good news coming out of it. First, despite the inconvenience and unnecessary exertion, Berrie did wind up being able to vote in the end. But even more than that, as Berrie described it in an update to his Facebook post, the thoughtless MSNBC reporter did wind up bringing more attention to an often overlooked subject.
Polling places wind up in all manner of locations, depending on where you live. They are put in churches, schools, libraries and public auditoriums. Not all of these locations have extended handicap parking spaces for people who rely on vans with wheelchair lifts. Even when they do, they sometimes don’t have enough for a crowd of voters in a high-turnout election. I’m not saying that the schools, churches and other locations need to repaint all the lines permanently, but at least while voting is taking place they should mark off special access spots and label them clearly so people like Berrie don’t get shut out.
Oh, and it should probably go without saying, but… don’t set up your news van in a handicap access spot, geniuses.