Journalists and suspected activists denied entrance to 'public' Citizens United film screening

08/31/12 Liz McKibbon
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Several people, including journalists, were denied access to a film screening about the Occupy movement Thursday. The film sponsored by Citizens United was described as being free and open to the public on the last day of the Republican National Convention. WMNF’s Liz McKibbon was one of the people denied access. This is her story:

I arrived at downtown Tampa’s Liberty Plaza with tickets and a press badge and passed through the first security checkpoint. During a second security screening at the door to the theater they found CODEPINK press release inside my bag. I told the employee that I was press and that there might be protesters at the event and I was here to document it. But she asked me to leave immediately and I was led out by security. Outside I talked to Andrea Assaf, another woman denied entrance to the event.

“I just arrived here at Liberty Plaza a little bit late, because it was very hard to find parking—to attend a movie that I have a ticket for that I signed up for online and printed out and brought my ID followed all of the instructions. To see the Citizens United movie Occupied Unmasked. And when I presented my ticket and my ID, I was told—I was denied entrance because they have determined that I am on a list as a potential Occupier.”

Assaf was promised details from a Citizens United employee. After she waited an hour and asked repeatedly for an explanation, no one showed up.

“When I asked how that determination was made, they said they weren’t able to provide any information. So I have asked to talk to someone who can prove that information, because I feel it’s infringement on my civil liberties to say the least… how on Earth they would get information on me and decide without my knowledge.”

Citizens United has sponsored many films. The group is probably best known because of a Supreme Court case, which opened the doors for unlimited spending by corporations and nonprofits on political advertising and campaigns. After I was removed, event security told me I needed a special press invitation. At least two other journalists were denied access, including Sunny Boyd, a freelance journalist with credentials from the Foreign Press Association of New York.

“I said I would like to talk to your press point contact and he says, ‘Well, no I’m sorry you’re not going to be able to do that.’ And I said, ‘Well I’d like to at least see your head of security.’ And he goes, ‘Oh, no well you’re not going to be able to do that.’ And I said, ‘Well I’ve read online Liberty Plaza is supposed to be open to the public. They didn’t make any—I haven’t read any articles about how to acquire tickets, what most of everything I’ve seen is been it’s open to the public, you can come. Especially as a member of the press, I thought I would be allowed access in, I’m just trying to do a story.’ And I was just told that if I didn’t walk across the street they were going to call law enforcement.”

Some journalists were allowed inside the film. Chris Faraone writes for The Boston Phoenix and authored a book about Occupy, called ’99 Nights With the 99%’. He called the film ‘barely a documentary.’

“When Barack Obama said he was a community organizer that got the big laughs. They still—community organizing has gone from being something that conservatives laugh about to being something that’s labeled as communism, anarchy… whatever name they can come up with. And I think that is probably the saddest part. A lot of this is high humor, really. I can only laugh at some of it. I mean the thought they are saying it’s so violent, but they have to keep replaying the same violent scenes.”

I got nearly the same review from CODEPINK’s Medea Benjamin, who I caught up with after the screening.

“I found it pretty boring, it was 80 minutes of showing the same footage over and over again from a total distorted point of view.”

She said the film appealed to fear.

“Well, the film Occupy Unmasked is pure propaganda. It takes a small minority of the Occupy movement that was breaking windows and burning things and acts like that’s the whole movement. And turns the movement into this violent movement that has no principals, that wants to attack people and property and poop on your cars and pee on your home or whatever… it’s silly almost.”

Benjamin and other CODEPINKers were being escorted out of the event when the director saw the group and invited them to stay. Benjamin participated in a Q & A after the film, which she said she appreciated.

“They have a world view that they’re not going to change, and that world view is one that says that this present system is good. And that this country is so great that any group that wants to make any kind of radical change is anti-American. And it distorts the history of this country, it distorts the idea that this country was founded on revolution and that radical change is actually a good thing from time to time. And that’s what our founding fathers said to us.”

The security officers said because the film was on private property so Citizens United could ask anyone to leave the area for any reason, without explanation.

Josh Stearns of Free Press mentioned Liz's story in his Storify of journalist harassment at the RNC & DNC

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