One of the weirdest moments in CNN’s debate on Tuesday came when one of the debate moderators completely disregarded Bernie Sanders’s denial of making a sexist remark. It was such a botched moment that even the liberal Mika Brzezinski mocked CNN as “bizarre.”
The exchange occurred when co-moderator Abby Phillip assumed Sanders guilty of telling Elizabeth Warren a woman couldn’t be elected President. She demanded, “CNN reported yesterday... and Senator Warren confirmed in a statement that in 2018, you told her you did not believe that a woman could win the election. Why did you say that?” Sanders offered a flat denial: “Well, as a matter of fact, I didn't say it.... Anybody who knows me knows that it's incomprehensible that I would think that a woman cannot be president of the United States.”
Phillip asked again, pressing: “So Senator Sanders, I do want to be clear here, you're saying that you never told Senator Warren that a woman could not win the election?” After a second denial, the journalist effectively declared the candidate a liar with this leading question to Warren: “Senator Warren, what did you think when Senator Sanders told you a woman could not win the election?”
The moment was so jarring that Morning Joe’s Brzezinski slammed CNN's Phillip as “bizarre” and questioned her listening skills:
I am completely confused as to why it turned from Bernie Sanders saying “I didn't say it” to Elizabeth Warren being asked, “What did you think when he said it?” He says he didn't say it. So, you turn to Elizabeth Warren and say did he say it? That's the issue. I mean, it’s bizarre! What the heck happened there? Are they listening? Because you have to listen when you do a debate and then take the question to the next candidate.
The networks, however, ignored the fact that Phillip assumed guilt, sticking simply to a play-by-play of the response. On CBS This Morning, Ed O’Keefe at least focused on Sanders’s denial: “It was a dispute brought up by the moderator last night. Warren once told her that a woman could not be elected a president. Sanders, though, denies he ever said that.”
On Good Morning America, Linsey Davis echoed, “Bernie Sanders continuing to outright deny claims he told Elizabeth Warren during a private conversation in 2018 that a woman could not win the election.” On NBC’s Today, Kristen Welker played the weird moment without commentary.
Was Phillip simply picking sides? Spinning for Warren. The networks didn’t ask.
A transcript of the debate exchange is below. Click “expand” to read more:
CNN Democratic Debate
ABBY PHILLIP: Let's now turn to an issue that's come up in the last 48 hours. Senator Sanders, CNN reported yesterday, and Senator Sanders, Senator Warren confirmed in a statement that in 2018, you told their you did not believe that woman could win the election. Why did you say that?
BERNIE SANDERS: Well, as a matter of fact, I didn't say it. And I don't want to waste a whole lot of time on this, because this is what Donald Trump and maybe some of the media want. Anybody knows me knows that it's incomprehensible that I would think that a woman cannot be president of the United States. Go to YouTube today. There's a video of me 30 years ago talking about how a woman could become president of the United States. In 2015, I deferred, in fact, to Senator Warren. It was a movement to draft Senator Warren to run for president. And you know what, I stayed back.
Senator Warren decided not to run, and I then did run afterwards. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by three million votes. How could anybody in a million years not believe that a woman could become president of the United States? And let me be very clear: If any of the women on this stage or any of the men on this stage win the nomination, I hope that's not the case, I hope it's me. But if they do, I will do everything in my power to make sure that they are elected in order to defeat the most dangerous president in the history of our country.
PHILLIP: So Senator Sanders, I do want to be clear here, you're saying that you never told Senator Warren that a woman could not win the election?
SANDERS: That is correct.
PHILLIP: Senator Warren, what did you think when Senator Sanders told you a woman could not win the election?
ELIZABETH WARREN: I disagreed. Bernie is my friend, and I am not here to try to fight with Bernie. But, look, this question about whether or not a woman can be president has been raised and I's time for us to attack it head-on.