Monday, November 21, 2011

News Coverage: Occupy Protest v. Tea Party

One of the more naive beliefs of the Occupy protester type is their belief that there's some sort of conspiracy to keep them out of the media or portray them in a bad light; as if it's easy for the rest of us to get our message out.  As if any other group of people can just call up the NY Times and say "Hey, give us some positive press today, ok?" and they'll just do it; starting a whole feeding frenzy of positive news rolling out...just as long as you're not an Occupy Protester.

But...if you're an Occupy Protester, there's no such luck.  As if Tea Partiers have the easiest time in the world getting their message out, while only the OWS protesters get misrepresented in the media.  And that's, to put it gently, absolute horse shit.  Seriously.  Look, I know you guys *talk* a lot about how the media is pro-corporate, pro-conservative, etc, and is skewed against us, you actually read the news?  Because if you do, you'd find that this argument makes no sense.

I mean, just ask Barack Obama how hard it is to get his message out.  The man makes liberal speeches all the time, yet many on the left don't even know about it and attack him for not making any.  Or ask John McCain.  Anyone who thinks he had an easy time getting his message through the media in 2008 just wasn't paying attention.  The highlight of his mastery of the media happened when he proudly announced his selection of Palin as his running mate, and that lasted about two news cycles before she became an albatross around his neck and nobody listened to what the dude said anymore.

Seriously, anyone who's tried to get their message out knows that it's not easy.  That's just common knowledge.  Yet for the Occupy Protest types, that's just not true.  Because they're having a hard time getting the media to report positive news stories about them every day, it can only be a conspiracy.  The rich people have decided to shut down the protesters and there's no reporter in the nation telling us about it.  They've all been told that their positive stories will be rejected, so they shouldn't even bother; yet no reporter has mentioned this yet.  Of course.

And of course, the thing to remember is that it's not enough to have some facts on your side.  It's not enough to have some evidence proving your case.  You've got to have all the facts, and if you're forced to ignore facts simply because they don't fit your theory, then there's something wrong with the theory.  And in this case, you've got to show a consistent bias, not just in selected articles about OWS and the Tea Party, but all of them.  Or at least enough of them to show a pattern.  As they say, data is not the plural of anecdote.

Dismissing Palin

But hey, let's not just take my word for it.  Let's put this to the test.  I went to the NY Times website and typed "Tea Party Rally" in their search field, to see what I could find.

The first result was from April 16, with the story Palin Speaks at Tea Party Rally in Madison.  Was it a glowing display of fealty to Palin and the Tea Party Movement?  You be the judge.
But there she was on Saturday afternoon, a throng of Tea Party supporters cheering her on and a throng of union supporters trying to shout them (and her) down. And in a way, it looked like just another day in Madison, a place already so polarized that even with the presence of Ms. Palin, a figure beloved and detested, people here seemed to go right on with the debate they had been having for months.
And rather than hype up the Tea Party rally, we get a touch of cynicism with a sly diss:
The police estimated a crowd — at its highest point — of about 6,500 people, though it was uncertain how many of those were Tea Party supporters and how many were there to protest. Either way, the figure was far smaller than the tens of thousands of demonstrators that had been reported around the Capitol on several days in recent months.
And the whole piece had a dismissive quality to it, basically saying that Palin and the Tea Party Rally had no real impact on Wisconsin politics.  And of course, since Wisconsin politics were nationwide news at the time, with conservatives and the dreaded Koch Brothers siding with the Tea Party...why wasn't the piece about them positive?  Why didn't it say how important Palin is and how the Tea Party had come to save the day?

That's what I'd expect to see if this was pro-corporate propaganda, but it was exactly the opposite.  It didn't praise the Tea Party or demonize it.  It just gave Palin and the Tea Party a dismissive yawn, letting everyone know to not take it too seriously.  And that wasn't bias against the Tea Party.  That was just the way it was.  The Tea Party came to Madison, and nobody cared.

And btw, this storied originally appeared on page A17 of the newspaper.  Not exactly front page news.

All Hail Beck

The second story that comes up is about Glenn Beck's religious revival at the Lincoln Memorial in August of last year, titled At Lincoln Memorial, a Call for Religious Rebirth.  And I've got to confess, this particular article actually went against my theme, as it really was pro-Republican propaganda.  It quoted lots of what Beck said and described it all in glowing terms.

Here are the opening two paragraphs:

An enormous and impassioned crowd rallied at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial this weekend, summoned by Glenn Beck, a conservative broadcaster who called for a religious rebirth in America at the site where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech exactly 47 years earlier. 
“Something that is beyond man is happening,” Mr. Beck told the crowd, in what was part religious revival and part history lecture. “America today begins to turn back to God.”
Blech.  That's not a news article.  That's a hagiology.  Not that it didn't present things from the side of Beck's critics.  Take this passage:
Even Mr. Beck’s critics acknowledge that he is one of the most powerful conservative voices. With a mix of moral lessons, frequent outrage and a dark view of the future, his programs draw millions of followers. 
Chris Wallace, a veteran Washington journalist who interviewed Mr. Beck on Fox, told Mr. Beck that he had never seen a public figure quite like him. 
Mr. Beck acknowledged that he was not cut from ordinary cloth. 
Oh, wait.  That didn't present anything from an opposing side.  Earlier in the article, it mentions Beck's critics accusing the rally of being political, and then gives Beck the next paragraph to deny it without ever presenting the other side.

And so that really did show a pro-Republican bias, but all the same, you'd have had to go to page A15 to read it, as it once again wasn't considered front page news.

Rowdy Vitriol

The third article that shows up is Thousands Rally in Capital to Protest Big Government, about a big Tea Party rally sponsored by Freedom Works in September 2009, back when the movement was really heating up.

And while the article was mildly skewed to present them in a positive fashion, it clearly shows that things aren't all hunky-dory with the movement.  For instance, referencing the "anger" and "vitriol" in the crowd, or when they were all chanting that Obama was a liar.

And there's this bit:

The atmosphere was rowdy at times, with signs and images casting Mr. Obama in a demeaning light. One sign called him the “parasite in chief.” Others likened him to Hitler. Several people held up preprinted signs saying, “Bury Obama Care with Kennedy,” a reference to the Massachusetts senator whose body passed by the Capitol two weeks earlier to be memorialized. 
Other signs did not focus on Mr. Obama, but rather on the government at large, promoting gun rights, tallying the national deficit and deploring illegal immigrants living in the United States.

And again, the whole thing sounds fairly objective, perhaps slightly leaning in admiration of the crowd, or maybe not.  And it definitely showed some of the more negative aspects of the rally.  And believe it or not, in the heat of the Tea Party's rise when they were the story de jour, this story was printed on page A37.  Again, no front page for the Tea Party.

The Protests Endure

So those were the top three search results for Tea Party Rallies.  So let's look at the Occupy protesters and see what sort of coverage they get.  In this case, I did a search on the phrase Occupy Wall Street.

The first story that comes up is Occupy Wall Street Protest Reaches a Crossroads from November 4.  And what was it about?  Surely it was a pro-corporate screed about how freakishly radical the protesters are, right?  No.  It was about how the weather has turned bad, but the protest has endured.

Here's the second paragraph:

Seven weeks in, the protest has become a fact of life in New York City, a tourist draw to rival ground zero, and a teachable moment for parents. Its slogan, “We are the 99 percent” is a staple of the popular discourse. 
More than $500,000 in donations has flowed to the protesters in Lower Manhattan, while labor unions and elected officials have come to their aid. Marches and occupations that have sprung up nationwide have served as a national microphone for the cause.
Wow.  That's not quite as positive as the Glenn Beck article, but it ain't bad.  These people weren't described as dangerous freaks.  It shows what a positive impact they're having, and how they're toughing it through rough times.  Hard to say how anyone could read this and still insist that the media only portrays them badly.

This was also a significantly longer article than the Tea Party articles, and was printed on page MB1.  Not front page of the newspaper, but it made the front page of some section.

All About Control

The second OWS article was from November 15 titled City Reopens Park After Protesters Are Evicted, which you probably already can figure out.  And the whole thing is an even-handed piece, which doesn't at all put the protesters in a bad light.

Here's the third paragraph:
“You have to walk through a gantlet of officers,” said Andy Nicholson, 54, of Manhattan, who entered the park, stopped and was told by the police to move along. “It’s all about control,” he said.
Doesn't sound particularly damning for the protester quoted or praising of the establishment.  Again, I fail to see how anyone can read this article and suggest that there's some media conspiracy to keep them down.  Btw, this story didn't mention which page it was on, so I can't give that info.

Germ Optics

The third article was a somewhat light piece about health problems amongst protesters, titled A Petri Dish of Activism, and Germs.  It was a fairly even-handed piece, talking about the efforts they're going through to fight illness, though I was slightly troubled with this paragraph:
Many protesters recognize the threat the conditions could pose to the optics of their occupation. Earlier this week, a man at an Occupy New Orleans encampment was found dead in his tent — and had been dead at least two days, authorities said. If similar news were to come out of Lower Manhattan, some protesters have said quietly, the camp’s reputation could suffer significant damage. 
Indeed.  Were someone to die in their camp, the most pressing issue is the optics of it all.

Towards the end, we're given this quote from a dedicated protester:

“That’s what makes an occupation such a powerful statement,” she said. “We will risk our own health and give up completely our own comfort.”     
And again, there was no negativity here.  The NY Times wasn't demonizing the protesters.  This wasn't pro-Koch propaganda.  It made the protesters look like real people trying to make real change, and while it clearly wasn't pro-occupier propaganda, it wasn't meant to be.  These were meant to be objective news stories about events that were happening, and that's exactly what they were.

BTW, this one was on page A26.

The Only Thing They Know

And this is what I find so frustrating when talking to these people.  Because they don't have any specific goals and insist they don't need them.  Instead, they waste all their energy defending their right to protest and demanding that everyone write positive news stories about them.

But of course, I'm fairly certain that the reason the protesters and their supporters keep talking about these things is because it's the only thing they know to talk about.  They've done spent their wad of superficial talking points about inequality and still haven't the faintest idea of how to recommend a realistic solution to any of this.  So what do they have left, but to talk about process?

And just as superficial people in the media prefer to boil down all policy issues into a story about a political horse-race, the Occupy protest types want to change the world, but all they can think to talk about is their right to protest and positive news stories.  And as Josh Marshall suggests, the issue about the treatment of the protesters seems to be overtaking the issue of equality.  Apparently, passive resistant is a lot easier than coming up with solutions.

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