8 October 2011
How well or badly has the mainstream media done with its Occupy Wall Street coverage?
In my view they started out very poorly, with attempts to mock and belittle the protesters from the likes of blogger Nathalie Rothschild, then a virtual black out, followed by slanted coverage from the likes of CNN and Fox News which included lashings of feigned disbelief (the British broadcast news didn’t do much better. BBC News and Channel 4 News largely ignored the protests for the best part of two weeks).
In an excellent overview, the US-based media analyst Douglas Rushkoff describes the early approach as mixing condescension with reductionism: “Like the spokesmen for Arab dictators feigning bewilderment over protesters’ demands, mainstream television news reporters finally training their attention on the growing Occupy Wall Street protest movement seem determined to cast it as the random, silly blather of an ungrateful and lazy generation of weirdos. They couldn’t be more wrong and, as time will tell, may eventually be forced to accept the inevitability of their own obsolescence.”
As the crowds gathered, as the determination of the protesters became more apparent, and particularly after the New York Police Department came over all heavy-handed, even the right-wing media gradually began to realise that something major was happening and started to take the protest movement a little bit more seriously. Here I quote from Joshua Brown, the Reformed Broker who alerted me to the above episode of al-Jazeera’s The Listening Post: “Is it a freak show? Yes. Are there a a lot of uninformed people down there? Yes. But there are a lot of misinformed freaks walking around your local shopping mall, too – look around.
“And this is beside the point anyway – what should be focused on here is the rage, the Primal Scream and the fact that these people know that they’ve been wronged even if they cannot put their finger on exactly how.”
Other commentators who comment cogently in this well-put-together analysis of the media’s evolving attitude towards Zuccotti Park include Felix Salmon and Max Keiser.
In “Taken to Task: Occupy Wall Street’s Nattering Nabobs of Negativity” Aaron Task unpicks the sneering and downright patronising nature of much of the mainstream media coverage to date:-
More than 700 people were arrested last weekend during the Occupy Wall Street protest. On Wednesday, approximately 10,000 marched in lower Manhattan and similar protests have sprung up in LA, Portland, Boston, Chicago and other cities. (See: Occupy Wall Street Gains Traction: “The Message Is Definitely Getting Out”)
This weekend, a caravan of UAW workers from Michigan is expected to arrive in New York to join the movement which, for better or worse, now has the backing of organized labor. And, for better or worse, Occupy Wall Street got some tacit support this week from President Obama who said the movement “expresses the frustrations that the American people feel.”
Which brings us to another edition of Taken to Task…. Most of the mainstream press coverage so far has been dismissive of the protests and, in some cases, downright patronizing.
“SERIOUSLY?” CNN’s Erin Burnett asked mockingly after finding one protester who didn’t know the government made money on the Wall Street bailout. Burnett is taking a lot of heat in the blogospherefor her piece, and rightfully so.
As a Goldman Sachs alum, you’d think Burnett would know there’s a heavy price to pay for moral hazard, not to mention the Fed’s zero interest rate policy and ongoing subsidy of Wall Street, as well as the taxpayer-funded bailouts of AIG, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. There’s also the issue of America’s loss of moral authority and the damage done to the Anglo-Saxon model: After years of telling other countries not to bail out their bad banks, we found that advice is much easier to give than to take.
Burnett isn’t alone in dismissing the protesters as a bunch of “dancing hippies”.
When it’s not ignoring the protests, Fox News has largely mocked them as “whackos” and “communists”, and taken pains to compare Occupy Wall Street unfavorably to the Tea Party. (The two groups actually share a lot of common ground and grievances but that’s another story.)
Even the purportedly liberal New York Times has had to defend itself from accusations of biasagainst the movement. After spending 2 days in Zuccotti Park, CNBC.com’s John Carney wrote: “I couldn’t help but feel that there wasn’t really very much going on… [Occupy Wall Street] involves a lot of people just sitting around for long spans of time. Listening to those drums.”
Yahoo!’s own Dan Gross compared Occupy Wall Street to a Bizarro World version of Davos and focused on the fringe elements of the movement: “There are a lot of whackos here,” he wrote.
Beyond the Fringe
There are a lot of whackos in the movement but if you look beyond the fringe there’s also a lot of people just like you and me: Working class and college-educated people who have a stake in the system but feel the playing field has been titled way too far in favor of the wealthiest Americans and their corporate brethren.
One critique of the protest is it lacks a unified message or mission. Indeed, in my reporting I found evidence of people supporting any number of issues, including:
Higher Taxes on the Wealthy
Prosecution of Financial Fraud
Anti-Fracking and other “Green” issues
Campaign Finance Reform
Student Loan Forgiveness and, of course,
Jobs, Jobs Jobs
So, sure, maybe the Occupy Wall Street movement is a bit unclear in its views and lacks leadership. But to those who mock the protesters, I have to ask: What exactly is it that you’re defending? Crony capitalism? Bank bailouts? Rising income inequality and the slow death of the American dream? To everyone out there dismissing the Occupy Wall Street movement, I say it’s time we stop, and say ‘hey what’s that sound’
everybody look what’s goin’ down.
In the meantime, and For What It’s Worth, the movement’s deniers have been Taken to Task.
To conclude, here’s the ending of Rushkoff’s “Think Occupy Wall St. is a phase? You don’t get it” piece (to which I was alerted by novelist @SalmanRushdie)
“The members of Occupy Wall Street may be as unwieldy, paradoxical, and inconsistent as those of us living in the real world. But that is precisely why their new approach to protest is more applicable, sustainable and actionable than what passes for politics today. They are suggesting that the fiscal operating system on which we are attempting to run our economy is no longer appropriate to the task. They mean to show that there is an inappropriate and correctable disconnect between the abundance America produces and the scarcity its markets manufacture.
“And in the process, they are pointing the way toward something entirely different than the zero-sum game of artificial scarcity favoring top-down investors and media makers alike.”