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On OWS Media Coverage

October 13, 2011

I must say, I find the media’s coverage of the Occupy Wall Street protests thoroughly unsurprising. Things that are bad for big business are bad for the media, and so it’s only logical that the media would not be kind to these disillusioned protesters. As I continue reading about the Occupy Wall Street protests that have sprung up in cities across the country, I must say that I find it hard not to empathize with the plethora of frustrated, angry agents of reform who have taken to the streets in opposition to a sociopolitical system that they see as blatantly disregarding both the will and well-being of the populace. The Occupy Wall Street movement is a fascinating manifestation of a growing populist sentiment in this country, a public display of the people’s growing dissatisfaction with our government’s woeful inability to confront injustices that seem to have become pervasive in our society.

Occupy Wall Street has been brought on by a widespread crisis of confidence, and rightfully so. Our government has seemingly given up on governing in favor of politicking, and the politics themselves have become a charade. The corporate media clings to the charade, because political theater makes good television. This is what bothers the media so much about the very existence of the protests: Occupy Wall Street is about bypassing the politics because our politicians are not doing their jobs. It is about changing the scope of the public discourse. It is about changing the terms of the public debate to reflect the rapidly growing and ardently ignored economic inequalities in our country. As the protesters are trying to change the parameters of the national debate, however, the corporate media is doing them no favors.

At first the media largely ignored the OWS protests, as they tend to do anytime they do not agree with the political motivations of protesters. As the protests grew and spread out to other cities, the vast majority of the media continued giving them scarce attention, brushing them off as ‘kooks’ and ‘hippies,’ a group of people with an incomplete understanding of how the system works. Protesters became portrayed as people on the political fringe who were different from us “regular” folks. As police began perpetrating violence against the protesters, the media begrudgingly began to expand their coverage, but not without an agenda.

The more coverage the OWS movement got, the more derisively and insultingly the pundits and so-called “experts” came to treat it. Because there is no overall organization to the protests and no designated spokesperson to distribute their sound bites, there is no authoritative figure to rebuff the media’s assertions that the protests were a joke and a farce. The absence of an overall message in the OWS has been exploited as a weakness, an avenue through which the media could portray the protests as mobs full of buffoons who didn’t even know what they were protesting. The NY Post published an editorial that was later echoed on Fox & Friends about the infiltration of the movement by fugitives and drug-fiends, simultaneously claiming that the number one reason for the crowd’s presence was “the food.” It has escalated to the attempted public character assassination of an entire movement, because corporate media perceived the movement as incapable of fighting back.

But, even as the media tries to delegitimize the protests, they continue growing, expanding to new cities. Occupy Wall Street has the country’s attention, and I hope that this signifies the beginning healthy public conversation about the future of our country, the beginning of a conversation we should have started in 2008.

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
–Mahatma Gandhi

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