Danny Schechter : The Media and Occupy Wall Street

Jon Stewart covers Wall Street coverage.

But for how long?
Occupy Wall Street is all over the media

By Danny Schechter | The Rag Blog | November 28, 2011

One of the oldest patterns of media coverage can be summed up this way:

First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. Then they realize you are a story and fall in love. So they build you up but then, all at once, tear you down.

You may not have changed, but they have, addicted as they are to keep coming up with shifting story lines, more to fight their own boredom and fear of tune-out than the validity or importance of the topic.

In the same way that political sound-bites went from nearly 30 seconds to five, or that MTV style editing soon invaded the newsrooms with quick cutting and razzle-dazzle effects — “covering” news while making it difficult to concentrate on it, much less to comprehend the fast-paced presentation techniques.

When asked by researchers, audiences could barely tell you what they had just seen, much less what it meant.

We saw this in Iraq when, during the invasion, it was war all the time, literally around the clock — but when you looked closely, it wasn’t about Iraq or Iraqis, it was about a narrative of U.S. slaying the bad guys, cowboys versus Indians, good guys versus bad guys. There was no other news, but what there was AAU — All About US.

Now, with Occupy Wall Street, the pattern is similar. The issues largely don’t exist — if they require any explanation or analysis. Knowledge about Wall Street and the economy is assumed.

Conflict drives the news.

There was little reporting on the occupation when it started. It was only after it became massive — and the cops began pepper-spraying — that the media arrived en masse. They had adversaries. That they could understand.

Soon, they flocked to Zuccotti Park like bluebirds. When one landed, they all landed. The TV trucks were everywhere, especially at 6 and 11 p.m., so that local reporters could do silly live stand-ups and show off colorful characters to reinforce the narrative that the protesters were just having fun, and had no serious ideas.

Many of these frontline reporters couldn’t tell you the difference between a derivative and a donut, but that didn’t matter because what does matter is face time, airtime, visibility.

First the international press recognized that this movement was important. The park became a mini-United Nations with crews from BBC, Al Jazeera, Xinhua News Agency, Russia Today, Press TV.

When they took it seriously, our press began to do the same, and then American TV got into the act once they realized that this was a national, even a global story

Occupy Wall Street soon had a press desk trying to help reporters who often showed up with preconceived story lines demanded by their editors. Soon the stories about sex, drugs, and drumming — no rock and roll yet — were everywhere as reporters turned over rocks and looked for the homeless and the harassers.

When one station did a “The Park is a Walmart for Rats,” story, City Hall saw an opening and began harping on cleanliness (which has always been next to godliness).

Most activists were happy to be interviewed but few ever watched how the stories were edited: what was covered and what was not.

That’s also because many of the occupiers hate television and what it has become. They don’t read ponderous editorials or inflammatory headlines.

They do read and create social media — Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

The advantage is that they are then exposed to their truths and the news they believe they need to make a difference.

Its news for the community, not the country. The disadvantage is they often are not reaching out to the millions of Americans who won’t join the movement simply because it’s cool. The 99% need to be educated and inspired — but, alas, they rely on the papers and cable news that is least sympathetic to the movement,

You have to use media if you want to occupy the mainstream — and build a larger movement — as opposed to being depicted as a tribal subculture of misfits and the angry,

I would suspect that members of the movement have not met with or tried to persuade editorial boards or newsroom execs. They tend to react more to what the media is saying than to be proactive — with their own media campaigns to shape a message that gets disseminated widely.

As the movement moves on, messages have to change and target specific communities. That may be coming, but not quickly enough.

Already some big media outlets like The Washington Post, the paper still living off its Watergate reputation even as it finds few wars it won’t support, is saying Occupy Wall Street is “over.”

You can bet they want it to be over because their focus on politics starts with the top — the White House — and specializes in inside-the-beltway stories. For years, black people in Washington — the majority — have complained that they are largely ignored by their own hometown newspaper.

Post editors are proud-and-cloistered 1-percenters who love to cover social movements of the past, not the present.

I once looked at how the Post covered the March on Washington back in 1963. The story line was how violence was averted. MLK’s “I Have A Dream” speech was barely news. The march’s focus on the need for jobs was downplayed then just as Occupy Wall Street’s economic critique is downplayed today.

The movement is being challenged by mayors — armed with the latest “non-lethal” toys — and coordinated by the Feds (a story few media outlets have investigated) who want to shut down the encampments.

Yes, it’s wrong and unconstitutional and unfair, but is this a battle they can win? Yes, many can go to jail but what message does that send?

Occupy Wall Street is not about camping, its about crusading for justice.

Even Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal (not the “Occupied” version) is praising the protests.

This Thanksgiving weekend, Wall Street should say a prayer of gratitude for Occupy Wall Street.

While some bankers and brokers have sympathized with or supported this ragtag protest movement, others grouse that they are being demonized.

But compared with financiers of the past, who faced nasty rhetoric, political hostility and physical danger, today’s bankers and brokers seem like a bunch of babies when they whine about being targeted by these dissidents.The “Occupy” rhetoric might sound overheated, but it is golden praise alongside what bankers used to hear.

At least some of the l% is hearing the message.

It’s the 99% that the movement should aim at with actions and media designed to show that they’re on their side — and find more creative forms of outreach and organizing to turn a community of activists into a mass movement with demands that the people can resonate with and find ways of supporting.

Media hype can help but its no substitute for less glamorous organizing. In the end, that will be the test of whether the movement is “over” or over the top.

[News Dissector Danny Schechter is covering Occupy Wall Street in his Newsdissector.com blog and will soon have a book out collecting his many reports since September. Go here for Schechter’s TV report on Occupy Wall Street Comments to dissector@mediachannel.org. Read more by Danny Schechter on The Rag Blog.]

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