If it bleeds it leads.
– Old TV news saying
Say this weekend you turn on the TV and there is a teaser headline. “Occupy Wall Street Protests Turn Violent!” You tune in to hear the details. An anchorman says something like, “As with the protests in Greece and Egypt, it was only a matter of time before the protests in America turned violent. Today Occupy Wall Street protesters began throwing rocks and bottles at police. ”
Now what do you do?
Do you drop to your knees, like Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes and scream at the TV? “You Maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you!”
Do you cynically shake your head and think, “That’s it, the movement has been discredited with violence just like back in the old days. Now the police will have an excuse to shut down all the Occupy protests with this as an excuse.”
I’m going to suggest another approach when you hear of reports of violence at an Occupy Wall Street protests.
1) Challenge the assumption that the violent protester(s) are actually Occupy Wall Street protesters.
The media move fast, they don’t believe it is their job to know who started the violence, just that it started. If someone looks like an Occupy Wall Street protester, they are an OWS protester, even if they are an editor from the Right Wing publication American Spectator who is at the protest specifically to discredit the movement.
2) Scour all the footage and photos you can find of the instigators of the violence at the protest.
3) Crowd-source the images and ask for help identifying them.
4) Write a post about it on a blog with info on the person(s) and their background.
5) Contact the media and point out who that protest was started by. It could be people like:
- An agent provocateur (Such as Patrick Howley, Assistant Editor of The American Spectator who bragged about his role starting the actions that lead to pepper spraying at the D.C. Air and Space Museum)
- An undercover security person. Xe? Local Police?1
- An anarchist, or radical protester. BTW, in Seattle right now if you dig and you will find out that these radicals have already already identified themselves to the Occupy Wall Street protesters. They want to get violent and don’t care about the goals of this protest, but really want an excuse to throw rocks and break windows.
That is what you do in this age of easy access to video, photos and social media. We don’t have to wait until weeks or months later when protesters in court find out that it was some undercover operative throwing rocks.
Now, since I’m a media guy I’m always thinking about the narrative, what the corporate media want, how to impact it in advance, how to challenge it in the present and how to direct it in the future.
The protests move so fast and the news coverage will be instant. Therefore our response to all violence from protesters news stories needs to skeptical. We should be asking the media if they can answer these questions.
- Who threw that first rock, punch, bottle?
- Do you have their identity? If not, why not?
- Do you know their motivation?
We have other questions for the media covering the story:
Remember the word “allegedly?” As journalists if you don’t know who this person(s) is you are assigning blame with no confirmation. It would be like blaming Iraqi agents for 9/11 before you have evidence (to name a recent example of wrong-headed thinking.)
We understand your race for a scoop, but based on history of protests and the movement so far please use a modicum of doubt in your story. Then later when it is proved that it is an undercover cop, RW agitator, anarchist or a lone crazy person with no connections to the movement or goals, you can correct your report knowing your skepticism helped you be more accurate about the truth.
Remember Mr. Media, anyone can go to a protest — even people who want to cause violence and discredit the movement or are simply working out their daddy issues on TV.
Why do Some Groups Want Violence from Protesters Against Cops?
Here’s the thing folks, the Media, authorities and corporations, really want violence from protesters against cops or Wall Street executives. Why?
- The media want the violence because it makes for conflict, which brings eyeballs, sells newspapers and it is easy to write about — especially when they don’t have to find out who a specific rock thrower is.
- The authorities want protester violence for an excuse to shut down the protests and clean up the streets.
- The corporations want protester violence because it can be contained and doesn’t really cost them much money. A few million spent at Risk Control Strategies for executive protection and they are good to go.
What Don’t Corporations Want from the Protesters?
The corporations are really afraid that the protests will lead to economic violence–against them. You want to see them scared? Start talking about putting Elizabeth Warren in charge of regulation – we already know what they did to stop that. Or start talking about real prosecution and regulation using the same folks who were behind cleaning up the S&L loan scandals. They put people in jail. You could even bring up transaction taxes on high frequency trades. They will spend multiple millions to stop something like that.
I know that these research, writing and alerting the media techniques work, because my new friend Charlie Grapski did the research I’m talking about. He found Patrick Howley’s photo at the Air and Space Museum protest. He wrote about it. It got picked up by some in the media. I followed up with others in the media like the brilliant Xeni Jardin at Boing Boing who updated her story. I contacted Karen McVeigh at The Guardian in the UK, who ran an update . I also wrote a number of other media outlets who ignored me. But if more of us do the same work and write blog posts and contact the media we have a better chance of getting the MSM to update and correct their stories.
If we are diligent we can start getting the producers and editors to ask themselves these questions before they run their story.
- Who threw that first rock, punch, bottle?
- Do we have their identity? If not, why not?
- Do we know their motivation?
This is what to do when you hear the media talking about an Occupy Wall Street protester attacking a cop.
1 A 2010 study by the National Lawyer’s Guild (PDF link) points out many of the tactics used by police and agents provocateurs to start violence. It also describes how they influence the media with suggestions of violence.