A Disgraceful Display!

Corporate Media Showed Their Asses at the Conventions.

A Disgraceful Display!

I was appalled, disgusted and insulted as a journalist and voter by the mainstream press coverage of protests outside the major party conventions this summer, especially the once progressive Democrats in Los Angeles. I’d been hoping that reporters assembled to cover the conventions might get bored by the absence of news within and venture to the streets, where legitimate news was taking place. But hope is wasted on corporate media, who act in such situations as though prizes are handed out to those who do their jobs worst, which may well be the case. After all, it’s ultimately in their best interests to downplay the protests, since they centered on issues of great inconvenience to those DNC/RNC cash-whores in L.A. and Philly.

“I’m sorry to say it, but the big story at the Democratic convention is really influence-buying and -peddling,” Senator Russ Feingold told the Shadow Convention, which gave the McCain-Feingold bill’s co-sponsor considerably more than the three mid-afternoon minutes granted by his own party. “The main show is behind closed doors at big-dollar soft-money fund-raisers, and those soft-money contributions [totaling $256 million raised by both parties in the last 18 months] are setting the agenda for the American Congress and the United States.” Of course, I understand their need to keep key delegates drunk and dazzled by vapid celebrities — they might otherwise pay attention, and we can’t have that!

Most print and all TV reporting tended to focus on the violence Monday night (8/14), when the fuzz fired rubber bullets, beanbags, and tear gas to disperse crowds gathered to hear Rage Against the Machine (whose latest album is ironically or prophetically entitled The Battle of Los Angeles) and Ozomatli. A heavy-handed response by nervous cops was spun as proof of what The Weekly Standard‘s Matt Labash predicted: “The LAPD has expressed its willingness to hit any law-breaking protesters with so many pepper bombs that they won’t know whether to flush their eyes or to serve themselves up with croutons under a balsamic vinaigrette.”

What I found most infuriating was the media’s insistence that the protesters — with names like United Students Against Sweatshops, Rainforest Action Network, Coalition Against Police Brutality, Coalition For Humane Immigrant Rights, and the Gapatistas — had no agenda. Granted, over 2000 protesters’ ideas converged and diverged in a manner that might have confused poorly prepared reporters used to dealing with the empty aphorisms typical of politics in the sound bite era. But no major media outside L.A. gave significant time or space to airing views that most of the thousands of protesters would have articulated, had their opinions been solicited.

Instead, protesters had to sue their way out of “the protest pit,” an isolated space beyond the earshot of delegates, only to have their ideas marginalized by the incompetent hacks sent to portray concerned citizens as anarchists and thugs. The easiest thing would have been to print what the signs and leaflets said, or transcribe speeches given at rallies and Shadow Conventions, or even take an hour to go online and research Web sites like Znet (http://www.zmag.org) or http://www.d2kla.org. But the easy stuff is just too hard, I guess. What merits a journalism degree these days?

The L.A. Times, by contrast, did a credible job covering its turf, devoting at least a page of its daily convention special to thoughtful protest reporting. Writers like Hector Tobar profiled individual activists and gave accurate renderings of their positions. What emerged was a picture of democracy at its multi-faceted, trans-generational best. “To me, this represents the resurgence of the real America[sigma] the one that should stand for justice, respect and equality,” Mo Nishida, 64, told Tobar. Sure, more space could have been allotted, but at least the Times kept their biases in check.

Indeed, a “smart” journalist would have noted a unifying theme, that people with ideas outside the narrow range of party platforms were consigned to the streets, out of sight and out of the minds of delegates, who might have been interested in hearing what they had to say. And that’s the point: the Republicrats were simply not interested in conflicting viewpoints. They didn’t want their yokel pool polluted by concepts like globalization, our incarceration culture, drug policy reform, mass transit and Nader 2000. No — they needed a nice, sterile environment, a vacuum in which the coronation of this year’s presidential flesh-puppets would seem like actual News. And that, to the eternal shame of my national colleagues, is precisely what they got.

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