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Blatantly Biased Tabloids and Clueless Mainstream Media Keep Missing the Obvious Big Story at OWS

Many mainstream news outlets are flummoxed at best, condescending at worst, when it comes to their coverage of the new movement.

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Sins of Omission

On the first night that Occupy Oakland was getting teargassed in the streets, I flipped through my TV channels to see if anyone was reporting on the chaos I was reading about on Twitter. On MSNBC, there was mention of previous incidents in Oakland, but nothing live. Everywhere else I saw only discussion of the GOP primary.

Meanwhile, the drama unfolded on Twitter and on livestreams, as photos of smoke-filled streets, videos of projectiles being hurled into peaceful crowds, and most horrifyingly footage of the injured Scott Olsen amassed online in close to real-time. It was riveting, and provided definitive proof that in this case the revolution (and the backlash) would not, in fact, be televised. It would be tweeted.

Later, amateur media watchdogs expressed concern that at least one local news copter had to "refuel" and cut off its feed just as the tear gas canisters were about to fly. A coincidence that was unfortunate, but the video that was nonetheless captured by local stations and by lone citizen journalists with cameras and videotapes won the night and provided incontrovertible evidence that shaped all coverage. And yet newspaper coverage the next day was anemic at best, despite this being the first police crackdown of such a violent nature in years.

A silver lining to this cloud? The fact that now media has developed to the extent that an intelligent discussion can be had about these events. On "Up With Chris Hayes," the Saturday morning after the Oakland crackdown, I saw Hayes and writers Ta-Nehisi Coates and Heather McGhee have a serious discussion which acknowledged both that this news was delivered by social media, and also that the police brutality directed toward occupiers around the country was only a taste of what communities of color deal with all the time. The guests noted that the confluence beween the police state and the disenfranchisement of the 99 percent was becoming clearer and clearer.

Rachel Maddow also ran a segment on the importance of an alliance between the "stop stop-and-frisk" movement and the Occupy Wall Street movement. This was nuanced, complex territory that activists often navigate far from the cameras, and it was in the "mainstream media." 

A Desire for Conflic

Here's something else that's being omitted from coverage, that isn't as dramatic as police beatings and tear gas: what's happening down at 60 Wall Street, an open atrium (another privately owned public space) that has become the preferred meeting spot for many of Occupy Wall Street's busiest working groups and soon, its "Spokes Councils." There is no anarchy here, although there are anarchist-style decisions being made. There is no chaos, and the conflict is worked out on an individual level.

This doesn't fit in with a traditional media narrative of "conflict," or of protests and encampments, nor does the methodical nature of consensus-building necessarily gel with a 24-hour news cycle. The decision to allow working groups to use a Spokes Council to make decisions, instead of going through the General Assembly, took weeks and a painful number of long meetings to hash out. But those decisions happened, and that in and of itself is a story.

Media critic Felix Salmon wrote an excellent post for his Reuters blog on October 31, taking on his colleagues' coverage of the movement, with this need for conflict as a sticking point: "Journalists love conflict, of course, and so when they cover OWS there’s a tendency to try to gin up the story with imaginary beefs — OWS hates the Jews! Goldman has declared war on OWS’s bankers! Etc. This is not helpful," he wrote.

 
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