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4 May Day Stories the Corporate Media Missed While Fixating On Obama's College Girlfriend

A number of remarkable things happened on May 1. So why is the media so bored with social protest?

Signs on May Day represent a missed media story.
Photo Credit: Sarah Seltzer


A series of May Day tweets from Reuters encapsulated the failure of much of the American mainstream media to understand the Occupy movement. First the outlet declared the spring resurgence to be a "dud" based on a rainy morning of pickets in midtown Manhattan attended by scattered dozens or even hundreds. Then an hour later a second tweet arrived saying that Occupy had come back and was not in fact a dud because tens of thousands converged in Union Square. 


But the true stories of the day lay in between these snap assessments. The problem was, they weren't being reported.

The corporate media has rarely had a comfortable relationship with mass social protest movements -- covering amorphous groups of activists is not as sexy as, say, covering a soundbite-filled debate. In social movements one finds complexity, often no clear hierarchy and differences within the ranks. And yet, all this nuance and diversity is an opportunity for fascinating coverage, an opportunity that has been largely missed since Occupy began.

And missed for what? On Tuesday and Wednesday, my Twitter stream and RSS feeder flooded with stories about young Barack Obama's love letters to his then-girlfriend, which had just been released by Vanity Fair. Many of these journalists, even progressive ones, couldn't spare a thought for the thousands of people amassing all over the city and country in solidarity with the dispossessed, but they were eager to crack jokes about Obama's analysis of T.S. Eliot: a shiny bauble of a story.

A politician's biography will always hold interest. But the chattering classes' fuss over the Obama piece demonstrated priorities; the more trivial story, full of easy opportunities for wit and commentary, was grabbed at, dissected and disseminated, while the more complex but important stories of the day lay mostly bereft of the deft reporting and analysis they deserved.

In November, I wrote about the major ways the media had failed to take advantage of the opportunity Occupy provided for analysis. Here are four more stories just coming out of May Day that the media has forgotten or sidestepped (to varying extents). 

Story #1: Income inequality is still here--and so are protests.

Media stories on Occupy suffer from the same "horse race" problem that provides a frequent subject for critique in mainstream coverage of elections. "Media coverage is so focused on headcount numbers, and police and protest clashes: 'is this a win or a lose? How many people got arrested? How many roads were taken over?'" says videographer and Occupy activist Kathleen Russell. When the focus is on the win/lose dichotomy, she says, no one is "talking about the reason people are out there, or what they are fighting against."

Allison Kilkenny also addressed this problem  in her post at the Nation. Russell and Kilkenny's assessment from the streets is borne out by the reality in the newspapers and on television.  Comedian and independent journalist John Knefel crunched the numbers for FAIR and discovered that while Occupy brought income inequality to the media's attention, Occupy's fading from the media landscape has meant its issues have faded as well:

As mentions of “Occupy Wall Street” or “Occupy movement” waned in early 2012, so too have mentions of “income inequality” and, to an even greater extent, “corporate greed.” 

But income inequality hasn't measurably improved -- in fact, "the United States is now about as economically unequal as Uganda and more unequal than countries like Pakistan or the Ivory Coast."

That's why people are still participating in the protests. One man I stood next to at the Union Square rally said, "I'm unemployed. I had nowhere else to go."

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