Media hypocrisy about the Occupy Wall Street movement is old news. But the New York Times hit the "refresh" button once again with its coverage of the May Day demonstrations in New York and around the country on May 2. And it is supposedly the last serious newspaper with a 'liberal' bent left standing. Nonetheless, the Times has always focused on confrontation, bloodshed, arrests and mayhem in covering Occupy, while paying scant heed to civic substance or political significance.
No surprise, then, that on May 2, following a successful, multifaceted systematically nonviolent reemergence of Occupy as a force of American conscience on issues of inequality, money-tainted politics and economic and social injustice, the Times headlined its brief, back page print article on the events "At May Day Demonstrations, Traffic Jams and Arrests." The pictures were of "chanting" protesters disrupting traffic in the streets, and a couple of demonstrators who "disregarded police warnings to stay on the sidewalk and stepped onto Avenue of the Americas" where "officers tackled and arrested them." Yep, it was all "bloody clashes and the arrest of more than 30 demonstrators." And in case you don't think that's a lot in demonstrations engaging tens of thousands of citizens, the Times notes "the number of arrests in New York was the most since the weekend of March 17, when 73 protesters were held."
Everyone has to sell papers, even the Times, so political struggle by a movement which survived the destruction of its encampments in the fall and a long winter of group and committee meetings devoted to education, knowledge sharing, strategy and political debate continues to be measured by bloodshed and arrests. Really? Actually, the Times knows better.
The May 2 edition of the paper also contained coverage of the May Day protests in the European Union. But there, far from New York where off-shore political struggle is OK, the Times headlined its story "Austerity Pain Fills Europe with Protests on May Day," and opened with a paragraph not about blood and arrests but about "rising anger over enforced austerity that many see not as a cure to the region's fiscal troubles, but as a deterrent to economic growth and job creation." Well it got that right!
See, other people's political struggles are justified and rational, they speak French or Spanish and their systems are not paragons of a healthy market society like ours. Europe is in recession, not us. Their banks are predatory, not ours. Their protesters are serious, ours are about theater and narcissism.
But the real irony of all this is that for the peaceful, resilient and well-informed protesters of Occupy around the United States, the lessons being taught by the Times and the media generally are all too clear: you want coverage? Get arrested! Cross a police line! Break something! The press will be all over you. And be able to convict you of being the irresponsible, infantile lawbreakers they want you to be! But launch a movement embodying both diversity and solidarity, a movement dedicated to arousing Americans to the corrosive inequality and corruption of politics by money that is putting democracy at risk -- and your dedication will be met with silence.
The good news? Occupy Wall Street isn't going to play the media's game just to get the media's attention. The bad news? The media are going to go on playing the game, making them -- the Times included -- part of democracy's problem rather than part of the solution.
Follow Benjamin R. Barber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BenjaminRBarber