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The Wall Street Protests: Why the media gets it wrong even when trying to get it right

Jill Garvey • Oct 10, 2011

When the Occupy Wall Street protest began three weeks ago, major media outlets ignored it. Then the media resorted to labeling it as leaderless and muddled - giving the overall impression that the unrest in lower Manhattan was a pointless exercise in democratic freedom. Journalists seemed to take special pleasure in focusing on the more outlandish elements of the protests.

After over 700 were arrested marching across the Brooklyn Bridge, media outlets begrudgingly covered the surging movement - tinging their newscasts and editorials with confused contempt.

Now, with similar protests springing up around the country, the media has switched its tune once again by trying to dissect the meaning of it all - ‘Is it a social movement? A political movement? Just a cry for help?’

And to make matters worse, politicians and political commentators have adopted one of two responses: Democrats are taking a paternalistic, this is all just so nice approach, while Republicans have taken to sneering hostility.

If one was to just read mainstream newspapers, it would appear unthinkable to classify this movement as deeply complex as opposed to pointless.

But the very reason it may seem to lack focus is because there is just so much to be pissed off about.

Take, for example, presidential hopeful Herman Cain’s recent comments about African Americans, “I don’t believe racism in this country today holds anybody back in a big way,” Cain said in an interview with CNN. He went on to say that he believed African Americans had a level playing field and had the gall to point to the corporations he’s run as examples of why. The new term being used to describe the protests by conservative leaders like Cain and Newt Gingrich is “class warfare.”

These are just the most recent examples illustrating the callousness of our political leadership.

To even suggest that the extremely peaceful protests are anything like warfare is absurd. And begs the question, can Republicans continue to pander to working and middle-class Tea Partiers while so publicly backing the wealthiest 1% who are the very same ‘elites’ so often derided by Tea Party leaders?

The media seems genuinely perplexed by the 99% message, but that wasn’t so when the Tea Party emerged in 2009.

Political commentators generally took the Tea Partiers seriously. As they should have; they had real reasons to screech at town hall meetings.Their reasons may have been laced with racism and xenophobia, but their fears were genuine. The Tea Party, aside from grumblings over its grassroots legitimacy, was largely given a free pass despite the fact that it had, and still has, scant political cohesion and weak leadership.

Most journalists seem to have missed the mark from the very beginning; the ‘leaderless’ label should have been applied with commendation to the 99%, not derision. While their messages may not always be articulated as well as one would like, the energy of the 99 percenters will provide clarity over time.

They deserve the time to gain that clarity. And they deserve our support.

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