Dahlia Lithwick on Occupy Wall Street & the Press

Dahlia Lithwick:

I confess to being driven insane this past month by the spectacle of television pundits professing to be baffled by the meaning of Occupy Wall Street. Good grief. Isn’t the ability to read still a job requirement for a career in journalism? And as last week’s inane “What Do They Want?” meme morphs into this week’s craven “They Want Your Stuff meme, I feel it’s time to explain something: Occupy Wall Street may not have laid out all of its demands in a perfectly cogent one-sentence bumper sticker for you, Mr. Pundit, but it knows precisely what it doesn’t want. It doesn’t want you.

It must be painful for the pundits at Fox News. The more they demand that OWS explain itself in simple, Fox-like terms, the more cheerfully they are ignored by the occupiers around the country. As efforts to ridicule the protesters fail, attempts to repurpose the good old days of enemies lists falter; and efforts to demonize the occupiers backfire, polls continue to show that Americans support the protesters and share their goals. The rest of us quickly cottoned on to the fact that the only people who are scared of the “violent mobs” at Occupy Wall Street are the people being paid to call them violent mobs.

By refusing to take a ragtag, complicated, and leaderless movement seriously, the mainstream media has succeeded only in ensuring its own irrelevance. The rest of America has little trouble understanding that these are ragtag, complicated, and leaderless times. This may not make for great television, but any movement that acknowledges that fact deserves enormous credit.

I’ve been less concerned of late about how the media was covering Occupy Wall Street. But Lithwick is right in her descriptions. By lying to people, outlets like Fox or CNN or CNBC expose themselves as fundamentally opposed to the interests, wishes, and desires of the lower 99%. This is not a good place to be right now.

One of the beauties of  Occupy Wall Street as a meme is that it is both very fecund and very simple. It picks a target: Wall Street. It instructs an action that goes after the target: Occupy. And the severity of the situation is met by an action which is honestly and realistically responsive to the situation in which it is happening. Things are so bad that a one day protest won’t do, so Occupy Wall Street does not ask people to do a one day protest. The power of this as a meme is demonstrated by how widely it has spread and how many people are taking the action it calls for. This in turn enables everyone else to understand at a primal, intuitive level what the Occupy movement is about without talking heads on TV digesting it for them.

The indictment of the Occupy movement is first and foremost one of financial elites having complete and total control of the economy and our political systems. That analysis includes rich sub-strata that go towards the unaccountability of politician to the public and the tendency of the corporate media to represent the interests of the 1% over the 99%. Any discussion of the deficit, debt, or austerity makes this crystal clear. This is part of the reason that the Media Working Group of the NYC General Assembly are so committed to creating their own reporting of what is happening and not relying on the press to come to Liberty Plaza and get what is going on.

The media must face up to the challenge in front of them. Police departments around the country are starting to violently crack down on peaceful Occupy protesters. Will the press tell the story of what is happening? Or will they do as the Washington Post did yesterday and show a photo of a cop in Oakland petting a kitten? That is, whose side will the press be on as financial and political elites use the police as a tool to break a movement that is opposed to their hold on power? As Lithwick points out, if the press is incapable or unwilling to honestly and accurately tell the story of this movement, they will only succeed at marginalizing themselves.

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