I nearly threw my shoes at the monitor when the Occupy Wall Street group demanded Mainstream Media (MSM) attention but looked and acted like a poorly organised “piss-up” in a brewery. I was screaming at them to shut off the live feed if there was nothing happening. New people tuned in and saw behaviour more like Woodstock than an “occupation,” No editor would have dispatched cameras or a crew to cover that story. Yes, they’d been in the rain for days and they were going up against the best propaganda machines in the business, the major financial networks, newpapers and FOX News?
When we got a flash on Twitter: ‘breaking news,’ tear gas and police beatings – journalists did what most are trained to do, asked questions and checked sources. Where did they go? The livestream feed… where one saw chaos. Organisers could not provide clips or photos until hours after the pepper spray attack. By the time it was factually reported as neither tear gas nor reckless mass police action, the credibility damage was done. Even those of us on the progressive side of issues were aggravated by repeated crowd size overstatements.
One angry rogue cop sprayed wildly and two ladies got pepper spray in their eyes. Not exactly water cannons or police in riot gear. It was messaging genius on the part of the NYPD as directed, no doubt, by the Mayor’s office. ‘Let them protest peacefully.’ The Daily Show’ (and I am certain an internal suspension) took care of the rogue cop Tony Balogn(y).
Then the story had a seismic shift. Filmmaker Michael Moore paid a visit, was interviewed on several MSM news shows,concrete demands and a real platform started to be woven together and the story gained national news traction. Why, because a policeman over-reacted and made it a bigger story.
Since the pepper spray, more people showed up on Wall Street including 700 uniformed airline pilots and other unions, several thousand (video showed 2-3K, DON’T EXAGERATE, IT WAS YOUR BEST SHOWING YET!) marched to NYPD headquarters on Friday and several hundred battled police on the Brooklyn Bridge where many more were arrested.
Additional demonstrations aimed at Bank of America were held in Boston and other cities. From the ashes of a shambolic start, they now had a solid AAA minor league baseball game brewing. Taking it to the major league level requires an even better effort for this coming week. What Wall street protestors called their ‘Tahrir Square moment,’ forgot that it took the Egyptian democracy protestors four full days to get the world to pay any attention despite graphic pleas for coverage from people being beaten and killed !
Wall Street is not Tahrir Square, But it Could Have a Similar Impact…
What happened in Cairo? The Egyptian police serially over-reacted. They were angry these pro-democracy “kids” interrupted their National Police holiday. Hosni Mubarak’s thugs over-reacted and spent two+ days chasing protestors down every back street and alleyway. They cornered and beat them senseless or to death. Those in the Square and on the streets got messages out, then Mubarak shut down the Internet. My book Egypt Unshackled shows the complete timeline and is illustrative for those organising on Wall Street.
It was Mubarak’s gross over-reaction that gave the story life and legs. The police said, “move along, nothing to see here.” Journalists from around the globe fought for their lives and said, “we’ll be the judge of that.” Some of the finest reporting of this millennium came from Cairo during those 18 days and since. Police over-reaction kept the story alive. And they did the same thing again five days later on camel and horseback, with rocks and Molotov cocktails.
While not suggesting occupy Wall Street must become a battleground, there needs to be a more compelling narrative than two women got pepper sprayed by a cop and people marched to a police station. The later scuffle on the Brooklyn Bridge (eerily similar to Kasr el Nile) is the window organisers needed, now they must act. Protestors are too erudite and polite to scare anyone. And they aren’t. If you want a dialectical discussion, rent out a hall. If you want to bring about revolutionary change, everyone needs real skin in the game.
When the Egypt story broke, I spent 24-72 hours in editor mode. Another demonstration in a Middle Eastern country the MSM was not covering except the initial demo. It was a page 17, below-the-fold story. Did the same not happen with Occupy Wall Street?
Cairo, days after Tunisia fell, was a curiosity. So was Wall Street. Everyone ran ‘a’ story. You could predict coverage tone by the network. We knew they were there. We had no idea what they wanted. People occupied a square while open air tour buses, offices, retail stores and commerce continued to be conducted all around them.
Once the protestors took Tahrir Square, most of Cairo’s businesses shuttered themselves, bank cash machines ran out of money, staples like bread ran out and people were truly scared how the police and army would react. Occupy Wall Street sent out for pizza and lattes. While not being humorous, food fund-raising was a bigger story than the occupation because we understood that. People saw no one was in danger of losing their life.
And the NYPD played it cool, changed the rules frequently to provoke/annoy, broke down the tent city in the rain… and tired them out. The ‘Occupy’ group was ‘kettled’ into a Square, no police wore riot gear, they were noisy but the most serious injuries that first week were blisters from beating drums! The police (and MSM) were prepared to ignore and outlast unless something broke. When the group moved during UN meetings, the police reacted.
New York is not Cairo
In Cairo, police over-reaction created an environment for a violently hostile crowd who had had enough. On live television during the afternoon of the 4th day, their rage seethed as Muslim men lay prostrate in prayer on the Kasr El Nile Bridge and police fired water cannons onto their backs. The enraged crowd charged the heavily outnumbered police, and they beat a retreat so hasty, they backed vehicles over their own men trying to turn around and flee. By then the civilian death toll was already in the dozens. That got global attention.
New York’s problem? Like with Egyptian State Television, the opponent controls the USA’s major news outlets. While Egypt took 18 days to defeat Hosni Mubarak, this group needs a major league effort at attracting crowds and crafting a coherent message. They have to hunker down for the longer haul. MSM parent companies: Time Warner (CNN), GE/Comcast (NBC/MSNBC), Disney (ABC), News International (FOX), Viacom (CBS) and others are dependent on Wall Street and banker teats for corporate survival. While not muzzling, Woodward and Bernstein journalists, digging and bringing down a presidency do not exist in media today. Sadly, the MSM need arrests, injuries and a body count before they will pay attention.
When this story broke, the FOREX.TV website sarcastically called it the ‘Romper Room Revolution.’ This was catnip for the irony machines at FOX News and others. It showed how big a media mountain the occupy movement needs to climb. Crying, ‘it isn’t fair,’ won’t get coverage. There needs to be a palpable sense of anger/outrage that motivates people from around the USA to hop in their cars and drive to a local demonstration or ring Capitol Hill and The White House demanding their representatives and senators pass and the president sign laws that protect them vs. Wall Street lobbyists contributing to re-election campaigns.
While Wall Street titans smirk and think they have shut the Occupy Wall Street story down, there is evidence they are beginning to sweat the persistence a wee bit more. Saturday a headline appeared saying: Wall Street quietly watches Elizabeth Warren, ready to pounce.
The Occupy Wall Street movement can thank that US Senate candidate in Massachusetts for speaking up with reasons why people should help each other in this time of fiscal trial, and hold bankers and business owners to account. Now leverage the 600K+ views of Ms. Warren video, organise, plan and find real leaders. It’s playoff season! You need to be ready.