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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Law and Disorder

 [This is the text of an article I wrote which appeared in the MetroOccupied's second edition in June.]

Society is said to be based on the maintenance of law and order for its social “stability”. This is done through either the creation, or the appearance, of legitimacy and “order”, and usually is forced upon others: policing, war, colonialism, globalization. The key to winning over the people in these instances is said to be winning “hearts and minds” through control of the flow and content of information. Today this is done through a limited few powerful mass media outlets deciding what information is to be disseminated.

Looking at the media's relationship to the Occupy movement brings to light a double pronged repression of both information and free of speech. The NYPD has increasingly cracked down on Occupy protests through violent repression and a squelching, or perhaps even an altering, of the media’s reporting at a grassroots level. Through these oppressive tactics the NYPD has directly changed the presentation of issues; in essence controlling information and the public’s understanding of the Occupy movement.

A recent federal lawsuit Rodriguez v. Winski illuminates these concerns in claiming that 15 plaintiffs, from city council members to journalists to veterans to Occupiers, had their 1st amendment right to free speech violently and systematically squelched by the NYPD. The suit asserts that the department can no longer police itself, thus should be placed under federal oversight. The lawsuit also alleges that TIME magazine, at the urging of the NYPD, changed an inflammatory picture of NY City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez being arrested.

Are the police and other powerful interests meddling in the coverage and choice of stories that are reported on and become “news”? Reporters from two major publications - the NY Times and MSNBC.com - have told this writer that despite their personal interests, there is no editorial level interest in the Occupy movement and they have been told not to cover it.

On May 1st this became very apparent when the NY Times, buried their story as the 12th article in the city/region section of the website and on page A24 of the print edition. The article also lead with arrests and bloodied protesters rather than why they were protesting, the numbers in the streets, or that there were hundreds of protests globally celebrating international labor day.

It is not difficult to connect the ground level repression by the NYPD, and the higher level aversion to covering the Occupy movement, to more systemic governmental and private desires to control both the flow and type of information consumed by the public. By emphasizing arrests and violence in their coverage, the media portrays Occupy as a lawless threat to the maintenance of social “order.” This portrayal easily constructs negative opinions in the minds of Americans taught to respect social order and the law. If the media was to cover the actual reasons why Occupiers were in the streets and why these people were willing to be arrested and beaten, there would be no mystery why the 99% should stand with Occupy.

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