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Pre-Convention Coverage Whitewashes Police Violence, Distorts Activists'

by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting Thursday, Jul. 27, 2000 at 11:27 AM
fair@fair.org (212) 633-6700

Mainstream media are stoking fears about the potential for violence in Philadelphia and Los Angeles by rewriting the actual history of police brutality at last year's anti-WTO demonstrations in Seattle.

July 25, 2000

Early coverage of the upcoming protests at the Republican and Democratic

national conventions has followed a familiar pattern: Mainstream media are

stoking fears about the potential for violence in Philadelphia and Los

Angeles by rewriting the actual history of police brutality at last year's

anti-WTO demonstrations in Seattle. In its place, media are developing a

mythology of dangerous protesters who, for unspecified reasons, violently

overpowered police.

"It is widely agreed that the Seattle police got out-foxed by better

organized protestors trying to shut down the World Trade Organization

meeting last year," reported NBC's Fred Francis in a story about the

conventions (Nightly News, 7/14/00). Francis went on to describe activists

who attended the "violent" Seattle demonstrations as a "battle-tested" force

"better trained than the LAPD for street violence."

Widely agreed? Francis must have either missed or discounted the American

Civil Liberties Union's recent report on the Seattle protests.

"Demonstrators [in Seattle] were overwhelmingly peaceful," wrote the ACLU.

"Not so the police."

According to the ACLU's 87-page report, "Out of Control: Seattle's Flawed

Response to Protests Against the World Trade Organization," the City of

Seattle's response to the WTO protests was characterized by "unwarranted

restrictions and outright assaults on citizens and on their basic American

rights." The "draconian" violations of civil liberties committed by Seattle

police and officials included widespread use of "chemical weapons, rubber

bullets and clubs against peaceful protesters and bystanders alike";

numerous "individual acts of [police] brutality"; the suppression of free

speech rights; hundreds of improper arrests; and intimidation and "brutal"

abuse of arrestees. (See

http://www.aclu-wa.org/ISSUES/police/WTO-Report.html .)

NBC, ABC and CBS all ignored the release of the ACLU report, as did CNN. The

Seattle Times is the only major American newspaper to have covered the

ACLU's findings (7/5/00).

Yet the media haven't forgotten Seattle-- mainstream reports on the upcoming

convention protests consistently refer to them as follow-ups to Seattle, and

frequently ask whether authorities in Philadelphia and Los Angeles will be

able to avoid a similar scenario. But which scenario?

One ABC World News Tonight report (7/23/00) asked what lessons Philadelphia

police have learned from Seattle, and how they will be applied to the

convention. According to reporter Jim Sciutto, Philadelphia police observers

in Seattle saw protesters "at times playing to the television cameras" by

feigning injury. Sciutto's report features, without rebuttal, a Philadelphia

police lieutenant claiming that at the sight of a camera, activists are

trained to "fall down and start screaming and yelling whether you hit them

or not." ABC's report made no mention of any substantive allegations of

police brutality in Seattle.

When riots erupted in Los Angeles on June 19 after the Lakers won the NBA

Finals, several news outlets discussed the random acts of vandalism as

though they were comparable to the protests planned for the Democratic

convention. "Los Angeles officials hope that the convention crowd will

exercise more self-restraint than the Lakers crowd," reported the NBC

Nightly News (6/20/00). The CBS Evening News (6/20/00) made the same

comparison, reporting that officials promised "much less access for

potential troublemakers" at the convention than there had been at the Lakers

game. CBS voiced skepticism however, adding, "but that's what they said in

Seattle.... And some of those [protest] groups have already announced

they're coming here."

What emerges from this coverage is an image of activists as a paramilitary

mob preparing to take to the streets to frustrate and discredit the police.

This distorted view has been helped along by the three major networks'

failure to discuss in any depth protesters' critiques of the conventions.

CBS mentioned that Los Angeles anarchists would protest in order to "shine

the spotlight on economic injustice" (7/10/00); NBC (7/20/00) noted that the

protesters' message is "simply that the political parties have been taken

over by big money interests." Neither network featured any further

examination of the activists' political positions.

Demonizing activists and ignoring police brutality may imbue police

departments with a sense that they can operate with impunity-- or at least

without fear of serious scrutiny from the press. This media whitewashing may

heighten the risk that citizens assembling to speak out at the conventions

will face police violence.

ACTION: Please contact the media and urge them to provide more balanced

coverage of the protests at the Republican and Democratic conventions than

they did of last year's protests in Seattle. Acknowledging the ACLU's

findings about the growing problem of anti-protest police brutality would be

one way to improve coverage. Taking activists' politics seriously would be

another.

For more information on the protests planned for the Republican Convention

(7/31/00-8/4/00), visit http://r2kphilly.org/ . For info on actions at the

Democratic Convention (8/14-17/00), visit http://www.d2kla.org/ .

CONTACT:

NBC Nightly News

Phone: 212-664-4971 or 202-885-4259

Fax: 202-362-2009

mailto:Nightly@nbc.com

ABC World News Tonight

Phone: (212) 456-4040

Fax: (212) 456-4297

mailto:netaudr@abc.com

CBS Evening News

Phone: (212) 975-3691, (202) 457-4385

Fax: (212) 975-1893

mailto:audsvcs@cbs.com

As always, please remember that your comments are taken more seriously if

you maintain a polite tone. Please cc fair@fair.org with your

correspondence.

----------

Feel free to respond to FAIR ( fair@fair.org ). We can't reply to

everything, but we will look at each message. We especially appreciate

documented example of media bias or censorship. And please send copies of

your email correspondence with media outlets, including any responses, to us

at: fair@fair.org .

FAIR ON THE AIR: FAIR's founder Jeff Cohen is a regular panelist on the Fox

News Channel's "Fox News Watch," which airs which airs Saturdays at 7 pm and

Sundays at 2 pm (Eastern Standard Time). Check your local listings.

FAIR produces CounterSpin, a weekly radio show heard on over 120 stations in

the U.S. and Canada. To find the CounterSpin station nearest you, visit

http://www.fair.org/counterspin/stations.html .

Please support FAIR by subscribing to our bimonthly magazine, Extra!

For more information, go to:

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http://www.fair.org/

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provocateurs pennie Thursday, Aug. 10, 2000 at 12:12 AM
Vote Green! Nader and LaDuke in 2000! Jerrybear Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2000 at 3:45 PM
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