Kathy Shaidle

Media malpractice, then and now

Posted on April 13 2010 5:00 pm
Kathy Shaidle blogs at FiveFeetOfFury, now entering its 11th year online. Her latest book is Acoustic Ladylandkathy shaidle, which Mark Steyn calls "a must-read."
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Poll tax protest (London, England, April 7, 1990)

Today, the Media Research Council (MRC) released a 16-page report entitled “TV’s Tea Party Travesty: How ABC, CBS and NBC have Dismissed and Disparaged the Tea Party Movement.” Anyone interested in media bias, modern American culture, protest movements and contemporary politics should download and read this free report. (But be patient: the site is experiencing lots of traffic today, if my difficulty downloading the PDF was anything to go by.)

The MRC analyzed how the Big Three networks have covered the Tea Party movement, from the moment it began (with Rick Santelli’s February 19, 2009 “rant” on CNBC) through March 31 of this year.

Here’s a sampling of what they found (via the report’s Executive Summary):

ABC, CBS and NBC aired a mere 61 stories or segments over a twelve month period, while another 141 items included brief references to the movement. Most of that coverage is recent; the networks virtually refused to recognize the Tea Party in 2009 (just 19 stories), with the level of coverage increasing only after Scott Brown’s election in Massachusetts.

Such coverage is piddling compared to that lavished on protests serving liberal objectives. The Nation of Islam’s “Million Man March” in 1995, for example, was featured in 21 evening news stories on just the night of that march — more than the Tea Party received in all of 2009. The anti-gun “Million Mom March” in 2000 was preceded by 41 broadcast network reports (morning, evening, and Sunday shows) heralding its message, including a dozen positive pre-march interviews with organizers and participants, a favor the networks never granted the Tea Party.

This report will certainly reconfirm millions of Americans in their belief that the mainstream media is elitist, out of touch and crippled by liberal bias. However, it’s important to remember (or learn) that this is nothing new. In fact, it isn’t a problem unique to the United States.

NewsReal boasts many contributors and readers who are a decade (or two) younger than I am, but relatively few, I suspect, who are one-time punk rock anarcho-peaceniks, like me. A major factor that turned me from left to right was watching how (contra Noam Chomsky et al) a left leaning media was misreporting the news and rewriting history. If Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs were guilty, and DDT was harmless, and Ronald Reagan never did get around to blowing up the world, what else were the information gatekeepers wrong (or outright lying) about?

So let me pluck just one small but telling instance of media malpractice, from back in “my” day…

Exactly twenty years ago, poll tax riots erupted across Margaret Thatcher’s England:

…public opposition reached its climax in a riot that turned London’s Trafalgar Square into a pandemonium. On 31 March, 1990, 200,000 showed up for a demonstration while approximately 3,000 of them turned violent [and] attacked the police; in a shocking echo of the Fall of the Berlin Wall mere four months before, they shouted “Stasi” at the police; 340 were arrested. Of 113 people injured, 45 were police; 20 police horses were also injured. Four tube stations were shut; central London was essentially cordoned off. Damages were estimated at £400,000. The riot was a fatal blow for not only the poll tax but also the prime minister. Before the end of the year, Mrs. Thatcher stepped down.

The photo above became one of the iconic images of the poll tax riots. It appeared in The Independent on April 7, 1990, and was captioned “A West End shopper argues with a protester.” If you can practically hear that besuited “City” woman telling that Mohawk’d boy to “get a bloody job,” you aren’t alone.

A week later (to their credit), the publication printed the following letter — which, alas, never became quite as “iconic” as the image it concerned. It began:

Sir: In last week’s article about the poll-tax riot in Trafalgar Square (“The Mob’s brief Rule”, 7 April) there is a large photograph labelled “A West End shopper argues with a protester”. The woman in the photograph is me, and I thought you might like to know the true story behind the picture…

I hope you’ll read the rest. And never, ever take a newspaper’s photo caption at face value again. Especially when these photos depict pubic protests, be they calm or chaotic.

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