COLUMNS

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January 13, 2012

Pressing for objectivity

Comparing coverage of protests reveals American media’s hypocrisy.

Though some have dubbed Russia’s recent protests “Occupy Moscow,” they have little to do with the corporate greed, money in politics, income inequality, or the host of other socioeconomic problems that currently hamper the US’ “democracy.” Rather, the rallies in Russia oppose electoral fraud and political corruption. Aside from having in common a driving desire for change, the two movements share very little.

But now that we’re on the subject of Occupy Wall Street, isn’t it interesting that we’ve recently been hearing more about a foreign nation’s protests than about those occurring in our own backyard—especially when ours come with the added drama of pepper spray-wielding and war veteran-beating police officers?

The American media’s criticism of the Russian federal government may have been strong thus far but, given its coverage of the Occupy movement, it’s hypocritical.

Regarding Russia’s protests, Fox News wrote: “State-controlled television, which generally ignores or disparages opposition groups, broadcast footage not only of the Moscow protests…but in several other cities as well.” Since December 10, the Russian media’s reports of its own demonstrations have been remarkably unbiased, showing the true scope of the assemblies and interviewing opposition leaders. Unlike the U.S.’s own coverage of Occupy Wall Street, Russia’s news hasn’t focused on how the protesters are disorganized or violent, but instead on what their grievances are and on what they want—a fair and fully regulated election, or at least a vote recount. I’ll add that most of Russia’s major news outlets are government-run and, moreover, that influential government and church leaders have come out to support the assemblies.

Contrast Russia’s immediate and fairly straightforward coverage with the U.S. media’s begrudging willingness to report on its own nation’s protests.

For the first couple weeks of Occupy Wall Street, our nation’s major media outlets largely ignored the protests altogether, with the Christian Science Monitor choosing instead to focus on the more pressing issue of the observance of an all-important Constitution Day. Meanwhile, the weekend’s breaking local news in The New York Times covered the closing of Ray’s Pizza, a quaint pizza joint in the city’s Little Italy neighborhood. The Times waited until September 23 to mention the protests, stalling a full week to discuss the thousand-strong protest several blocks from the paper’s own headquarters.

It wasn’t until mid-October that news outlets began to write about the protests, but even then information about police brutality was largely glossed over, left to be covered by camera-bearing YouTubers and dedicated bloggers.

Fox News’s positive treatment of the Russian protests is even more striking when compared to its own coverage of Occupy Wall Street. In its most recent report on Russia’s uprisings, Fox went so far as to quote United Russia official Andrei Isayev, who said, “The opposition point of view is extremely important and will be heard in the mass media, society and the state.”

Contrast this with the same organization’s coverage of Occupy Wall Street—a movement that, unlike Russia’s, sprang up just 15 minutes from Fox’s New York City headquarters. This time, stories focused on characterizing protesters as hidden businessmen, as “thugs” who “threaten small children,” or as implicitly racist (“99 percent white”). Fox News staples Megyn Kelly and Bill O’Reilly went so far as to call the police officers’ pepper spray a “food product.”

But perhaps the most striking comparison is each government’s treatment of its own protesters. Moscow police gave tens of thousands of protesters permission to assemble, took no action when a much larger-than-expected crowd showed up, and even permitted protests in Moscow’s historic Revolution Square. Many Russian cities have allowed “unauthorized” protests to spring up in their various parks and street corners.

Now recall New York City’s handling of Occupy Wall Street, where protesters were violently purged from Zuccotti Park at 2 a.m. on a Tuesday morning without prior warning. Meanwhile, it looks like Chicago will soon be imposing new restrictions on “locations, times, and decibel levels for gatherings,” and imposing fines on anyone who attempts to “resist or obstruct the performance of a police officer.”

Yet the US still jumps at the chance to brag about its grand liberties while arraigning others for their “violent” or “oppressive” regimes. We—and I mean our government, our media, and our people—are still too eager to point out the imperfections and mistakes made by our neighbors. We were so excited to lend our support to the Egyptian revolution and to condemn its government for instructing its police officers to take violent measures against its protesters: “Frankly, any place around the world where people are calling out for freedom and democracy, I think we have a responsibility to respond. I think listening to the Egyptian people, working with the government to bring more democratic reforms is all in the right direction,” said Speaker of the House John Boehner at the time of—and in reference to—the Egyptian revolution.

Regarding Occupy Wall Street, Boehner explained that he “understand[s] people’s frustrations” because “the economy is not producing jobs like they want.” He added that “under the First Amendment, people have the right to speak out…but that doesn’t mean they have the permission to violate the law.”

When did the constitutional rights to free assembly and expression stop applying to the U.S. and start applying to foreign countries? How—why—did our promises of press, protest, and personal freedoms become applicable to everyone except us?

The real celebration of rights and liberties needn’t take place on an annual “Constitution Day,” but rather every day, in a truly free society. This is something that even historically autocratic Russia has come to understand and appreciate. And it is a distinction that the United States must never forget.

Anastasia Golovashkina is a first-year in the College majoring in economics.

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