Coverage of the World Trade Organization fiasco in Seattle has proven that there's nothing that softens up baby-boomer media types like a good riot for a leftist cause.
Los Angeles Times reporter Kim Murphy rhapsodized: "Not since the days of the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement has the entire downtown core of a major American city been seized by popular political uprising....Seattle on Tuesday evoked the days of massive civil disobedience of the 1960s, when demands for social justice sent citizens from a wide range of races, religions, and economic backgrounds into the streets."
The national media have wasted lots of electricity and paper in the 1990s presenting the dire prospect of unrest somewhere on the right. They have served up absurd pictures of "weekend warriors" training in self-styled "militias" as a threat to the Republic. Whether it was Operation Rescue blocking abortion clinics, or pro-life activists merely seeking to talk to people entering abortion clinics, reporters were there to call it "intimidation," "harassment," and "hate." The Promise Keepers held a huge,
peaceful rally in Washington to celebrate men's religious faith and marital fidelity and NBC suggested it was "sinister."
But when the "nonviolent direct action" is organized by loony left-wing activists raging against the capitalist machine, and the downtown graffiti reads "I hate rich people," reporters form a circle and sing Kumbaya.
Seattle police may have arrested 600 people, and property damage estimates may go as high as $17 million, but weren't those protesters lovable? "Seattle can afford it," wrote Newsweek's Kenneth Klee. The magazine's "Conventional Wisdom Watch" awarded "Anarchists" an up arrow: "Where the hell did they come from? Upside: They don't drink lattes."
When reporters found it necessary to condemn violence, they carefully separated the rioters from those alleged peace-loving bullies who shut down the city. ABC's Judy Muller declared: "They call themselves anarchists. Dressed in black ski masks, they carried their flag and their mayhem to the streets of Seattle this week, much to the dismay of tens of thousands of peaceful protesters....So how did a small band of troublemakers almost manage to hijack what was supposed to be a lawful demonstration on environmental and labor issues?"
What nonsense. Despite the media's old hypocrisy on Operation Rescue, a mob of people bonding together to block traffic is not a "lawful demonstration." It is an illegal use of force. If instead of standing up for turtles and butterflies, this mob surrounded an abortionist to block him from leaving his home, would the press laud it as a "lawful demonstration" by "peaceful protesters"?
Those who organized the "nonviolence" that crippled Seattle, such as a training group called the "Ruckus Society," have been praised before. In the summer of 1997, ABC and NBC cameras lovingly captured their seminars on how to break the law for a good cause.
Some reporters are promoting leftist ideology using whatever means - legal or illegal - they can push through. That's why liberal blowhards like Time's Richard Lacayo, last seen comparing the Republican Congress to the British hordes who invaded Washington during the War of 1812, insisted on hoping the mob wins. "Public attention will eventually shift from the mayhem of last week, but a new political sensitivity may endure - one that gives unionists, environmentalists and others a platform for concerns heretofore ignored by the WTO bureaucrats and elected representatives alike."
Some local media outlets decided that these crude tactics ought not be encouraged by the media. The local ABC affiliate, KOMO, decided to try and ignore the demonstrations, since they might encourage the next gang to score headlines for their favorite cause by smashing a few windows.
The media critics howled. Former Washington Post editor Ben Bagdikian complained: "It is a foolish and irresponsible act to say they will not cover a significant demonstration just because it is irresponsible or illegal." CNN's Bernard Kalb slid down a slippery slope: "I''m not going to give the rascals the publicity they want, but in a way, if you follow that principle all the way, you have to trample on the whole idea of free speech and getting out there to speak your piece."
KOMO, clearly at odds with the national media and the local ratings, was compelled to back down and cover the story. But it's one thing to be forced to cover violent and illegal protests to warn your audience. It's another to praise them and reward the rioters and promote their political agenda. And liberals wonder why they're called soft on crime.