ABC, CBS and NBC have continued their overly positive coverage of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protestors, devoting a massive number of stories (81 in just the month of October) to the leftist, anti-capitalist movement. This is a far cry from the coverage they initially gave the Tea Party protest, granting them a scant 13 stories all of 2009. More troubling, the radicalism and criminal acts at some of the protests have been virtually ignored by the Big Three networks.
This was bound to happen given the overwhelming disparity in the number of soundbites (19 to 1 ratio) devoted to those who were sympathetic to the OWS cause. A staggering 190 (80%) soundbites were given to those who were in favor of the Occupiers, only 10 (4%) soundbites featured those who were critical of the movement, 38 (16%) were neutral. In addition, nine guests on the morning shows appreciated the OWS crowd, to just one against (Newt Gingrich).
MRC analysts reviewed the Big Three network evening (ABC's World News, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News) and morning shows (Good Morning America, The Early Show, Today) for the month of October and found accounts of anti-Semitism and sexual assault arrests have been completely omitted from the Big Three broadcasts. And when confrontations erupted between the police and the protestors, the networks were much more likely to pin the blame on police for instigating the violence.
Where the Tea Party protesters were depicted as uneducated, racist rabble rousers – CBS's Bob Schieffer, in 2010, accused them of hurling "racial epithets" and "sexual slurs"- network anchors, like NBC's Matt Lauer, have looked upon the Occupy Wall Street protests, with their hurling of bottles and bricks at law enforcement officers, as a wonderful opportunity to deliver a "civics lesson...for our kids."
Police are the Bad Guys
In fact, in the few stories of violence at the protests, like the one in Oakland, the Big Three networks took the side of the protestors against the police more often than not with 15 stories (54%) putting more blame on law enforcement officers. Only seven stories (25%) mostly faulted the protestors for acts of aggression. Six stories (21%) didn't blame any particular side for the violence. Viewers of these stories were also far more likely to hear statements made by reporters or talking heads blaming law enforcement officials for the violence with 36 (71%) blaming officers to just 15 (29%) blaming the protestors.
ABC's George Stephanopoulos's and Abbie Boudreau's characterization, on the October 27 edition of World News, of the police as the bad guys was all too typical, as they presumed, despite lack of video evidence, the injury of an Iraq war veteran was the result of police brutality.
STEPHANOPOULOS: "And tonight, one young man has become a symbol of their resolve. A 24-year-old Iraq war veteran, now in serious condition in a California hospital, his skull fractured after a violent run-in with police. ABC's Abbie Boudreau has more."
BOUDREAU: "With tensions mounting deadly, the name Scott Olsen has become a rallying cry for Occupy Wall Street. Olsen, who had joined protestors after work, was injured Tuesday night, as police began firing tear gas during the Oakland crackdown. People who came to his aid were then scattered by a gas canister tossed by police. Last night in New York, protesters marched in solidarity with Olsen, leading to a tense confrontation with police and ten arrests."
Sexual Assault and Anti-Semitism Ignored
Despite several charges of sexual assault and rape and instances of anti-Semitism the Big Three reporters have completely ignored these incidents. Not only did NBC's Today show omit the ugly instances, but on their October 21 show, they actually preached that parents should use the OWS protest as a teachable moment for kids.
MATT LAUER: "What's the civics lesson in this for our kids as they're watching this on TV?"
NATALIE MORALES: "Well, I think there — as a parent, there's a huge civics lesson, and it teaches, you know, what is important about this. What are — I think you have to ask the questions, 'What are they there for, what are the reasons behind this?' And I think the idea of having that civil discourse is important to teach our kids and it's something in history we've seen...."
Not a single anchor or reporter brought up the anti-Semitic rants found at some of the rallies, like this one caught by MRC-TV cameras on October 21: "The Jews commit more white collar crime than any other ethnic group on the earth, and they go unprosecuted because they can buy their way out of it.... Whenever there's a billion dollar fraud, there's a Jew involved."
In fact, the only time that touchy subject was broached was when GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich brought it up on the October 26 edition of CBS's The Early Show, when he pointed out: "If you look at some of the signs, if you listen to some of the interviews there's a frightening level of anti-Semitism in some of these gatherings, fundamentally different from the Tea Party." Of course CBS's Erica Hill, who conducted the interview, felt the need to correct the former Speaker of the House, as she responded: "Some would say those are the actions of a few."
Big Three network reporters weren't so hesitant to slam Tea Partiers for their signs. On the September 12, 2009 CBS Evening News, Nancy Cordes touted the supposed radicalism of a Tea Party crowd: "Homemade signs accused Mr. Obama of socialism, communism and worse." On the September 15, 2009 edition of ABC's World News, Dan Harris ranted: "They've waved signs likening President Obama to Hitler and the devil, raised questions about whether he was really born in this country, falsely accused him of planning to set up death panels, decried his speech to students as indoctrination and called him everything from a 'fascist' to a 'socialist' to a 'communist.'...And all that was before Mr. Obama's speech was interrupted by a Representative who once fought to keep the Confederate flag waving over the South Carolina state house. Add it all up, and some prominent Obama supporters are now saying that it paints a picture of an opposition driven, in part, by a refusal to accept a black President."
No Leftist Movement Here
Even though the Occupy Wall Street movement protestors have been open about their calls for bigger government and redistribution of wealth, for the most part, they have not been categorized by the Big Three as "communist" "socialist" or even "leftist." The "liberal" label was applied exactly once when, on the October 11 edition of ABC's Good Morning America, co-anchor George Stephanopoulous asked Obama campaign strategist David Plouffe if he thought the OWS protestors were the "liberal version of the Tea Party?"
NBC came closest to describing the movement as "socialist" but that was only because Lester Holt, on the October 22 edition of NBC Nightly News, cited the Iranian government's celebration of the "protest against capitalism and America."
Throughout the weeks of Occupy protest coverage, network anchors and reporters have largely avoided the question of how this movement's violence and radicalism might affect President Obama and the Democrats at the polls. In 2009, NBC's David Gregory asked Obama about the Tea Party: "House Speaker Pelosi worried about the opposition, the tone of it, perhaps leading to violence as it did in the '70s." But on October 16, Gregory touted that these left-wing protests are "going to dovetail nicely into a big message that the President's selling, which is that the wealthy should pay more." The only way the media are going to make these protesters "dovetail nicely" with Democratic aims is by whitewashing away all the violence and radicalism.
- Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow Geoffrey Dickens on Twitter.