Media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street protests in Zuccotti Park has reached an all-time high, according to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. Still, many protesters feel that reporters are not portraying their movement fairly.
Stories about the protests accounted for 12 percent of all news reports by the end of last week, compared to just 2 percent the week earlier, according to Pew, which examines stories from 52 different outlets to determine the topics that drive each week’s news. But many activists said that news outlets are not telling the full story about the protests.
“If you watch CNN or Fox News, it’s all about how we have no common goal,” said Johnny Smith, 25, a trim man in slacks and a button-down shirt. Smith lives in Queens but has been spending his days at Zuccotti Park for over a week. He said that social media outlets such as Tumblr and Reddit are more reliable sources for news about the protests: “[They] did more for us than MSN or Fox,” he said.
Some protesters bore visible signs of their animosity toward major cable TV outlets. One 19-year-old activist who wore a Guy Fawkes mask and called himself “Blood Bandit” said, “Have you seen Fox News around here? Guess what, we chased them away.”
He was referring to an incident on Sunday, Oct. 9, during which protesters chanting “Fox News lies” allegedly forced Fox News reporter Geraldo Rivera to flee the park. (Fox later denied that Rivera had been forced out.) Other protesters targeted MSNBC, although the Pew Research Center mentioned in its report that MSNBC host Ed Schultz spoke favorably of the protests in a live broadcast on Oct. 5.
Others did not name any particular networks, but complained about the overall journalistic approach to covering the demonstrations. Roxanne Palmer, a journalist who writes for an online legal publication, visited Zuccotti Park last week for the first time. She came with her journalist friend Tim Kreider, 44, but they were there to participate, not to report.
“A lot of the news reports rushed to judgment,” Palmer said. “They seemed to have a preconceived narrative.”
Palmer, 24, urged readers not to rely solely on second-hand media accounts of events. “More people should come down to talk to people. It’s a lot easier to stereotype people if you’re [reading news] online.”
She mentioned a specific act of legislation that she finds troubling, and thinks deserves more widespread attention: the Gramm-Leach Bliley Act of 1999, which “took down walls” between commercial and investment banks, securities firms, and insurance companies.
As coverage of the movement increases, so, it seems, does suspicion of the media. Johnny Smith and his friend Scott Abernathy, 29, for example, will no longer talk to reporters from large news organizations.
“They don’t know what’s going on,” said Abernathy, “they can’t even figure out the chants.”
Smith nodded in agreement, adding, “[The media] are just going to use what I say to obscure our cause. I don’t trust them; I don’t believe in them.”
City Limits is grateful to the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism and Professor Lisa Armstrong, who oversaw this project.