Friday, September 19, 2014

Success of People’s Climate Change March depends on how media covers it

By Marc Jampole 

Like many of my friends, I’m excited about marching in the People’s Climate Change March this Sunday in New York City. Organizers are hoping it will be the largest demonstration in history in support of solutions to climate change. The march on Manhattan’s Upper West Side coincides with the start of the United Nations 2014 Climate Summit two days later. 

By the grace of good luck, the Peoples Climate Change March and the U.N. summit come on the heels of a new study that demonstrates what anyone with common sense should have always known: that weaning the world’s economy off carbon-based fuels will not wreck the economy. For years, intellectual factotums of the oil and electrical generation industries have insisted that replacing carbon-based fuels with solar and wind power would hurt the economy.  Their arguments didn’t take into account that designing, making and servicing solar and wind equipment created jobs or that using less oil, coal and natural gas saved money that companies and individuals could spend, creating jobs elsewhere in the economy.

I haven’t marched in a demonstration since 2008, so I’m psyched! I’m hoping that the turnout runs into the hundreds of thousands.

But be it the largest climate change demonstration or a bust, the success of the march will depend less on how many and who walks and more on the attitude of the news media. The news media will define how many people showed up, and their numbers often stray from reality. The news media will determine whether the march is forgotten three years later or goes down in history.

I first learned this lesson during the Viet Nam War era—my youth—when the news media underestimated the attendance at every antiwar demonstration in the early years of protest—before the media followed the country and started to oppose the war.

The 2010 election exemplifies how the new media can make or break a march. There were three marches and demonstrations on Independence Mall in Washington DC during the election season:
  • March of Tea Party organized by and featuring Glen Beck
  • March of progressives organized by unions
  • March organized by Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and the Comedy Central which was also a demonstration for progressive causes.

Despite the fact that the most reputable estimator, the one used by CBS—AirPhotosLive—estimated all three demonstrations to have attracted 75,000-100,000, the two progressive demonstrations are lost to history already, while the Tea Party affair is mentioned in virtually all contemporary recounting of the 2010 election.

The mainstream media virtually ignored the union demonstration in the weeks before it occurred, whereas it orchestrated a build-up for the Tea Party demonstration more suited to the first inauguration of a president who won in a landslide.

An apt analogy, since some right-wing liars claimed that as many people attended the rally as made the scene at Barack Obama’s first inauguration—just less than 2.0 million, a number that injected new meaning into the expression, the big lie.

Aided and abetted by the right-wing media, mainstream newspapers tended to float a number of figures for the Tea Party demonstration—the favorite being 400,000. But never did a mainstream print publication claim any number above 100,000 without attributing to someone suspect—nor did most right-wing media for that matter. It was a mass example of the Matt Drudge effect, which occurs when instead of reporting something scurrilous and unprovable, a mainstream reporters says that someone with a poor record of reliability said it, someone like Matt Drudge or the late Andrew Breitbart.

It was the mainstream news media that overhyped the Tea Party’s 2010 Washington DC demonstration, the mainstream news media that irresponsibly misreported the numbers, the mainstream news media that ignored the demonstration of progressives organized by the unions and the mainstream’s leading pundits who have made the Tea Party march a major political milestone in 21st century politics.

As much as I wish for a large turnout at the Peoples Climate Change March on Sunday, I wish harder that recent studies, extreme weather and polar melting have convinced the ownership of the mainstream media to like the march and embrace the cause by reporting accurately. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Photograph shows what American political spectrum would look like without right wing—and what it was 50 years ago

By Marc Jampole 

The 16th century Venetian painter Paolo Veronese might have painted a photograph in the New York Times, so rich it is in symbolic content. Veronese crowded his paintings with myths, symbolic objects, references to literature and visual connections to contemporary politics. Whether intentional or not, the Times photo on page A 20, by Michael Appleton, does the same.

The photo accompanies a story of a news conference about what the New York City area is doing now to coordinate responses to potential terrorist threats. The photo shows the four principle speakers in this order, right to left, as viewers see it:
  • Republican Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie at the far right of the frame
  • Jeh Johnson, homeland security secretary, at the podium doing the talking. Johnson is a political appointment, so he profoundly represents the views of President Obama
  • Democratic Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo
  • Democratic Mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio, with Elizabeth Warren one of the two most prominent progressive Democrats nationwide.

In short, we see pretty much the spectrum of political opinion in America today, if we lop off the right-wing. Christie, Obama and Cuomo are centrists with not much difference between them, although Christie is to the right of the two Democrats on social issues. De Blasio, by contrast, is far to the left of the centrists.

There are a few symbolic subtleties in the photo. As he speaks, the Obama administration official Johnson stands as a centrist but is looking left, just as Obama acts as a centrist even if he sometimes talks like a progressive.  In a  similar manner, de Blasio is looking right, but with an uncomfortable expression on his face, perhaps expressing the lack of comfort he feels supporting centrist Democrats like Cuomo in the elections. Or perhaps he understands that in responding to the threat of terrorism, we’ve gone overboard on militarizing society and spying on the private lives of individuals.

To my mind the most powerful symbolic association comes from de Blasio’s position in front of an American flag. The good mayor covers a little of it, but a swatch with pieces of five stripes and 17 states is visible and seems almost to be waving. As a progressive I read into this image a statement—probably inadvertently made by the photographer—that de Blasio’s path is the best one for the United States. De Blasio stands for raising taxes on the wealthy; providing greater support to public education; policies that help unions and raise middle class incomes, like ending support of charter schools; government intervention to make housing more affordable; humanistic policing; protection of women’s reproductive rights; increased mass transit; equal rights for all minorities; gay marriage; and diversity in government.

Funny, the photo would have described the full political spectrum presented in the news media in the 1950s, 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s before Ronald Regan started mainstreaming wacko right-wing ideas.  I imagine it would be impossible to place most of the Republican and the Tea Party in the photo today unless it was about three times as long as it currently is.