Boots Riley On The Mainstream Media’s Relationship With Social Movements

December 29, 2011 in Media

Every progressive movement in U.S. history was portrayed negatively by mainstream media at the time it was happening.

It is no surprise that they portray the Occupy Wall Street movement in the same light.

During the Montgomery Bus Boycott, mainstream media interviewed Black folks that were against it, and talked about how the boycott was misguided and hurts the local economy.

During the rest of the civil rights movement, protesters who were fire-hosed and otherwise brutalized were called “violent protesters” in the mainstream media- again with interviews from people saying that the protests were wrongheaded.

During the Anti-Vietnam War movement, the mainstream media, who was extremely supportive of the war, portrayed protesters as out of touch, violent, and dirty. There was a picture in the Chronicle of a guy who was throwing back a tear gas canister which had been shot at the peaceful crowd. This was shown as proof of protesters being wild, out of touch, and violent.

When the Black Panther Party had free breakfast programs- every mainstream media outlet that covered it, covered it negatively- along with claims that they didn’t really connect with the Black community.

There has never been ANY strike, work stoppage, or union action that was supported by the mainstream media at the time that it was happening. All of union history is filled with mainstream press hit pieces.

The mainstream press spoke negatively of the port truckers in 2004, when they shut down the Port Of Oakland themselves for a whole week- around the same issues we brought up on with the West Coast Port Shutdown.

The mainstream press didn’t support the Anti-Apartheid movement, they don’t support the BDS movement for Palestine.

The mainstream press is always on the wrong side of history because they are always on the side of the status quo, which is capitalist exploitation and oppression. Exploitation and oppression are portrayed as the natural and comfortable norm and movements trying to vary from that norm are portrayed as being against the majority’s will.

To do this, the articles don’t have to make sense, they just have to touch on that theme.

For instance:
Every article about the port shutdown featured a trucker saying they were against the shutdown. However, the OWS movement received and circulated a letter from an organization representing hundreds of port truckers which thanked us all for this action in support of their struggle. None of those folks were interviewed by media. As well, the shutdown in LA was called for and enacted by port truckers- no media interviewed them. As we marched, many truckers honked their horns and gave the clenched fist. In the morning, 6 of them parked their trucks and joined our picket line- even though I pointed them out to mainstream reporters, none of them were interviewed. Again, the truckers at the Port Of Oakland shut the port down for a whole week a few years ago- these are all the same drivers, it wasn’t hard to find supportive truckers.

Another example:
In any movement we will make in the US that is multi-racial, there will be real problems around race to fix inside our movement. These are good problems, because they come from the fact that a lot of different groups of people who normally wouldn’t work together are doing so now. We need to make some concrete changes to fix those problems. But the article in the Chronicle that supposedly showed that Occupy Oakland doesn’t connect with Black folks was poor an unethical journalism. In the whole city of Oakland, they quoted only 2 Black folks. One of them feels the answer is to tell other Black folks to “Stop The Violence”. Ok. They didn’t interview any of the folks in the neighborhood around Gayla Newsome who was put back into her foreclosed home. They didn’t interview the neighborhood around 10th and Mandela, where the Tactical Action Committee has made a foreclosed Fannie Mae home into a community center with workshops for the community. They didn’t interview anyone involved with Occupy Oakland’s November 19th march, which was 2000 strong and focused on school closures. They didn’t interview any of the many Black union members who have worked with us. They didn’t interview anyone in the People Of Color Caucus, or anyone else who is Black that works with Occupy Oakland. They falsely claimed that the money spent on police had to do with vandalism, although it actually was spent on the unnecessary eviction of Occupy Oakland.

Some have said that the negative media portrayal is related to vandalism on November 2nd that some associate with OO. But, that doesn’t explain mainstream media’s negative portrayal of all the progressive movements of the past. That also doesn’t explain the mainstream media’s negative portrayal of other OWS encampments, who don’t have vandalism charges. That doesn’t explain the media’s positive portrayal of gun carrying teapartiers, or their positive portrayal of police violence- now, and throughout history.

Don’t be surprised at the media’s negative portrayal of our movement. It is happening because we are growing, we are effective, and we are right.