Beyond Kevin O’Leary: the Occupy movement and journalism’s latest FAIL

Nothing’s highlighted the weaknesses of the corporate media better than their demonstrated befuddlement with this particular story.

The spanking laid on Kevin O’Leary by Chris Hedges last week is a particularly egregious example. In between the condescension, name-calling and insults, O’Leary also manages to make the story about him and getting called out for his boorish behaviour, thus taking the focus off the Occupy Wall Street activists and their motivations.

But this goes far beyond just one embarrassing moment on the CBC. Kevin O’Leary isn’t the only one seemingly at a loss because the movement doesn’t have designated spokespeople or official demands. Even a well-intentioned piece on a local news site seems to fall into the same trap:

Until official demands are released, it remains unclear—as with protests in other cities—how long they are prepared to stay, and what would constitute a victory for them.

No, it’s not hierarchical. It’s not broken down into easily digested soundbites. And it might not lend itself to simplistic he said / she said construction.

Reporters like an easy-to-grasp storyline. They like it even more when it’s spoon-fed. Genuine research, complexity, and nuance are time-consuming, and even intimidating. Who’s got time to struggle for genuine insights when you’re on deadline? Who’s got time to provide a genuine and detailed portrayal of how the Wall Street activists are conducting themselves, resisting the power of the state, organizing their makeshift community? Who’s got time to put the events of the past 24 hours in a larger historical context that encompasses class struggle, distribution of wealth, the role of the public sphere, and citizenship? Easier to set activists up as a bunch of dirty privileged hippies who just want to sit around, smoke drugs and whine about oppression. Count the stereotypes.

Not entirely their fault, of course. Traditional media outlets have investors to keep happy. Their owners, most of the time, are more likely to identify with the 1% rather than the 99%. Self-censorship, therefore, becomes a matter of self-preservation. And career advancement often depends on misdirection, fluff, and the Shiny Object strategy.

The results, however, are there for anyone who cares to look, and the most telling detail, I think, is in the array of forces being marshalled against the Occupy Wall Street activists and the narrative embodied by their presence: egregious police brutality, misrepresentation, hoarding of resources, greed, harassment, demonization.

You can tell a lot about the power of an idea by measuring the resources devoted to smearing, opposing and/or suppressing it. And it’s pretty clear that the 99% meme has a lot of powerful interests very worried.

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