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From: "William Dobbs" <email@example.com>Date: Tue, 25 Oct 2011 10:57:52 -0400ReplyTo: firstname.lastname@example.orgSubject: [OWS PR] Politico - New target for OWS critics: Media
October 25, 2011 4:42 AM EDT
New target for OWS critics: Media
By: Keach Hagey
Conservatives looking to delegitimize the Occupy Wall Street protests have a new tactic — targeting journalists.
The criticisms are a kind of conservative twofer, allowing them to hit old targets like NPR and The New York Times by raising questions about their objectivity, while at the same time undermining the grass-roots claims of the new protest movement by suggesting it has professional help — or at least professional cheerleaders.
So far, both the Times and NPR have had to distance themselves from freelancers accused of getting too close to the protests, while MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan has come under scrutiny for leaked emails purportedly showing that he had helped the protesters shape their message.
Behind much of the criticism has been Andrew Breitbart, the conservative media provocateur whose sites have published both the leaked emails and Monday’s video of a New York Times freelancer speaking about the protests on a panel. But his critiques have been amplified by conservative talkers such as Rush Limbaugh, who last week held up the leaked emails of Ratigan and Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi as evidence that Occupy Wall Street was a “construct of the media Democrat industrial complex.”
Taken together, these critiques may just muddy the waters enough to do some damage to both the media and the fledgling anti-Wall Street movement. But when the case is examined in isolation, it’s hard to find much of a smoking gun, though that that hasn’t stopped media organizations from reacting defensively to the charges leveled at them.
“The problem is the Times pretends to be objective,” said Lee Stranahan, the writer and filmmaker who posted the video of the Times freelancer on Big Government, Breitbart’s website. “It’s very similar to the NPR thing. I listen to NPR and like it, but I wish they’d drop the public funding because it makes them scurry like rats at the slightest suggestion that they might be biased.”
Stranahan sparked the latest bit of scurrying on Monday after he posted a video of New York Times freelancer Natasha Lennard, who formerly worked at POLITICO, discussing the protests somewhat sympathetically as part of a panel.
Lennard played a pivotal role in the media narrative of Occupy Wall Street, contributing reporting to the first New York Times front-page story on the protests and chronicling her experiences getting arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge while covering the protests on the Times’s City Room blog.
Along with other critical posts on Big Government such as “Glenn Beck was right: Says Leading Occupy Activist: #Occupy Wall Street Wants Revolution,” and “Timothy McVeigh Smiling Up at #OccupyWall St Protestors,” Stranahan described how Lennard was shown “participating as a featured speaker in a discussion among anarchists, communists and other radicals as they examine the theory, strategy and tactics of the Occupy protests.”
He was referring to an Oct. 14 panel discussion about Occupy Wall Street at Bluestockings bookstore organized by Jacobin magazine at which Lennard spoke about the tendency of self-censorship she had noticed at the protests.
“So there is a silencing that’s sort of gone on without much addressing, because to address it would be to out oneself. So if you’re talking — and this also addresses the question of escalation; it’s like — yes, there are a lot of people talking about many different ideas. Do they all want all of those ideas live-streamed to the entire world on the assumption that everything is permitted and legal, when it quite clearly isn’t?” she said
Stranahan argued that these and other statements are evidence that she is “not merely covering the protests but is apparently also taking part in and executing them.”
Lennard rejected the notion that she was aligned with the movement, writing in an email to POLITICO that “when I say ‘we’ I mean those watching what’s going on and commenting on what seems effective, problematic, interesting (the point of the debate).”
The Times reviewed the video, as well as her previous reporting and saw nothing amiss in what she’d filed — but said it wasn’t planning to put her on the beat again.
“This freelancer, Natasha Lennard, has not been involved in our coverage of Occupy Wall Street in recent days, and we have no plans to use her for future coverage,” said Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy in a statement. “We have reviewed the past stories to which she contributed and have not found any reasons for concern over that reporting.”
She added that, “All our journalists, staff or freelance, are expected to adhere to our ethical rules and journalistic standards and to avoid doing anything that could call into question the impartiality of their work for the Times.”
The question of a news organization’s ethical standards also featured prominently in the dust-up over Lisa Simeone, the host of two public radio arts shows, who was fired from one and had the other dropped by NPR after Roll Call revealed — and the Daily Caller amplified — that she was working as a spokeswoman for October 2011, one of the Occupy D.C. organizations assembled at Freedom Plaza, a block from the White House.
Simeone’s case is complicated by the fact that she’s a freelance arts journalist who worked for two shows, “Soundprint” and “World of Opera,” that were not produced by NPR, though “World of Opera” was distributed by it. But because NPR has been such a lightning rod for political criticism, even a whiff of association was too much. The organization that produces “Soundprint” fired her based on NPR’s ethics code, according to the Baltimore Sun.
“I admire Simeone for her commitment and her willingness to put her salary and career on the line for what she believes,” wrote the Sun’s David Zurawik. “But, on the other hand, NPR had to do exactly what it did if it wanted to have an ethics code it could enforce.”
The cases of Ratigan and Taibbi, two outspoken liberals, are even harder to pin down when it comes to journalistic ethics.
According to emails on a private listserv leaked to Big Government, Ratigan at one point advised the Occupy Wall Street protesters on their message.
“The focus on simple shared principle and intent to align with all who agree with that principle is a unique strength,” Ratigan wrote. Another email hashes out a rough draft of a press statement, saying, “Here it is w/Dylan’s suggested revisions.”
Taibbi’s leaked email shows, in essence, a boiled down version of his article, “My Advice to the Wall Street Protesters.”
Neither is particularly surprising, considering that Ratigan has been enthusiastically covering the protests for weeks and Taibbi published a version of his email in Rolling Stone.
MSNBC has embraced Occupy Wall Street in a way that echoes the way Fox News embraced the early tea party protests, with everyone from Tamron Hall to Ed Schultz anchoring from Zuccotti Park as the protests gained steam. But considering that MSNBC suspended Keith Olbermann for his equally un-shocking donations to Democratic candidates, because of NBC News’s one-size-fits-all ethics policy, it does raise questions about where MSNBC draws the line between opinionated journalist and activist.
An MSNBC spokesman could not be reached for comment Monday night.
Taibbi noted that the criticisms of him only came after politicians, including the president and Mitt Romney, began to shift their rhetoric to be more accepting of the Occupy Wall Street protests.
“The reality, of course, is that people like Rush, Romney and Obama are all becoming cognizant of the deep frustrations that exist across the political spectrum and are growing desperate to prevent the powder keg from blowing completely — hence, the intense effort to describe OWS as a top-down manipulation,” he wrote. “Of course, the notion that this is all a media fabrication is ludicrous.”
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