At RNC, Media Put a Happy Face on Suppression of Speech


Originally published at Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting.

News media could either be our ally or our enemy—we wanted them as an ally,” Laurie Pritchett said in a 1985 interview about his strategy as police chief in Albany, Georgia, during Martin Luther King, Jr.’s desegregation efforts in 1962.

Pritchett famously ordered his officers to enforce the city’s segregation laws nonviolently and arrest as few protesters as possible. He knew that if he had acted as other police departments had—like Bull Connor’s dogs and firehoses in Birmingham (1963) and Jim Clark’s Bloody Sunday in Selma (1965)—news media would show the country how brutally oppressive police were, inspiring greater public support for King’s cause. In short, he beat nonviolent protesters at their own game by exploiting the media.

At the Republican National Convention this past week, none of the fears about a violent disaster bore fruit. Journalists and private citizens who worried about Ohio’s open-carry gun policy and the recent increase in public tension between cops and protesters were relieved that the week passed without a single gunshot fired or tear gas canister thrown. Like Pritchett’s officers in Albany, police in Cleveland—whose department was found to have practiced a pattern of excessive force and civil rights violations in a Justice Department investigation—exercised restraint compared to how police have handled protests in Ferguson (military trucks, sound canons, tear gas, rubber bullets) and Baton Rouge (hundreds of arrests).

Just as Pritchett expected in 1962, media jumped to praise law enforcement. “Credit where it’s due: The police nailed it,” Vox staffer German Lopez (7/22/16) wrote. In a list that reads like a police officer’s handbook, he offered three detailed explanations for why the police “nailed it”:

Read the rest here.

Police Keep Blocking Access to Cleveland’s Public Square Using “T-Formation”

(See my Perisocope video of the police action here.)

For the past hour and a half, police have gradually pushed demonstrators and other members of the public out of the center of Public Square in Cleveland, the site of 2016’s Republican National Convention.

A local ABC reporter told (about 4:30 in the Periscope video) her TV audience that police used a “T-Formation,” though it was difficult to make out the T-shape from any side of the park.

Earlier, several different groups were demonstrating, including the Industrial Workers of the World, young people chanting “Black Lives Matter,” and a few Jesus proselytizers.

At the beginning of the police action, an officer informed me as I was leaving the square that I wouldn’t be be able to return. By the time I began heading back to the center, police had cleared the area.

One officer explained to me (about 8:30 in the Periscope video) the reason for the spatial restriction: “We had some issues before. Just, uh, keep everybody safe.”

Minutes later, police began to loosen their formation, letting people back into the center again.

As I began drafting this post, a line of bicycle officers rushed back into the center to reclose the square. There were at least three officers at the center with riot gear: plastic face mask, helmet and military-style backpack.

As of publication (about 6:05 p.m.), several of the bicycle officers rushed out heading east on Superior Avenue. A line of white-uniformed officers have entered the center of the square.

Several passersby have said, “good luck, guys” to the line of officers.

I will update this post as necessary.

Prophets of Rage Take Over Streets of Cleveland on Day One of Republican National Convention

Day one of the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, began with an eerie hush. The streets were empty for much of the morning as a few drivers and walkers (including Wolf Blitzer) alike tried to figure their way around the 10-foot tall fence – plastered with “No Drone Zone” signs courtesy of the Federal Aviation Administration – that surrounded the Quicken Loans Arena (“The Q”) and its neighboring buildings, dividing the city in half. The cloudy sky threatened rain.

By noon on the day whose theme was “Make America Safe Again,” crowds gathered for pro- and anti-Trump rallies, vendors set up shop to sell Trump t-shirts and hats, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations held a small press conference.

While corporate media reported from inside The Q and focused on demonstrations in downtown Cleveland, a little-covered rally hit the streets of Cleveland’s east side. Organize! Ohio’s End Poverty Now rally at a vacant lot on East 45th Street between St. Claire and Superior Avenues featured activists and performers from Cleveland and across the country. New York’s notorious Revolutionary Community Party flooded the crowd.

Breaking with the morning’s eerie hush and the clouds’ abandoned threat, Prophets of Rage – a supergroup featuring Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine (who hijacked the 2000 Democratic National Convention), Chuck D of Public Enemy, and B-Real of Cypress Hill – roared onstage. “Thank you for coming out today with your joy and your militancy. As soon as this next song is over, we Prophets of Rage, and you, are going to march for the End Poverty Now march, on that street right over there… We’re going to let those motherfuckers at the RNC know that we’ve had enough of their bullshit,” Morello told the sizeable crowd.

Prophets ended their set with “Killing in the Name,” one of RATM’s most famous songs, which, as Morello reminded everyone, has been used to torture prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. “This is our revenge. We’re now going to use this song to torture those sons of bitches at the RNC with your help,” he yelled.

Moments later many of the audience members joined Organize! Ohio on the march toward downtown. After heading south on E. 45th, it turned westbound onto Payne Avenue until E. 22nd where police blocked passage. The march ultimately reached downtown via Chester Avenue. As promised, Prophets of Rage marched with the crowd. A massive bicycle army of cops dressed up like Christian Bale’s Batman followed closely behind. (See my coverage of the march on Periscope here.)


The rally and march were intentionally planned for the 50th anniversary of the Hough riots in which four black Cleveland residents were shot and killed by police and another 275 were arrested. “We insisted that we this not [sic] along the formal route, but on the East Side – to make that connection and show how little things have actually gotten worse,” one of the march’s organizers told Cleveland’s east side has for decades suffered from police brutality, most famously for the 22-minute car chase in 2012 in which 13 officers fired 137 shots, killing both Malissa Williams and Timothy Russel. The decision to march in this part of town demonstrated how little corporate media cares about how the policies of the people it usually reports on actually afflict people on the ground.

As the march dissolved downtown, Prophets of Rage regrouped to play an impromptu “concert” at Public Square. While DJ Lord played the studio versions of a few RATM, Public Enemy, and Cypress Hill songs, Chuck D and B-Real sang through megaphones and Tom Morello air-guitared.


“Inside the RNC, a thinly veiled racism, sexism and imperialism is being put forward as their platform. Out here, human rights, respect for the planet and resistance to oppression is what we sing about,” Morello said.

All photos and videos taken by me.

The Fordham Observer’s Milquetoast Journalism Manifests Itself Perfectly in Story About Its Own Well-Being

Screen Shot 2016-07-01 at 4.41.02 PM

If you haven’t heard, The Fordham Observer, Fordham College at Lincoln Center’s only university-sanctioned undergraduate student newspaper for the past 35 years, is in trouble.

On April 21, the department of Communication and Media Studies announced to The Observer’s editorial board via an email from Jacqueline Reich, CMS’s chair, that it had decided to cease academic support to the paper effective May 21. CMS cancelled all the credit-bearing Observer-affiliated journalism workshops planned for the Fall 2016 semester, leaving the paper’s staff without advisors – typically CMS professors who have professional journalism experience – and without the opportunity to earn academic credit for Observer-related work.

While The Observer’s editorial board was notified of CMS’s decision, one constituency – arguably the most important – was not: its readers, who rely on the awardwinning paper for campus news. Deeming this news unnewsworthy, The Observer (for which I have written several times) failed to investigate or even file a report on the decision in its own right.

On June 25 – more than two months after CMS’s decision – the paper did, however, publish a simple write-up of the correspondence among concerned alumni, the CMS department and the dean of FCLC. The report, written by news co-editor Stephan Kozub, rather than investigating why CMS decided to cut ties with The Observer, instead focused on a letter sent to CMS signed by 115 Fordham alumni in support of The Observer.

Because this piece marked the first public acknowledgement by the paper of CMS’s decision, it’s likely that many readers were initially perplexed by the story’s headline, “Over 100 Alumni Sign Letter Supporting Observer.” What caused 100 alumni to send a letter in support of The Observer? Why hasn’t The Observer reported on the answer to the previous question? Readers soon find out in the article’s lead (emphasis added):

Over 100 alumni have signed and sent an alumni-written letter to the Communication and Media Studies (CMS) Department in support of The Fordham Observer following the department’s decision to cut ties with the award-winning student publication.

The clause in bold – “following the department’s decision to cut ties with the award-winning student publication” – should be the big news. But because The Observer had previously relegated this decision to the category of Better Left Unreported, it reduced the information to dependent clause status, a common tactic among corporate media outlets to downplay the significance of something. It’s a journalism phenomena colloquially referred to as beating around the bush: reporting on something in a roundabout way with the assumption that readers already know about what is indirectly being referred to. (A prime example, which I have written about before, is how The New York Times doesn’t report on most victories of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, but rather tries to frame the momentum in the context of anti-Semitism and how Zionists on college campuses are “offended” and “traumatized” by criticisms of the Israeli government.) In this case, The Observer avoided reporting on an administrative decision that threatens its longstanding academic structure and instead issued a write-up about alumni reactions to that decision, amounting to a grave disservice to its readers.

It’s not until the second half of the fourth paragraph, following a quote from the alumni letter, when The Observer finally explains the implications of the CMS decision.

In cutting ties with The Observer, CMS has also decided to cancel all journalism workshops affiliated with the newspaper scheduled for the Fall 2016 semester, according to an April 21 email from Reich.

That information deserves a story of its own, one thoroughly and aggressively investigated.

The piece relies on quotes from an alumnus to condemn CMS’s decision:

“Since work for The Observer was done as part of academic courses and with the support of an experienced academic advisor with a background in journalism, student-journalists had a layer of protection between themselves and administrators who may want controversial stories reported a certain way or not reported at all,” Anthony Hazell, a member of the Fordham Observer Alumni Steering Committee, said. “With The Observer now being overseen solely by the administration, it puts students under the direct supervision of university staff who will be more inclined to advise against publishing articles that could be considered bad press for Fordham or that would not be a good fit with the university’s Catholic identity.”

The Observer’s choice to level an important critique of the decision using a quote from an alumnus – in The Observer’s classic pseudo-objective milquetoast style of journalism in which one side says X and the other side says Y and that’s the end of the story – reveals a hesitancy on the part of the paper’s editorial board to unequivocally condemn the decision. Although an editorial would have been more potent and more appropriate, The Observer took the safe route at the expense of its readers.

Regarding The Observer’s recent decisions, Ben Moore, editor-in-chief of The Observer, told me via email that the editorial board “decided that we would approach and report on the story from impartial angles, as it directly affects and actively involves our members.” Moore justifies his paper’s lack of initial reporting on the CMS decision by invoking the useful tenet of journalism that prevents journalists from improperly placing themselves at the center of the story. Although this journalistic practice usually serves a good purpose, sometimes reporters are the center of the story – most notably since the Obama administration has made it much more difficult for journalists to do their job by aggressively prosecuting their sources. CMS’s decision puts the entire Observer at the center of the story, so reporting it as such is responsible journalism. It is a journalist’s duty to hold those with most power accountable, even when – especially when – powerful people exercise their power in a way that harms journalists.

Moore offered a further justification: “We have received support from many different constituents of the Fordham community, many of whom are well-briefed about our current circumstance.” Although it was clear in The Observer’s report on the alumni letter, this defense amounts to an admission that the paper assumed readers knew about the CMS decision. Of course some members of the Fordham community know what had happened; that’s inevitable. But they deserved at least an early confirmation from The Observer itself. Before the several stories of government surveillance broke, many Americans suspected their emails and phone calls were being tracked. Using the assumption that readers already know about something to justify not reporting on it undermines the significance of a paper like The New York Times or The Guardian publishing a report confirming the existence of surveillance programs – and the many reforms implemented as a result of this reporting. Journalists who use this excuse degrade their own job and diminish their influence in political debate.

Yesterday Moore confirmed to me that The Observer is “currently investigating the CMS decision and will be publishing a comprehensive report.”

Readers deserve not only a comprehensive report of the CMS decision, but also a thorough explanation (read: apology) of The Observer‘s recent editorial decisions.