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Saturday, April 20, 2024

It’s a beautiful world and a wonderful life, but these are also times of great civil unrest. Tensions between civilians and police, institutionalized racism and movements like “Occupy Wall Street” and “Fight for $15” are sobering reminders of such unrest. In light of all this strife, you’d think when a noteworthy example of nonviolent civil disobedience arises, there’d be relentless cable news coverage of it, right? Right?

On Monday, Democracy Spring, a coalition of more than 100 progressive groups, arrived on Capitol Hill to stage a sit-in demonstration in protest of a number of issues, including money in politics and voter disenfranchisement. By the time the coalition made it to the Hill, after marching from the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, more than 600 protesters had gathered in solidarity. By Monday’s end, more than 400 were arrested.

Not a single shot was fired, nobody was harmed, no riot gear necessary: civil disobedience in its prime. In terms of protester-police relations, Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks even reported after his arrest, “The police actually treated us great. There was a real friendly attitude. And we had a couple of pro-cop chants there, (because) they’re in the 99 percent, too.”

Despite how peaceful and admirable these demonstrations were, cable news outlets largely dismissed it. As The Intercept reported, between CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, the protests and arrests garnered less than 30 seconds of airtime Monday. A widespread nonviolent protest along bipartisan lines in which the police and protesters respect each other is a shooting-star story. Why wouldn’t they cover it?

The truth of the matter is much of our political media tends toward “if-it-bleeds-it-leads” journalism, which isn’t actually journalism. Many of us here at the Alligator are journalism majors, and we’re trained to prioritize accuracy and transparency above all else. Yet, they’ve lost sight of this.

When riots in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014, and when Baltimore was figuratively burning in April 2015, cable news responded immediately because violent, “urban-thug” stories sell. But, now, when a monumental peaceful demonstration emerges, the election takes priority.

Money in politics isn’t just an issue on the Hill: It impacts us on a day-to-day level, by way of the information we receive and the headlines we read. Think about it: You likely know “Benghazi-Gate” as a foreign policy blunder and scandal, but do you actually know what happened? You’ve heard of the Affordable Care Act, “Obamacare,” as either one of the greatest evils to plague our streets or a noble achievement of the Obama administration, but do you actually know what the ACA achieved or how it works?

You could probably trace a replica of Donald Trump’s podium with how much airtime it’s received, but the 24-hour news media can only devote a few seconds to the sort of civil demonstration that would fill Martin Luther King Jr. with pride? They do their viewers a disservice.

We could close this out many different ways, but surprisingly (or unsurprisingly, depending on how much patience you have for Will Ferrell) Ron Burgundy’s monologue from “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” encapsulates our predicament quite well: 

“News is supposed to keep watch over the powerful so the powerful don’t become corrupt. But what happens when the powerful own the news?”

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