As America presses through its second week of smoldering rage, the media continue to prove their abject uselessness. Round-the-clock coverage of our national mayhem has illuminated nothing and hidden quite a bit beneath hours of pointless chatter.
Journalists have gotten the story wrong since the moment a police officer killed George Floyd because journalists don’t understand it any better than we commoners — and perhaps worse than we commoners. Their Pavlovian conditioning simply won’t allow them to process what’s happening before their own eyes. Whereas normal people see rioting, looting, and mayhem, journalists see dispossessed people protesting peacefully. If the American Psychiatric Association hasn’t yet documented this inability to engage with reality in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, it should really get on that posthaste.
CNN’s Brian Stelter, for example, at first refused to believe that the rioters had set Washington’s historic St. John’s Church ablaze. The church, which has stood across the street from the White House for more than two hundred years, was at first attacked because of the American flag displayed in front of it. Not satisfied with burning Old Glory, the rioters later torched the whole building. Fox News was covering the arson but CNN predictably was not. When the Daily Caller’s Katrina Haydon tweeted about the arson, Stelter insinuated that she was propagating fake news — his network’s specialty.
In a since-deleted tweet, Stelter shot back: “what’s your source? live video of St. John’s does not show obvious fire.” It’s not clear what “live video” he was watching because in fact the church was burning. Someone was spreading fake news here, but it wasn’t Haydon.
At this point we should really be asking ourselves why Stelter would resist believing that the mob in front of the White House was behaving as all mobs do. My answer is that he was suffering from a case of confirmation bias so severe that it brought on visual hallucinations. His imaginary “live video” showed a church unscathed because, like most journalists covering this story, he has a soft spot in his heart for terrorists.
Stelter sees their cause as just and wants to believe that they are basically good people. He therefore chafes at the suggestion that they might be engaged in wanton destruction and violence. He cannot part with his romanticized image of “civil rights” trailblazers singing “We Shall Overcome” as they register black voters and desegregate bus stations. Stelter must therefore reflexively disbelieve stories that reveal the mob to be anything less than saintly until incontrovertible evidence is presented. Even then he’ll pretend that the evidence doesn’t exist if it’s presented by the wrong outlet because, after all, CNN would be all over the story if it were really happening, right?
There’s only one word for Stelter’s condition and it’s called bias. Like all biases, Stelter doesn’t see his own or, more likely, doesn’t think that there’s anything wrong with it. Stelter’s bias is systemic to nearly all of our news media. That’s why the news media can’t seem to report on the rioting, looting, and casual capitulation to mob rule. They don’t understand it and they will remain incapable of understanding it as long as they persist in calling the mayhem “protests.”
The media’s denial and obfuscation machine carried the story a little further when President Trump decided to cross the street to visit St. John’s, a show of support that the Episcopal bishop apparently didn’t appreciate. As NPR (falsely) reported: “Peaceful Protesters Tear-Gassed To Clear Way For Trump Church Photo-Op.”
According to NPR, all of the protesters were peaceful at precisely the moment Trump wanted to cross the street whereas, in previous days they had burnt down a church and injured fifty secret service officers. But it was all a lie, according to U.S. Park Police. Exactly zero “protesters” were cleared away with tear gas. Rioters were however cleared away using smoke canisters. The rioters also attacked the police who tried to clear them — because that’s what rioters do.
For my part, I have taken to writing to local TV newsrooms to complain about their use of this infernal word: protests. Here are two I found on a CBS affiliate website:
Wait, what? People are getting arrested for protesting? But protesting is every American’s First Amendment right — apparently even in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, unlike your right to free exercise of religion which has been indefinitely suspended. Any red-blooded American who reads that headline ought to be outraged. But in fact, no one is being arrested for protesting. People are being arrested for tossing firebombs and bricks, beating an unarmed woman with a 2-by-4, burning down a police precinct, and looting small businesses. And in many cases they’re not being arrested for these offenses because some police chiefs, mayors, and governors are too timid to stand up to the mob.
Here’s another one: “Violent protests rock Atlanta as mayor says ‘You are disgracing our city.’”
There is no such thing as “violent protests.” Violent protests are not a subset of a larger phenomenon called “protests.” They are an entirely separate phenomenon called “riots.” Say it with me now: riots.
And there are many more similar headlines where those came from. This isn’t journalism, it’s a Jedi mind trick used to convince us that we aren’t seeing what we’re actually seeing. Fortunately, like all Jedi mind tricks, it works only on the weak-minded.
There is some evidence that the media’s reluctance to use the “r” word — riot — has come down from senior levels. This isn’t something that rank-and-file reporters have decided to do, though it isn’t something that they’re pushing back against either. Last week, NBC broadcaster Craig Melvin spilled the beans about corporate guidance when he tweeted: “This will guide our reporting in [Minnesota]. ‘While the situation on the ground in Minneapolis is fluid, and there has been violence, it is most accurate at this time to describe what is happening there as ‘protests’ — not riots.”
In some kind of perverse inversion of Abraham Lincoln’s famous adage, lying is in fact the best policy over at NBC News. Anything else is forbidden. Good to know.
In Melvin’s defense, his tweet came on Thursday, May 28. The degree of lawlessness and violence at that point was already unacceptable though much lower than what we would see over the weekend. Still, at the time of my writing, NBC News’s headlines are still propagandistic sob stories about “protests.”
Here’s a silly NBC headline: “Protests show no sign of fading more than a week after the death of George Floyd.” Slightly more ridiculous: “Atlanta residents struggle to heal amid pain and power of protests.” And in the you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me department: “Protesters in Minneapolis bringing peace met with police force.” (That headline was later changed).
This is where Poe’s Law comes into play. It’s impossible to parody NBC News any more than they parody themselves on a daily basis. It’s a clown show over there.
Pray tell, what is NBC’s threshold for calling something a riot? After all, they left open the possibility that they might someday utter the word riot with their use of the “at this time” qualifier. How many people have to die before they use that word? Answer: They will never call them riots as long as the rioters are largely “people of color.” Not any more. You can still find a listing on Wikipedia for the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, which were no more violent than the current insurrection. But if you want to see the words in print you had better hurry. Politically incorrect nomenclature like that has a short shelf life these days.
It really is that simple. If it were white guys flying Gadsden flags from their pickup trucks, they’d all be labeled terrorists if even only a few of them used force to defend themselves. And if the “Don’t Tread on Me” crowd didn’t use force at all, the media would focus on their menacing appearance, their “rhetoric,” or just their lack of “diversity.” Just think about how the Tea Party was covered in the media, or the recent anti-lockdown protests in Lansing, or the pro-Second Amendment rally in Richmond this January.
That’s the way this game is played.
Our country is indeed weathering a crisis now and I don’t know how it will all turn out in the end. What we’re living through is not the growing pains of a changing America but a test of our willingness to stand up to mob rule. My pessimistic assessment is that mob rule is winning by a wide margin. Defenders of civilization might find it helpful to recognize our foe but that would require us to use proper terminology the likes of which the media won’t tolerate.
Words like riot, for example. And when that word is forbidden, you know that even plainer English is absolutely out of bounds. We cannot win defeat this enemy because we can’t talk about it.