Media Non-Coverage of Occupy Wall Street Gets Lots of Media Coverage

A familiar debate on non-coverage by the media plays out in the pages of the mainstream media.

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Throughout last week, a growing protest movement took hold. No, no, not the Occupy Wall Street protests themselves, but the complaints of Occupy Wall Street protesters that the mainstream media was ignoring their cause. Last Wednesday, five days into the protest, Keith Olbermann asked on his cable news show, "Why isn't any major news outlet covering this? If that's a Tea Party protest in front of Wall Street about Ben Bernanke putting stimulus funds into it, it's the lead story on every network newscast."

This, of course, gave journalists at several "major news outlets" a great opening to go ahead and cover the Occupy Wall Street protests using their favorite self-reflexive method: covering the (non) coverage. And their verdict? No foul. Columnists at well-regarded news outlets who chose to respond concluded that there were plenty of great reasons not to cover Occupy Wall Street. In delineating those reasons throughout this week, they got to write at length about the protestors' quirks and shortcomings, making their defense of non-coverage of a protest read a lot like colorful coverage of a protest. New York Times "Big City" columnist Ginia Bellafante followed up two days after Olbermann spoke out with a column largely critical of the protestors' small numbers and inarticulate goals. She took an aside to address the lack of attention, writing, "[W]hat were the chances that its members were going to receive the attention they so richly deserve carrying signs like 'Even if the World Were to End Tomorrow I'd Still Plant a Tree Today'?" (Whatever the chances, they beat the odds by marching their way into the pages of The New York Times.) Today, The Boston Globe's Joanna Weiss sounded a similar note in her column:

It's hard to take a protest fully seriously when it looks more like a circus - some participants seem to have taken a chute straight from Burning Man - and when it's organized by a Canadian magazine and a computer-hacking group. (Also, organizers first declared that they would draw 20,000 protesters, but only 1,000 showed up. That's not a media conspiracy. It's math.)

Indeed, L. Gordon Crovitz at The Wall Street Journal gave over his column this week to the movement, also focusing on the low number of attendees. "The protests last week were a bust," he wrote, "but perhaps the young protesters learned a lesson: Just because it's on social media doesn't make it true."  Protestors and their supporters wrote in to NPR to ask after the non-coverage, and NPR's ombudsman obligingly weighed in if only to say he doesn't weigh in on individual news decisions unless they are "egregious," but he quoted the succinct NPR executive editor of news who thusly described the protest: "The recent protests on Wall Street did not involve large numbers of people, prominent people, a great disruption or an especially clear objective."

So in the end, though Occupy Wall Street protestors and defenders never really articulated exactly what kind of media coverage they weren't getting that they deserved, we think they've got to be pretty pleased with stories in outlets like The Wall Street Journal (even if many of those stories were mostly conceived as commentary on the lack of stories and/or colorful derision toward the protestors themselves). And this week, with the NYPD so far unsympathetic to the claims of police brutality against the protestors, the group has a new angle to pitch to media, guaranteeing them at least a little more time in the spotlight in which to complain that the spotlight isn't bright enough.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.