Protest Then & Now: Media Coverage
In both the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the 2008 Republican National Convention, new media technologies helped to publicize protest and police activity. But how has media coverage of convention protests expanded and changed in the span of four decades?
Media Coverage: Then
The 1968 Chicago Democratic National Convention was groundbreaking in its media coverage of protest activity. Television news cameras had unprecedented access to the demonstrations, and the resulting footage of violence stunned viewers across the country, lending a visual impact that would not be possible with traditional print news.
According to activist Jo Freeman, “TV cameras in front of the Hilton captured the confrontation. When these images were played on monitors at the convention itself—about an hour later—they disrupted the proceedings far more than the demonstrators could have had they succeeded in their efforts to march. ‘The whole world is watching’ became more than just a slogan.”
The televised coverage of convention protests helped make the case against law enforcers’ excessive use of force in dealing with the demonstrators, and lent credence to the events at the 1968 DNC being equated to a “police riot.” Media coverage of Vietnam War causalities also served as a visceral reminder of the violence and helped to mobilize the anti-war cause
Media Coverage: Now
Fast forward forty years: Newspapers and other news sources are criticized by the Bush administration for publishing photos of Iraq war casualties, resulting in a greater silence surrounding the war. Before the start of the 2004 Republican National Convention (RNC) in New York, numerous mainstream media reports suggested that demonstrations might involve violence by protesters, which resulted in an increased police presence at the convention. Similar tactics resulted in pre-convention police raids on protesters prior to the 2008 RNC.
There were disparities between mainstream and independent news sources in the coverage of the 2008 RNC. FOX News, for example, blamed protesters from the RNC Welcome Committee and other groups for inciting violence during an anti-war march. But a reporter for the Minnesota Independent followed the so-called “criminal anarchists” and cited them as being far more “benign” than corporate media made them out to be.
Perhaps the greatest boon to protesters—and all citizens—has been technology. Videos of protest and police activity during the 2008 convention were recorded by both members of the press and civilians using digital and mobile devices, and were quickly uploaded to the Internet. Independent and alternative news sources, such as Twin Cities Indy Media, provided up-to-the-minute breaking news on the convention. Even Twitter.com, which allows users to publish short online updates via text messaging, was used by the Coldsnap Legal Collective for “24-hour reporting and updates from the RNC legal office” and to offer support for jailed protesters. These technologies have helped to fill in the gaps left by mainstream media coverage.
Amy Goodman, host of the progressive radio and television program "Democracy Now!" and two of her producers, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar, were arrested at the 2008 RNC in St. Paul. News gathering is protected under the United States Constitution and although Kouddous and Salazar were wearing press credentials, they were held on riot charges. Goodman and her colleagues were later released. The scene of Goodman’s arrest was captured on video and has received close to one million views on YouTube.