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Mike Elk

Mike Elk is a labor journalist and staff writer for In These Times

February 21st, 2011 12:54 PM

Mainstream Media: Wisconsin Protestors Like the People Who Shoot Gabby Giffords? WTF?

Despite the Wisconsin protests being the number one trending topic on twitter worldwide and finally starting to get media attention from mainstream TV outlets, not a single union leader or union member was invited onto one of the many Sunday talk shows to talk about Wisconsin. Instead the only person who appeared was Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

The Wisconsin protests -- with tens of thousands of working people occupying a State Capitol for nearly a week -- are truly unprecedented in American history. Clearly a new protest movement is being formed in Wisconsin, one that may breath hope into a democracy that so many people have lost faith in. But the corporate media doesn't want to hear about it.

The coverage of Wisconsin (with the exception of MSNBC) epitomizes a type of reporting that does not include the voices of ordinary Americans, but instead pushing pre-conceived notions about people being bitterly divided. Perhaps the worst of this inside-the-beltway coverage came from the Washington Post Columnist Charles Lane, who compared the protests in Wisconsin to the voices of hatred on the tea party right. Lane wrote:

It has been just over five weeks since a deranged gunman in a Tucson suburb left six people dead and 13 injured, including Rep. Gabrielle Gifford (D-Ariz.). In the wake of that horrific tragedy, Americans reflected on -- and argued about -- the possible connection between the violence and today's often nasty, polarized political discourse.

President Obama, in a moving eulogy for the fallen, called on all Americans to "pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds."

Yet today in Wisconsin, anger and vilification are once again the order of the day -- and the incivility emanates from the progressive end of the spectrum, including, no doubt, many of the same people who blamed right-wing vitriol for creating a climate of violence in Arizona.

Lane equates the protestors in Madison with the violent, sometimes gun-carrying mobs that have characterized tea party protest. In fact the opposite has been true -- the police have repeatedly praised the students for the extraordinary kind, cooperative, and peaceful they've behaved. “There has been good camaraderie between the police officers and the demonstrators,” said Joel DeSpain, MPD spokesperson. “The crowds have been well-behaved, and we hope that this continues on any further protest days.”

Even more interesting is the fact that the mainstream media like CNN only began to cover the protests when the Tea Party showed up. Finally they had a story that fit into their red vs. blue America framework about people bitterly divided on an issue. Of course, they failed to note of course that even by best estimates the Tea Party in Madison only had 1,000 counter protestors at the State Capitol, while nearly 80,000 labor and community protestors opposed to Governor Walker were present. Likewise public polling shows that only 30% of Wisconsin residents support Governor's Walker radical position of eliminating the right to collectively bargain.

The mainstream media is misrepresenting what is happening in Wisconsin because it is something new and does not fit into their narrowly-held views of political action. They've made what is happening in Wisconsin a story about people being divided against each other -- when in reality it’s a story about voiceless people coming together young, old, black, white, straight, gay, union and non-union and realizing the magic of how collectively they can still have a voice. This is a great disservice to democracy.

Therefore as a trained labor journalist, I decided to travel up to Wisconsin to understand this new social movement. I want to use my skills having covered the labor and other social movement to explain what exactly is happening in Wisconsin and what this means for letting our voices be heard in a democracy. Michael Moore felt such reporting was important to our democracy and graciously agreed to fund my reporting from Madison. You can follow me on twitter at @MikeElk and check for frequent updates.  I look forward to provide accurate reporting from Madison, Wisconsin on what I believe is the birth of a brave new era in our democracy.

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