Tuesday, October 6, 2009


"I Cant Stand Those People!"



By Digby

October 6, 2009 - 1:00pm ET


Peter Drier and Todd Gitlin have written an important story in Columbia Journalism Review that will set any media critic's teeth on edge. It's so infuriating to find out what utter creeps the people who decide what you need to know are.


No one packed heat, no one screamed at a member of Congress, no one called anybody a Nazi, no fistfights broke out. So—no story.


All that happened was that on Thursday, Oct. 1, a moving van pulled up in front of the largest house in a Main Line neighborhood just outside Philadelphia—the home of H. Edward Hanway, CEO of CIGNA, one of the nation’s largest health insurance companies—and eight demonstrators from Health Care for America Now (HCAN) got out. One was Stacie Ritter, a former CIGNA customer whose twin girls were afflicted with cancer at the age of four. Their treatment left permanent damage. CIGNA refused to pay for the human growth hormones that her doctor prescribed to help her daughters grow properly. When her husband was briefly unemployed, they were bankrupted.


No one was home at Hanway’s mansion. Ritter left a note to explain that the van symbolized a request: “Can I stay in your carriage house until we get back on our feet financially?”

The same day, in Indianapolis, HCAN organized a house call on Angela Braly, CEO of WellPoint, the nation’s largest health insurance company. And in Wayzata, Minn., fifty protesters, holding umbrellas and candles, stood outside the lakeside mansion of UnitedHealth CEO Stephen Hemsley, in the rain, and screened a video that was unkind to the company. (HCAN has tried to buy time to broadcast the video on CNN, but the network refuses to air it.)


Total number of print and broadcast reporters who showed up at any of the three events: Zero.


For several months, HCAN—a national coalition of religious groups, community organizations, unions, senior citizen groups, health care professionals, and consumer advocates—has been organizing polite demonstrations, rallies, and public forums, trying to put faces on an industry that has spent multiple millions of dollars lobbying against reform, while angry protests at town meetings swelled August’s big national story. On Sept. 22, HCAN sponsored about 150 demonstrations at various insurance company headquarters around the country. The Los Angeles Times did not bother to report about the several hundred demonstrators at WellPoint’s California subsidiary office, located a few blocks from the newspaper’s office. Nor did The Philadelphia Inquirer note those who descended that day on CIGNA, nor The New York Times those outside UnitedHealth in midtown Manhattan.


They couldn't even buy coverage?




“At a certain point,” Indianapolis Star senior editor Jenny Green told us, the demonstrators are “not adding to the debate. They’re just one side saying exactly what you’d expect them to say.”

Her colleague, Greg Weaver, the Star’s deputy public service editor for business, maintained that the raucous town meetings of August, dominated by conservative activists shouting down Democratic Congressmembers, were newsworthy because they “are more of a public forum where you have many sides of the debate, whereas at the [HCAN] protest [at WellPoint CEO Bray’s house] you have only one side of the debate.”

“I did not think the protest at [Cigna CEO] Hanway’s house was news,” Philadelphia Inquirer business reporter Jane Von Bergen told us. “It was a staged event. It wasn’t real news. I avoid them. I can’t stand them. They don’t add anything. They don’t teach anything. If they go to his house, we don’t learn anything more about the health care debate.” The protest was “too manufactured,” said Von Bergen. “Just a bunch of people going blah-blah-blah.”

By contrast, said Von Bergen, who covered the rowdy town meeting in August where right-wing activists confronted Sen. Arlen Specter, the news value of that event was “readily apparent.” “It involved public figures”—members of Congress. So political reporters picked up the story.

Isn’t Hanway a public figure? we asked. He’s well known in the business community, she said, but not among the general public—a condition that HCAN is trying to change, but can’t do if the media won’t cover their events.


The town-meeting shouters of August, by contrast, were contentious. Some screamed and hectored, some got embroiled in fist fights, some carried guns. Some carried signs calling Obama a “Nazi” and his plan “socialism”; some warned that “Obamacare” would “pull the plug on grandma.” They understood that the standard template for protest stories is the crime story. They cracked the reportorial code: By behaving extravagantly and precipitating clashes, they made news.

It’s an old story, immortalized in the slogan, “If it bleeds, it leads.” This idea of newsworthiness has the unintended effect of coaxing protest movements toward raising the action ante.


The problem, of course, is that if liberals even slightly raised their voices they'd be tased to within an inch of their lives, if not worse. And if they didn't happen to be middle aged white people, they'd be in real trouble. You know how this works.


I'm not saying that HCAN's methods are necessarily good ones. But the difference between how the newspeople view the two contrived political events is not just a matter of "if it bleeds it leads." The teabaggers are deemed legitimate and the HCAN protesters aren't even though everyone has known from the beginning that the teabaggers were organized via astroturf outfits.


The default is always to Real Americans, no matter how unreal they really are.


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Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] verizon.net


"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


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