Give Peace a Chance

Why does the media keep downplaying the violence at left-wing protests?


Boy, those sure have been some mighty peaceful protests against government budget cuts in Greece, haven't they? You bet they have—at least if you ignore the rock-throwing, fire-setting, window-smashing, and blood-spilling.

Which, it seems clear, a lot of major news organs would like to do. According to one story in The Wall Street Journal, the demonstrations "began peacefully." According to another, last week Constitution Square in Athens "seethed with indignant, but peaceful, demonstrators."

"The day began noisily but peacefully," intoned The New York Times on Wednesday. The Washington Post likewise observed that "a peaceful protest . . . quickly degenerated into violence." Reuters reported that, regardless of "clashes between stone-throwing masked youths and riot police . . . thousands of peaceful protesters demonstrated against the austerity plan."

Sure, blood was spilled. But don't blame the protesters. As the Journal reported, it was Greece's parliament that approved a "widely hated austerity package" despite "the best efforts of peaceful grass-roots activists., megaphone-touting [sic] labor unionists, and stone-throwing anarchists."

This is a sharp contrast from how, say, Tea Party protests against the passage of ObamaCare were treated.

The D.C. protests in March of last year were nonviolent affairs, without a single arrest despite one disputed episode in which someone allegedly hurled a racial slur at Rep. John Lewis and spat on Rep. Emanuel Cleaver. (No independent report could verify the allegations.) But that didn't stop ABC's David Muir from reporting that "shouted words turned very ugly," and reporting on "late word from Washington tonight about just how ugly the crowds gathered outside the Longworth office building have become."

Last April, a New York Times news story tsk-tsked "the pitched attacks by some Republicans and conservatives during the health care fight," which "have drawn criticism as incendiary." ("Tea Party Supporters Doing Fine, But Angry Nonetheless," the paper noted in yet another fair and balanced look at the movement.) "Protesters at some town hall meetings have drowned out congresspeople and caused unrest and even violence," reported CBS. Were the town halls "mostly peaceful"? Didn't they "begin peacefully"? Sure—but CBS didn't say so. Wonder how come.

Allegations of violent tendencies continue to dog the tea party despite the fact that it is, like its liberal analogs, "mostly peaceful." "Tea Party Getting Violent?" asked CBS News last March. To the Christian Science Monitor, a Boston tea party event (no arrests there either) was made up of "an angry white mob." At a Tea Party event in Nevada, Time magazine lamented the presence of (brace yourself) "ugly signs."

Hey, what happened to "indignant but peaceful"?

It's obvious what happened: big-government bias. To much of the establishment media, a preference for limited government is a dangerous idea. Ergo, its supporters must be dangerous, too. But liberals don't find a preference for big government threatening, so they view its supporters as non-threatening as well.

Nanoseconds after Jared Loughner went on his shooting rampage in Arizona in January, huge numbers of opinionators in the media knew just whom to blame: Sarah Palin, leaders of the Tea Party movement, and, by implication, anyone who thinks the government spends too much. As it turned out, Loughner—a schizophrenic declared incompetent to stand trial—was motivated by none of the above. Oops!

Fast-forward to the protests earlier this year against Republican Gov. Scott Walker's austerity measures in Wisconsin. Those protests involved the occupation of the statehouse, nine arrests in the first three days, and more than a few "ugly signs." Nevertheless, they were termed "largely peaceful" (The Washington Post); "largely peaceful, with only nine people cited for minor acts of civil disobedience" (ABC News); "loud but peaceful" (The New York Times); "peaceful" (San Francisco Chronicle); "respectful and peaceful" (USA Today); etc.

So it was with the protests against the World Trade Organization in 1999:

"Some demonstrators fired bolts from slingshots, and others slashed the tires of squad cars," noted one news account. Nevertheless, Time magazine termed them—you guessed it—"largely peaceful." Likewise the 2003 protests leading up to the Iraq War: "The vast majority of demonstrators were peaceful," as a typical news story noted; a 2006 demonstration for immigrant rights ("largely peaceful"—CBS News, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, et al.) as well as another pro-immigration rally two years later ("largely peaceful"—The New York Times); protests by environmentalists in Denmark in 2009—where, according to UPI, "climate activists clashed with police at several demonstrations over the weekend." UPI nevertheless termed the affair "largely peaceful." Protests against Arizona's tough anti-immigration law? "Largely peaceful"—USA Today.

What about protests in favor of taking a hard line on immigration? Well, on rare occasions they do lead to violence. "L.A. Anti-Immigration Rally Turns Violent," CNN noted a number of years ago. Ironically, the immigration opponents were peaceful but "a group holding a counter-rally across the street marched over and began throwing punches, bottles, and full soda cans."

None of us should be so foolish as to think violence and incendiary rhetoric are the exclusive province of one side only. They're part of human nature, which everyone shares. So you have to wonder why press reports so insistently call one side "largely peaceful," even when it's not, while insinuating, with zero evidence, that the other side is about two seconds away from a killing spree.

It's enough to make a guy feel downright indignant . . . but peaceful, of course. Indignant but peaceful.

A. Barton Hinkle is a columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch. This article originally appeared at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.