Fix Ferguson by Getting Rid of the Media
Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam. He is completing a book on the international challenges America faces in the 21st century.
If there’s a problem in America or anywhere in the world, inflicting the media on it can only make it worse. By some accounts there are more reporters in Ferguson than there are protesters. That may be why the protesters ran for cover behind the media after throwing bottles of urine at the police.
There are so many reporters in Ferguson that the rioters and looters can use them as human shields. You just wouldn’t know it because they don’t take pictures of each other. The occasional photos of media scrums around a crying woman in the Middle East or an angry protester in Ferguson reveal the artificiality of the event. It’s okay to have one reporter in front of a camera, but when there are so many reporters at an event that they outnumber everyone else, the whole thing starts looking like a movie set on which events are staged for the entertainment and profit of the producers.
Remember that every time you see a masked protester caught in the act of throwing a rock or a loving couple huddled in fear of dark masked shapes in riot gear, these images are as artificial and posed as anything in an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog.
They show you what is in front of the camera, not what is behind it.
Look through the news reports of riots anywhere and you’ll see the same poses repeat across continents and generations. The rioters are different people with different causes and agendas, but the photos of them are being taken and selected by the same people from the same news agencies.
There is never anything new on the news because the media has a pre-existing formula for handling any event. What we think of as the newspaper or the evening news just plugs actual news into its formula and turns it into propaganda.
The national news network and the newspaper of record tell the same few stories just like Hollywood makes the same movies, even if they seem to feature different characters and places. That’s because the formula doesn’t change. The formula is what we are getting from Ferguson’s mob of professional and amateur reporters each fighting for the chance to retell the same story to the same audience.
Calling the packed masses of angry leftists in Ferguson “reporters” is a little unfair. Even the term media is mostly meaningless. Ferguson is packed with reporters from national and local news networks. Alongside them are crews from enemy state propaganda outlets like Al Jazeera and RT. And they’re the cream of the crop compared to Vice, Infowars and activists with digital cameras selling what they shoot to anyone who will buy it.
Every young leftist who is afraid of going Syria or Gaza has come down to Ferguson to pad his Instagram with something besides photos of last night’s dinner. Activism is to today’s privileged liberal youth what taking a year off to tour Europe used to be to their parents and grandparents. Instead of backpacking through France, they pop some camera gear into their messenger bags and head down to Ferguson to link hands with another Evergreen or Vassar grad while shouting about justice before posing for selfies.
This groundbreaking activism will be a jumping off point for their actual careers in the media where all the Evergreen and Vassar grads will meet once again, except they’ll be wearing suits or power suits and reading from a prepared script and reminiscing about the good times shouting at the cops back in 2014.
The problem in Ferguson revolves around the media the way that the earth revolves around the sun.
There’s no point in marching around and shaking your fists if no one is paying attention to you. The riots and looting will continue for as long as there are correspondents there to shove cameras into angry faces while asking them what it is that they are so angry about. And if they aren’t angry yet, they’ll find something to be angry about if they want to be on the evening news.
Your evening news is no different than reality television. The impromptu performers know what is expected of them and the producers and writers know the story that they want to tell. The rest is improvisation which will be polished and assembled into a more coherent story in post-production.
Most in this media savvy age already know what is expected of them. If they meet Jay Leno with a camera, they know that giving the dumbest possible answer to his questions about history is the way to get on television. If they’re cast on a reality show, they know that behaving like unhinged lunatics will keep the camera on them as long as possible. And if they’re in Ferguson, they know to shout about justice and peace while making death threats because that’s what will get them on television.
Whether it’s reporting on race riots or mass killings, the media perpetuates the behavior that it’s decrying because it delivers ratings and serves its political agenda. Most of the time its talking heads denounce a problem that has always existed and then move on to the next topic. That’s destructive because we are constantly “rediscovering” problems that have never gone away. But it’s even worse when the media camps out and refuses to go away.
Just ask the Israelis.
Thirty years ago international correspondents were paying small boys to throw rocks at Israeli tanks. These days the rocks have been replaced by rockets and the media carefully edits the footage to show the Israeli response not the Hamas attack. The ratings go through the roof and so do the rockets.
The conflict is an open wound because, like Ferguson, it attracted every reporter, stringer and random activist with a camera and a sociology degree to chronicle it. And if there’s no violence, then there’s nothing to chronicle. When terrorists attack Israel, they know that a media army will be there to tell the world their side of the story giving them every possible reason to use violence to control world opinion.
When the media colonizes a conflict, it turns into an open wound that can never heal because healing is a nice short term story, but conflict is an even better long term story. That’s what it is doing in Ferguson.
If Ferguson had never become a national story, the violence would already be over and the kids would be headed to school. But the violence can’t end as long as the media keeps rewarding the violent with attention and encouragement. The very presence of the media encourages protests by promising that an extra-legal option to shortcut the process will give them what they want. And Governor Nixon has already all but promised it to them. And that too is just another way of perpetuating the violence.
The media can be defeated. Its mass of scribblers, photographers and teleprompter readers follows the smell of blood. If a wound is open, they will tear it open and keep it from closing. But if the wound is closed, they have to pack up their tents and go find another bloody mess to feast on.
Don’t reason with them. Making the mistake of trying to win the media over is even more useless. All you can do is cut off their supply by shutting down the conflict as hard and fast as possible. The short term publicity will be ugly, but an ugly media day is better than a bad media month or year.
Conflict is the vital fluid of any narrative. Take away the conflict and there is no longer a story. Without a bleeding wound, the swarming media mobs toting cameras, microphones and iPads will follow the trail of blood to their next story.
And then they will become someone else’s problem.
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