Redirection to Water Down the Potency of Dissent
On Saturday, October 26, several thousand people gathered near the Capitol Building in Washington to protest National Security Agency spying against Americans. As juicy news, it didn't amount to much: no violence, no surprises. Politically, it marked an unusual coalition between the civil liberties Left and the libertarian Right, as members of the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements stood side by side. But that's not how it was framed.
The way U.S. media outlets chose to cover the march provides a fascinating window into a form of censorship they often use but we rarely notice: redirection.
The message of the marchers was straightforward. According to the British wire service Reuters, the protesters carried signs that read "Stop Mass Spying," "Thank you, Edward Snowden" and "Unplug Big Brother."
The message of the marchers was unambiguous: they demanded that the NSA stop spying on Americans, or be shut down. If the signs and the slogans and the things marchers said weren't clear -- "this isn't about right and left -- it's about right and wrong," USA Today quoted Craig Aaron -- the group that organized the event is called "Stop Watching Us."
Not "Keep Watching Us, Albeit With Increased Congressional Oversight."
Stop laughing. I know, I know, no one in the history of protest marches has ever called for half-measures. U.S. Partly Out of Vietnam! Somewhat Equal Rights for Women!
Yet that's how the media covered the anti-NSA event.
First line of USA Today' s piece: "Thousands rallied against NSA's domestic and international surveillance on Saturday by marching to the Capitol and calling for closer scrutiny of the agency as more details of its spying are leaked." [My italics, added for emphasis.]
Associated Press headline: "NSA spying threatens U.S. foreign policy; protesters demand investigation of mass surveillance."
MSNBC: "'Stop Watching Us' sees a chance to reform the NSA."
It is true that "Stop Watching Us" sent a letter to Congress. But there's no way for a fluent English speaker to interpret their statement as "calling for closer scrutiny" or "reforming" the NSA. "We are calling on Congress," the group wrote, "to take immediate action to halt this surveillance and provide a full public accounting of the NSA's and the FBI's data collection programs."
"Stop Watching Us" didn't call for "reform." Nor did the October 26th matchers. They called for the NSA to stop spying on Americans. Some of them called for the NSA to be closed.