NYT Buries Occupy Wall Street

The Paper of Record has spoken: We didn’t think much of Occupy before, and now what we think is that it’s over.

The day before Occupy activists were gathering to mark the movement’s one-year anniversary, Times columnist Joe Nocera wrote (9/16/12): “For all intents and purposes, the Occupy movement is dead.”

Before the collapse of Lehman Brothers, Nocera explains, there was complacency.

It was easy to believe that housing prices could only go up and that we could always rely on debt to maintain our standard of living. We shrugged as manufacturing jobs disappeared–5.8 million just since 2000–and good middle-class jobs became harder to find. We didn’t talk much about income inequality. Nor did we care much that Wall Street had developed a mercenary trading culture, which had little to do with providing capital for companies, ostensibly its reason for being.

Hey–who’s this “we” anyway? The idea that “we” didn’t care about inequality and Wall Street greed might surprise the non-New York Times columnists who did, in fact, talk about these things.

Nocera contrasts Occupy with the Tea Party, which he credits for being willing to work within the political system: “87 new Tea Party-elected candidates showed up in Washington.”  But it’s a strange comparison to make. That version of the “Tea Party” is re-branded Republicanism, politicians who sought to ride along with what the base of the party was calling itself. Nocera is correct that Occupy didn’t go that route–but that’s because it didn’t see how a Democratic Party too beholden to big money could speak to the issues it cares about.

Times business columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin (9/18/12) waited until after the protests to declare Occupy irrelevant. Under the headline , “Occupy Wall Street: A Frenzy That Fizzled,” Ross Ross Sorkin leads off: “It will be an asterisk in the history books, if it gets a mention at all.”

Ross Sorkin adds:

But now, 12 months later, it can and should be said that Occupy Wall Street was–perhaps this is going to sound indelicate–a fad.

For the sake of the history books, let’s remember why Ross Sorkin visited Occupy Wall Street almost a year ago:

I had gone down to Zuccotti Park to see the activist movement firsthand after getting a call from the chief executive of a major bank last week….

That’s how things work for star reporters on Wall Street–you check out a story when a banker is worried about what it might mean. (Some of Ross Sorkin’s colleagues, by the way,  fret that he’s too close to his CEO sources.)

In any even, he’s fairly sure that Occupy has had no effect on those folks:

Have any new regulations for banks or businesses been enacted as a result of Occupy Wall Street? No. Has there been any new meaningful push to put Wall Street executives behind bars as a result of Occupy Wall Street? No.

This is, in its own way, true. But it’s more an indictment of the political system Occupy is protesting than an indictment of the movement itself. And even the most successful political movements tend not to change the world in just one year.

Ross Sorkin also writes:

In the fall of 2011, questioning anything about the movement was not too popular. Doing so was an invitation for withering ridicule.

Ah, yes–only the brave few–himself included–were willing to criticize Occupy early on.

That’s, of course, not true. The corporate media’s initial response to Occupy was to ignore the protests. When that proved untenable, plenty of pundits lined up to ridicule and smear the activists. And, yes, some of those media voices were ridiculed–like CNN host Erin Burnett–because they didn’t know what they were talking about. Ross Sorkin comes off sounding a bit like former Times public editor Arthur Brisbane, who thought the Times “overloved” Occupy.

That idea is silly. And seeing the eagerness with which those outlets have written Occupy’s obituary makes it perfectly clear that corporate media don’t, in fact, love Occupy too much.

For a sense of what actually happened on Occupy’s anniversary–including the harsh police tactics many protesters encountered in New York City–read Bhaskar Sunkara’s piece at In These Times.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.