Apr 11 2000

Media Distortion of World Bank/IMF Protests Starts Early

Mainstream media have begun to turn their attention to Washington, D.C., andthe Mobilization for Global Justice, a week-long series of protestscoinciding with the meetings of the World Bank and International MonetaryFund (IMF) scheduled for April 16 and 17. Many of the stories draw parallelsbetween the events in D.C. and the World Trade Organization (WTO) protestsin Seattle last year (“Seattle Protesters Are Back, With a New Target, “New York Times, 4/9/00).

But recent TV news broadcasts have distorted or omitted basic facts aboutthe upcoming protests. On April 6, ABC World News Tonight aired a storyabout people arriving for an “unusual demonstration” focused on “Americantrade relations with China.” The broadcast never even mentioned the widertargets of the protest: the World Bank and the IMF.

On the same night, CBS Evening News presented a report loaded withinaccuracies. Anchor Dan Rather opened by warning protesters that “ifthey’re hoping for a replay of last year’s violence in Seattle, thosecharged with keeping the peace in Washington, D.C., have other ideas.”

The report continues with this distortion of the Seattle protests: “By allaccounts, protesters outside last December’s meeting of the World TradeOrganization in Seattle simply got the better of police.”

That conclusion is certainly not the consensus of “all accounts.” Thefirsthand accounts of activists and bystanders alike depicted a police forcein Seattle remarkable for its brutality, not its inadequacy. It is doubtfulthat many activists who were beaten or gassed at the WTO protests feel they”got the better” of the police force. (See “Pepper Spray Gets in Their Eyes:Media missed militarization of police work in Seattle,” Extra!, 3-4/00,www.fair.org/extra/0003/pepper-spray.html.)

Nonetheless, the idea that protesters are interested in creating violence isreinforced later in the broadcast, where correspondent Jim Stewartincorrectly asserts that activists are “practicing urban assault techniques”in preparation for the protests. Ironically, moments later the reportfeatures Ruckus Society program director Han Shan advocating non-violence.

The media focus on the potential for “violence” by the D.C. protestersreflects a rewriting of what actually happened at Seattle. The New YorkTimes (4/9/00) was typical when it referred to “the unrest in Seattle, wherea rare alchemy of violence and vandalism by a small group of anarchistsbotched crowd control.”

In fact, police began using chemical agents against non-violent protesterslong before a handful of WTO opponents engaged in window-breaking. (See”Prattle in Seattle,” Extra!, 1-2/00, www.fair.org/extra/0001/wto-prattle.html.) Media accounts haveconsistently reversed the chronology, however, blaming the police violenceon the vandals, who in fact were largely ignored by police. The vastmajority of violence– which is a different thing than vandalism– wascommitted in Seattle by the Seattle police department.

ACTION: Please contact these media outlets in the next few days, andencourage them to cover the protests against the World Bank and IMF fullyand fairly. You might suggest that they begin by including the views ofanti-World Bank and IMF activists on issues other than the potential forviolence.

CONTACT:CBS Evening NewsPhone: (212) 975-3691, (202) 457-4385Fax: (212) 975-1893audsvcs@cbs.com

ABC World News TonightPhone: (212) 456-4040Fax: (212) 456-4297netaudr@abc.com

New York TimesWashington, DC BureauFax: (202) 862-0340harland@nytimes.com

For background on the protests, please visit www.a16.org .

Independent media coverage of the protests will be featured at www.indymedia.org.