Protesting. Protesting what? Just protesting.

TW: anti-democratic policies, violence against protesters, racism, sexism, heterosexism

Think of the last mass protest you heard coverage of. Now try to explain what it was about. Go ahead, I’ll wait. You might not be able to even articulate exactly why the protesters did what they were doing, and why they chose a particular date, why they chose a particular venue, and all sorts of other potentially illuminating insights into their politics. Two very different incidents this week were somewhat worrisome examples of this.

You’ve probably heard about the new round of protests in Egypt following President Morsi’s pressing for changes to the judicial system that would concentrate even more power in his political office. But do those protesting really want the status quo, just without those changes? I doubt it, but that’s something apparently unfathomable for most US coverage to even consider discussing.

CNN by far has the best analysis of the recent events by any US-based news, but it’s entirely absorbed in weighing the intentions and motivations of Mohamed Morsi and his supporters, with his critics assumed to have a choice between accepting or rejecting their political proposals. Do democratic activists have an alternative view of how the country should work, or just exist in a negative space of that defined by Morsi’s and Mubarak’s regimes? According to CNN, it’s the latter. Over at MSNBC, they aren’t rejecting it, so much as challenging it. ABC is lazily reposting brief quotes from the Associated Press which agree, they’re shutting down dialogue with the Morsi government. Fox gives you the choice between being told that they’re denouncing, or reacting as a developing coalition, or simply protesting Morsi’s policies.

(All these people showed up and no one bothered to find out if they had any plans for the future of their country or ideas about how things could work differently or frankly any idea beyond disagreeing with Morsi. From here.)

Normally I’ll comfortingly explain at this point in a post that US media are inadequate and all these great foreign sources exist which can actually give you a substantive look at what the opposition wants done instead, but that’s not the case. Al-Jazeera is similarly delving into the mind of Morsi by having Egyptian supporters and opponents argue about what he’s even doing while The Hindu has essentially just reprinted Morsi’s counter-argument against the protests. Apparently no one wants to actually interview someone in Tahrir Square and ask them what alternative policies they would like to see. They just know which ones they’re protesting. From over there. Where they won’t have to talk to them.

It’s easy to see this as an example of racism – as I’ve previously elaborated on how many news sources systemically ignore key issues in predominantly Arab (or otherwise non-White) countries. But this is something that almost everyone is categorically failing at, suggesting that it’s something even more profound. It appears to be partially an unwillingness to speak with those even within the same culture who are in any sense “other” since we can see the same sort of dynamic at play in the other recent incident which unfolded along similar lines, which occurred in France.

As you might know, France is undergoing a lot of economic turmoil at the moment as part of the Eurozone, but in addition, there’s been what you could call lively social discussion over the political plan to legally recognize same-sex couples as married at some point in the next few years. Thousands of angry right wing activists marched in Paris, and at least a good number of counter-protests were staged on the same streets. Unfortunately, they came to blows, namely as feminist pro-same-sex marriage activists were targeted by right wing activists.

Anti-SSM protester pepper spraying pro-SSM protester
(This image was included along with coverage of the incident and yet France 24 published no interview or even significant analysis of any of the feminist groups involved. Image from the above article.)

In France 24’s coverage of those incidents, however, the only interviews conducted were with the conservative activists, even though the article and video are billed as being about the violence against a different group of protesters. I guess those sometimes partially nude protesters were too intimidating to talk to, so the reporters held back and let the other protesters do the talking for them.

At this point it seems like a necessary rule when reading the news: if you see any discussion on any protests anywhere by any news source based anywhere, ask which perspectives you’re getting, and which ones you’re only being told what they oppose. In those gaps in discussion you see a lot of people (usually people of color, or the poor, or women, or LGBT* folks) doing something that’s apparently inscrutable or unworthy of commentary, and there’s a whole world of that out there.

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