New post for Campus Progress:
Have you heard about how violent those Cheeseheads’ protests against Gov. Scott Walker’s bill to gut collective bargaining for public employees have been?
No? You’ve only heard that 100,000 protesters descended on Madison, Wisc., last Saturday without a single arrest, and that thousands have maintained an ongoing peaceful (though slightly smelly) occupation of the capitol?
Well, my friend, you clearly haven’t been watching Fox News Channel.
Take a look at the footage starting at around 1:42, where we see union protesters in T-shirts marching along through the palm tree-lined streets of Madison.
Wait, palm trees and T-shirts? Weren’t temperatures hovering near the teens last Saturday as the crowd of 100,000 got pounded with snow? I was there, so I can answer “yes” to that question.
Yep, Fox dug up the clip from a rally in Sacramento, as Talking Points Memo points out, then tried to pass it off as proof that violent union thugs and “professional leftists” were running things up in Madison, ostensibly in an effort to discredit the protesters and give the governor’s agenda a boost.
If you look in the upper left-hand corner of the O’Reilly clip, you can see the caption changes from “MADISON, WI” to “UNION PROTESTS,” meaning they’re not exactly lying, but they’re certainly not telling the whole truth.
This isn’t the only time Fox falsely tried to portray the protests as violent. Reporter Mike Tobin initially claimed he was “punched” in the arm by a protester, but a video later released of the incident revealed that a protester merely touched his shoulder. Immediately after Tobin claimed he was punched, however, a Fox anchor emphasized the “utter lack of civility and the harassment of reporters” in Madison.
Now, Fox’s right-wing and anti-union bias is certainly no secret—anchors all but admit it on-air. But what’s so frustrating about the O’Reilly clip is that it is no-apologies, unabashed, outright distortion of the truth.
I spent much of the last two weeks inside the state capitol, reporting for several different outlets (including this one) on the protests. I interviewed dozens of protesters inside and outside of the capitol building; I slept in a sleeping bag on the cold marble floor for multiple nights; I observed the state’s House debating the bill and ordinary Wisconsinites testifying against it; I ate more slices of pizza donated from around the world than is healthy for any human being; there were days where I spent 23 of 24 hours inside the capitol.
Never once did I encounter a shred of anything resembling violence. In fact, it was by far the friendliest protest I’ve ever attended.
There was a Midwestern niceness thick in the air in Madison. Middle-aged schoolteachers somehow managed to speak about the urgent need to strike in the same voice they would use in a Sunday church coffee hour-chat. Protesters were regularly seen chatting and joking with police officers. I saw more than one capitol occupier slap a cop on the back in jest; the officers appeared unfazed. One of the first nights of the capitol occupation, a woman with a thick Wisconsin accent entered a hallway on the third floor where I was camped out with a few others. She had a tray of homemade cookies in her hand.
“Would you like some?” she asked, her voice dripping with sweetness. “They’re vegan!”
This was the tenor of the entire protest. In fact, the only time I ever saw anything remotely confrontational (besides, of course, the drowning out of Fox reporters by chants of “Fox Lies!” signs, which turned out to be completely true) was on Feb. 19, the day that Andrew Breitbart brought around 1,000 Tea Partiers to speak in favor of the governor’s bill against the 60,000 protesters that were there that day.
I watched as a tall, muscular white man with short brown hair, holding a sign in support of Walker, repeatedly stood in the way of marching protesters with signs and musical instruments, walking up to them and chanting inches from their face. He was clearly trying to provoke the pro-union crowd. They ignored him.
I saw no violence in Madison. Quite the contrary; I saw a gigantic mass of humanity of different classes and races and occupations and ages stay completely peaceful.
Late one night in the capitol, I interviewed a young University of Wisconsin–Superior student named Taylor Tengwall. He stressed to me repeatedly that he had come to Madison because he was so angry about Walker’s bill. But upon arriving in Madison and plugging in to the protests, he was completely transformed.
“I came here so outraged and angry. So many people did. And they’ve formed something so peaceful and so meaningful,” he told me. He repeated multiple times that the protests showed him nonviolence is powerful—that there is no other way they can win.
Anyone who has spent any amount of in Madison these days—or has paid attention to the repeated statements from Madison police praising the incredibly well-behaved protesters—knows that the Wisconsin protests have been completely civil and entirely nonviolent, and that the images Fox is peddling from the state are just shy of being outright lies.
But don’t bother telling Fox that. When it comes to the facts of a massive grassroots groundswell of protesters peacefully descending on a city to stop the boldest union-busting move in three decades, they are clearly uninterested in the facts.
Micah Uetricht is a staff writer with Campus Progress.