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<nettime> There's a storm brewing in Seattle.
Milan Stevanovich on Wed, 15 Dec 1999 18:33:50 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> There's a storm brewing in Seattle.

There's a storm brewing in Seattle.

An AP dispatch talks about citizens' anger at police abuse in that
much-abused city. Our writer argues that the AP report is itself an
example of abuse: media distortion, a grave threat to democracy. 

Misleading From the Start
by Jared Israel (posted 12-10-99)

[Note from www.emperors-clothes.com Readers are encouraged to distribute
this article but please do so in full, with credit to emperors-clothes.com.
Thank you.]

On December 9, AP issued a news report about a stormy City Council meeting
in Seattle. I read this AP dispatch quickly but it bothered me so I read
it again, and then once more, carefully, and found what seemed to be a
deliberate effort at misinformation. (Either deliberate or these guys got
very lucky.) 

Let's look at the AP piece together. 

It begins with the following headline: "Seattle Police Actions Questioned" 

Studies of how people read newspapers confirm what common sense suggests:
if a group of people are given a newspaper, some will look at a particular
headline and some won't; a smaller number will read the first paragraph of
the article but no more; an even smaller number will read the second
paragraph and so on, with more and more dropping away as they move toward
the end. 

Even for those who read the entire text, the headline has a big impact. It
lingers in the imagination, suggesting a certain tone, coloring the story. 

What about this particular headline: "Seattle police actions QUESTIONED"? 
(my capitals) 

What does "QUESTIONED" suggest? 

Don't we use the verb "to question" to administer a mild rebuke? For
example, would you say, "I questioned the mugger's right to break my
wife's jaw"? Would you say, "The policeman pulled off the non-violent
protester's gas mask, sprayed pepper gas in his face at point-blank range
and rubbed it into his eyes. I questioned his behavior"? 

By saying police behavior is being "questioned", the headline sets a
gentle tone. It suggests that people may be concerned but not terribly
upset. I'm OK, you're OK, everybody's friends. 

The first paragraph continues along these lines, creating a gentle

"DETRACTORS far outnumbered defenders of police at a special City Council
meeting on the handling of protests surrounding the World Trade
Organization meeting." (My capitals.) 

"Detractors" and "Defenders" - nice, very balanced. What's a detractor, by
the way? Isn't a detractor a gentle critic? 

For example, mightn't one say: "Her detractors commented that she was too
old for that outfit." But mightn't one be viewed askance (perhaps even
questioned) if one said: "Charles Manson's detractors thought he should
have been executed." 


People generally read news stories to satisfy their curiosity. But what is
left to wonder after this first paragraph? Doesn't it suggest that nothing
much happened at the City Council? 

It does. The suggestion is false. Reading on, we are informed that: 

"Kathy Cado, alarmed that her husband had been tear-gassed on his way home
from work, told the hearing she ventured to the city's embattled Capitol
Hill neighborhood last week to witness for herself the clash between
protesters and police. 

"'What I saw was as frightening as anything I've ever seen in my life,'" 
Cado said. "It was a cross between Star Wars and Tiananmen Square." 

"At the hearing that drew an overflow crowd Wednesday, Cado and others
described police officers indiscriminately tossing tear gas canisters at
not only the demonstrators they were trying to disperse, but also at
residents out shopping, dining and walking their dogs... 

"Speakers particularly took police to task for their actions the night of
Dec. 1 in the Capitol Hill neighborhood east of downtown - first for
forcing demonstrators in that direction from downtown, and then taking
aggressive actions that included firing tear gas and pepper spray. 

"'I basically think they were treating residents of Capitol Hill like
animals,' said Clark Pickett." (AP dispatch) 

"As frightening as anything I've ever seen in my life" - ?! 

Would you describe Cathy Cado's remarks as "questioning" the police? Is
Clark Picket a "detractor"? What's going on here? Is the AP scrambling
stories? Mix and match? Did they take the headline and first paragraph
from the report on a ruckus over Christmas tree lights at a Seattle-area
PTA and stick them on the City Council piece? 

Let's do some editing, change a word here, a word there and voila, here's
the headline and the first paragraph: 

"Seattle Residents Denounce Police" 

"Attackers far outnumbered defenders of police at a special City Council
meeting on the handling of protests surrounding the World Trade
Organization meeting." 

Isn't that better? Doesn't it suggest what actually happened? 


By using the inaccurate opening, the AP sends busy readers away with
impressions diluted. Remember, readers tend to skim news articles, not
study them. They will recall the mild tone of the headline and opening
paragraph;  if they read further they may remember that some people were
upset but that impression will be tempered by the first impression, of
mild criticism. The contradictory impressions will tend to cancel. 


As if to further dilute readers' awareness that Seattle residents are
furious at police, the AP (writer? editor?) has inserted the following
sentence in the text: 

"The National Guard was called in and a curfew was imposed AFTER some
protesters smashed windows and slashed tires on police cars." (my

I call this "Editorial Guidance". It's often found in important news
stories. I've written a lot about NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia and
occupation of Kosovo and I have seen a good deal of "editorial guidance"
in newspaper articles about Serbia, wherein some accusation of Serbian
brutality is mandatory, especially if the article concerns Albanian
violence against Serbs and "Gypsies"; some guiding phrase must be added to
remind readers that such attacks are "revenge for earlier Serbian

The point of "editorial guidance" is to orient readers for a proper
information experience by protecting them from conclusions that might
follow, helter skelter, from mere fact. For example, there are many news
reports of Albanians murdering aged Serbian women, children, non-Serbs who
speak languages that sound Serbian, and even one story reporting Albanian
demands that a dog be put to death because it was (I kid you not) Serbian
as opposed to Albanian(?!). 

Now, presented with such raw info, an unguided mind might wander into
inappropriate areas such as:"Maybe these Albanians are anti-Slav racists." 
The next thing you know our reader is mired in SPECULATION: "If the Serbs
are all bad and the Albanians are all good and NATO bombed Yugoslavia to
forge multiethnic peace - why, since NATO conquored Kosovo, has there been
5 months of unmitigated violence against Serbs?" This kind of thinking
will get you nowhere since it calls into question the whole NATO
experience;  therefore stories about Albanian terrorism must include
reminders that such mysterious attacks (such as, let us say, the
strangling of a 95 year old Serbian woman in her bath or the driving of
30,000 residents from an immense housing complex in Pristina after which
the apartments are sold or rented to UN employees) are "revenge for the
brutal policies of Milosevich's forces during the NATO bombing." This
makes everything clear and citizens of the Western democracies can eat
their MacFood in peace and leave the thinking to machines. 

The Seattle protesters have been getting a dose of the Serbian treatment: 
demonization through "editorial guidance." In their case, the guiding
phrase is "police action which followed vandalism and looting by some
protesters" - or words to that effect. This aids folks to a
properly-seated view, like a gentle laxative: "The police may have been
occasionally overzealous but stop whining at least they're out there
risking their necks defending democratic values against marauding punks
who got what they deserved try pulling that crap in some country where
there ISN'T free speech!" 


If the AP is right, if police were only responding to violent protesters
"after some protesters smashed windows and slashed tires on police cars" 
then here is the $64 question: why aren't the local people mad at the
protesters? The AP dispatch notes that: 

"More than 100 people signed up to speak at the [City Council] meeting,
which began at 4 p.m. and lasted until 11. Hundreds of people who couldn't
fit in to the hearing room initially stood outside in the rain, and a
speaker was hooked up to allow them to listen....THE CROWD APPEARED TO
HEAVILY FAVOR THE DEMONSTRATORS (AP dispatch, our capitals.) 

Having no source of information but the mass media, many regular folks
outside Seattle believe the "the-police-were-only-responding" line. But
what about the local Seattle people? These are regular folks too, that is,
people with a variety of opinions concerning the WTO, people who have the
MOST reason to be upset by the disruption of their city - why, as the AP
reports, do these people "heavily favor the demonstrators?" 

Indeed, isn't "heavily FAVOR the demonstrators" an AP evasion? Shouldn't
that phrase be rewritten? Shouldn't the AP have said the local people are
"heavily FURIOUS at the police?" Indeed, isn't this precisely what Seattle
citizens were quoted saying in this same AP dispatch? That they were
"treated like animals" by police; that police "indiscriminately" gassed

Somebody should tell the AP: This isn't a baseball game. The local people
aren't "favoring" one side. The local people are rising up against what
they saw being done to the protesters and what they experienced being done
to themselves, by an outrageous abuse of police power. 

The AP statement that police only acted after demonstrators attacked does
not derive from the evidence presented in the AP story; rather it is
presented to undermine the factual evidence. 


The website I work on, www.emperors-clothes.com , had a reporter in
Seattle.  Jim Desyllas did not go there expecting a police attack. But
when the police did attack, he observed them for almost two days. 

He, and everyone else who was in downtown Seattle at the time, knows that
the police started the violence. 

Not only started it but continued to provoke it, brutalizing non-violent
protesters and leaving the violent ones alone. Moreover, when the police
had a group of about 100 people reliably throwing things, they herded this
group around the city, providing plenty of photo-ops for the media. 

Here's Jim: 

"A number of times they had these 100 or so protesters caught between
buildings and walls of police. They could easily have arrested and
detained this small number of people and gotten it over with. Instead they
would gas them and let them go. Then trap them again, gas them again, and
again let them go...The police were using these people as extras. It was
staged. I believe also the police had their own people in there,
encouraging people to break stuff - if people think I may be exaggerating,
I saw supposed protesters - they were screaming and so on - and then
later, when everything was over, the same people tackled other protestors
and put handcuffs on them." ("Collateral Damage in Seattle", See Note # 1
at end) 


One last point about the AP dispatch. Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper
has resigned. This is an interesting development, worth discussing. His
obvious reason for resigning is that many Seattle residents blame him for
last week's police brutality. In addition, some people have suggested that
he may be resigning because the violence was actually orchestrated by
Federal agents - FBI, CIA, Department of Defense - and that he (and other
local Seattle pols) are being used as a fall guy. In other words, that his
resignation is a kind of protest. Either way, his resignation is a
response to the outcry against police brutality. 

The AP mentions Stamper's resignation in the dispatch. Look how they
handle it: 

"In the wake of the disruption, Police Chief Norm Stamper announced his
retirement this week." (Our emphasis) 

"In the wake of the disruption"? This sentence would only make sense if
Chief Stamper were resigning for failing to stop protesters from
disrupting the city. In fact he's being criticized for using excessive
violence, not for failing to prevent disruption. 

Some people have said that the kind of police tactics used in Seattle are
the greatest threat to democracy in our country. I look at it differently.
I think the amazingly uniform duplicity of the media is the greatest
threat to democracy. For how can people make decisions, how can they
oppose police state tactics, if they are fed a diet of lies? 

I believe that exposing the lies of the mass media is an act of love for
this country and the whole planet. Only by knowing the truth can we be


Note # 1 - For Jim Desyllas' account of what he saw on the streets in
Seattle, please click on Collateral Damage in Seattle or got to

Note # 2 - www.emperors-clothes.com has a number of articles that deal
with media distortion. Three writers who focus on this question are Diana
Johnstone, Jared Israel and Phil Hammond. To read their writing, click on
Articles by Author or go to http://www.emperors-clothes.com/artbyauth.html
and then click on either J, I or H. (Some of Diana's and Jared's articles
aren't yet posted in this section, but there's plenty on the topic.) 

If you would like to browse articles from Emperors-Clothes.com, click here
Or go to: http://www.emperors-clothes.com

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