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Published on Thursday, April 13
Protests In Washington Clash With Media Spin
by Norman Solomon
 
Converging on the nation's capital in mid-April, thousands of protesters set out to do more than simply disrupt high-level meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Demonstrators were eager to help build a movement for economic justice that can prevail over those powerful institutions. But America's mainstream news outlets were ill-positioned to shed much light on the underlying issues.

The standard media lexicon is filled with buzzwords that snap together as neatly as Leggo plastic blocks. Terms like "economic reform," "free markets" and "eliminating trade barriers" appear with such frequency and assurance that they seem to be noting the only rational economic path for less-developed countries. In reporting on the World Bank and the IMF, as well as the kindred World Trade Organization, familiar media jargon has long depicted the wisdom of their "reform" edicts as a no-brainer.

What's implicit in a lot of news coverage often becomes explicit in punditry. For example, when the nation's two biggest news weeklies reported on the demonstrations against the WTO in Seattle a few months ago, the magazines only published fervent pro-WTO commentaries to put it all in perspective. Newsweek's sole opinion piece on the subject came from Fareed Zakaria, managing editor of Foreign Affairs, who decried "a disparate and motley crew of protesters" while bemoaning "the carnival tactics of a small but effective minority."

Meanwhile, both of Time's commentaries lauded the WTO and belittled the protesters. Under the headline "Return of the Luddites," Charles Krauthammer mocked what he called the "kooky crowd" protesting in Seattle -- "one-world paranoids"; "apolitical Luddites, who refuse to accept that growth, prosperity and upward living standards always entail some dislocation"; and "the leftover left." Krauthammer's essay was typeset around a photo of union activists protesting the WTO. The caption repeated one of his epithets: "Kooky Crowd."

That sort of media invective was in the cards for the demonstrations in Washington. On April 11, as a warm-up, the Wall Street Journal began its lead editorial with the declaration that protesters "will be bringing their bibs and bottles to the nation's capital this week to have a run at the annual spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank." In the next sentence the newspaper labeled the array of expected protesters "a smorgasbord of save-the-turtles activists, anarchists, egalitarians, Luddites and Marxists."

The editorial went on to describe the D.C. demonstrations as "an anti-trade festival." It's a distortion that commonly makes its way into news stories. But protesters against the IMF and World Bank have not taken to the streets in opposition to "trade" any more than those who fought to outlaw slavery were against work.

"We are not against trade," says former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, "we are not against free trade, but our fear is that the global market intends to annihilate our markets. We will be pushed to the cities, to eat food grown on factory farms in distant countries, food whose price depends on the daily numbers game" of the global marketplace.

In a new book, "Eyes of the Heart," Aristide explains that the austerity programs championed by the IMF and World Bank offer "a choice between death and death" in poor countries. For instance: "Haiti, under intense pressure from the international lending institutions, stopped protecting its domestic agriculture while subsidies to the U.S. rice industry increased. A hungry nation became hungrier."

On a planet with half of the population -- 3 billion people -- living on less than two dollars a day, Aristide writes, "the statistics that describe the accumulation of wealth in the world are mind-boggling. ... Behind this crisis of dollars there is a human crisis: among the poor, immeasurable human suffering; among the others, the powerful, the policy makers, a poverty of spirit which has made a religion of the market and its invisible hand. A crisis of imagination so profound that the only measure of value is profit, the only measure of human progress is economic growth."

Often, major U.S. media and foes of corporate globalization seem to be speaking entirely different languages. Journalists and their usual sources like to talk about "economic growth" and "opportunity." But the protesters gathered in Washington to demand "global justice."

Norman Solomon is a syndicated columnist. His latest book is "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media."

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