From time to time, or in China’s case all the time, governments ask the media to keep something quiet and that’s called a media blackout. Sometimes its practice is arguably good. For example, back in 2005 when all the transit workers went on strike in New York, both the labor union leadership and the city government persuaded the media to try to focus on other things in order to keep contract negotiations from getting too jammed up with politics. If it were just the city pushing for a blackout, I’d agree with you that that would have been arguably bad, but the union wanted it too. Given that New Yorkers weren’t sympathetic to the MTA, I can appreciate their position.
A few years later, Prince Harry was able to serve in his military thanks to a media blackout on his doing that, until the Australians had a slow news day and blew his cover.
But thanks to smartphones, Twitter, Youtube and the like, with the flow information so decentralized, it’s grown increasingly difficult to implement an effective media blackout for even a short period of time over something incendiary, the increasingly inevitable blowback for colluding in blackouts may make them a thing of the past soon (talking about the voluntary versions in the US). You already know this, but it’s Sunday and I get to sort of think out loud and hit publish on Sunday.
So over the past few weeks or so a bunch of hippies have taken it upon themselves, with help from Michael Moore and the hacker group Anonymous, to cause a protracted ruckus down in Wall Street and the surrounding areas. They don’t seem to have an articulable cause, no singular mission, just the usual anti-fat cat populism. They were confused why they weren’t getting much media coverage given the commotion they had been creating and cried media blackout, and though I can imagine good reasons to issue or cooperate in some sort of blackout like this, I think a more probable explanation is that this just didn’t bleed enough to lead.
All was going well with this alleged blackout until an NYPD Deputy Inspector known as Tony Baloney got excited and couldn’t resist blasting some young girls with pepper spray who were relatively calm and effectively subdued, contained in a police crowd control net, at the time of the strike. Between his actions and his funny name, and that he was a high ranking policeman, John Stewart and the rest of media which had either agreed to some sort of blackout or judged this whole story as not that sexy a story in the first place couldn’t resist and ran the Youtube clips and Youtube clips of other people running Youtube clips.
The aerosol spritz heard ‘round the world. Tony, age 57, got these girls pretty good, point blank:
So, Tony effectively sprayed the lid off of the blackout and got them their media coverage, the ever-helpful Michael Moore smelled blood, though a byproduct of the protestor leadership harnessing the incident and the media rolling with it is that the protests have now shifted from being mainly anti-fat cat in general to hippies versus the NYPD. That’s unfortunate for the cops and the hippies. The coverage they seem to be getting is about how rudderless they are (but maybe that’s post-blackout spin).
But where did I first read the term media blackout? Of all places, Mainland China’s state-run China Daily through Google News, US Media Blackout of Protest Is Shameful by a Mr. Chen Weihua, blowing the whistle on what he’s convinced is a media blackout. Mr Weihua, apparently stationed in New York, not unlike many of his colleagues has devoted most of his journalistic juice into criticizing the United States. One might call him a company man or a patriot if he keep this up. He stops short in this article of offering what he suspects to be the logistics of the blackout, including who may have been behind it, though implies the collusion of American corporation and politics as playing a roll.
It’s hard not to enjoy the irony of a Chinese state-run publication (is that redundant? 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…) accusing us vaguely of a shameful media censorship to suppress populism. Keep it coming Chen Weihua! Meanwhile I’ll keep reading your work, but how about an RSS feed? Are those legal over there? I’ll tell you what was quickly made illegal over there, covering that high-speed train crash. But I’m sure the Chinese had their reasons, not going to judge.
Oh right, the hashtag for all you troublemakers who want to vilify the cops, shut down bridges and block traffic (which generally isn’t helpful for the economy, but whatever), to make clever posters, to play hacky-sack and join in some drum circles, to get into some Michael Moore documentary, to pick up loose women and score some weed and sandwiches is #OccupyWallStreet. Have a blast, kids … of pepper spray!
And for Pete’s sake stop blocking traffic. I hate that. Seriously.