11/24/13

Blaming the Victims: Media Bias Against Struggling Millennials (Truthout)

Originally published by Truthout. 

Michael Corcoran
November 20, 2013

It has become a common refrain in the mainstream media: The economic problems that young people face are the product of generational laziness and a sense of entitlement. People between the ages of 16 and 24 have an unemployment rate of 16.3 percent, more than twice the national average, and an alarming 36 percent of adults age 18-31 are living with their parents.
"Word that six million young people are not working or studying comes as no surprise to anyone with a millennial in the basement," writes Jennifer Graham in an op-ed titled "A Generation of Idle Trophy Kids," for the Boston Globe. Millennials' describes, loosely, the generation born between 1980 and 2000. "It's young people who don't leave the house at all, not because they're scared like agoraphobics, but because their needs are met and they're content."
To say that Graham's article is a woeful oversimplification would be to give it way too much credit. The article is an embarrassing debacle, filled with worthless platitudes to support an argument that is insulting not only to young and poor people but to anyone who values critical-thinking skills. Graham fails to provide any serious examination of the economic conditions facing young people, and the article lacks any significant data to back up her claim that millennials are a "minimally employable crop" of slackers who lack "the motivation to provide for themselves."
She also seems to make the racist and classist assumption that all young people are white, privileged members of the middle class who have the luxury of returning to suburban homes (as opposed to, say, park benches or homeless shelters) when they lack steady employment. Conveniently, she ignores things like the fact that 57 percent of young black adults are either "near" or in "deep poverty."
It is tempting to ignore such a weak and unsubstantiated argument, but this will not do, given that the Globe's article is rather consistent with a widespread, systemic media bias against not only young people but poor and working-class people in general. The implication is unambiguous: Poor people, of all ages, are that way because they are lazy, entitled or amoral - never mind the actual economic conditions they face.
In fact, as if they were intentionally attempting to demonstrate the narrow parameters of debate that exist in mainstream media circles, even an article by a Globe editorial board member (who is a millennial) that aims to refute Graham's op-ed, manages to repeat some of its most galling weaknesses, including a notable lack of evidence to back up its claims. The rebuttal, like the original op-ed, turns what should be a serious issue - poverty among young adults - and reduces it to a few witty jokes ("we'll take responsibility for Miley Cyrus") and hipster phrases (the article concludes as such: "(drops mic) I'm out"). The article also falls into the familiar trap of assuming that all young people are privileged whites whose main priority is not finding food and shelter but having "the nice things we grew up with." This presumes of course, that all young people grew up with "suburban homes," computers, digital cable and other elements of the four-car-garage lifestyle the author describes. It might interest the Globe editorial board to know that most young people in today's world did not grow up in such decadence, and many barely scraped by and have no family support. This collection of Globearticles is basically a back-and-forth between white people discussing decidedly first-world problems.
The Globe's worthless offerings on the subject notwithstanding, there can be no doubt that the issue of the economic plight of young people is worth examining. But to do so requires a serious look at the real economic conditions young adults face and the reasons these conditions exist. Graham's article, and many others like it, generally fail to consider the context in which young people are struggling to find decent jobs, including thelong-term economic impacts of deregulation and neoliberalism pushed by state managers and wealthy elites for some three decades now, which have kept wages stagnant for people of all ages, including young people; theimpact of the 2008 economic crisis (mostly caused by people born well before 1980); the college affordability crisis; and the fact that low-wage service-sector jobs tend to be where job growth is.

Read the rest here. 

8/13/13

How Google Is Helping the Gas Lobby Support Fracking (Truthout)

Published November 15, 2013 for Truthout. 


Ads on Google have placed pro-fracking propaganda at the top of Google search results and into the middle of an important discussion on the environmental impacts of fracking. The practice raises important questions about the role of search engines in the new media world.

For more than 17 months, Robert Howarth, an ecology professor at Cornell, has had a Google problem. Howarth is the chief author of an important paper on the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a controversial method of obtaining natural gas. The paper concludes that the practice is not a clean way to extract domestic energy, as many allege, and has an even greater carbon footprint than coal. The paper's conclusions poke holes in some of the most common talking points used by supporters of fracking and made major headlines, including a large and prominently placed article in The New York Times in April 2011. Howarth, along with one of his co-authors, Anthony Ingraffea, and activist actor Mark Ruffalo, were ranked by Time as among the 100 "people who matter" in 2011.

The paper also got the attention of the gas lobby. Most notably, America's Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA). Soon after the paper was released, Howarth and others noticed a disturbing phenomenon on Google. Every time Professor Howarth's name was placed into a Google search engine, the first thing that appeared was an ad from ANGA, devoted strictly to hampering the credibility of Howarth's research. The page was listed as an ad but at a quick glance, it simply looked like the top search result. As of the time of this writing, late October, the ad still displayed that way.
The ad, and the ability of industry to use Google ads for these purposes, raises important questions about the role that Google and other prominent search engines will have on important political and scientific discourse. Do Google and other companies have a responsibility to the public to consider the way their search engine can be used to advance the interests of certain industries? This method naturally empowers wealthy industries to dominate Google search results given their massive resources and vested financial interests in the way in which science is discussed in the public sphere. And the company does ultimately answer to shareholders and not to the public at large. Given this reality, what can we expect from Google and other corporate giants of the Internet world when it comes to providing valuable information that serves the public? 

Dark Money Dominates Election (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting)

Published in the January 2013 edition of Extra!, the magazine for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.

Dark Money Dominates Election

Campaign--and media coverage--still tainted by Citizens United decision

“Super PACs may be bad for America, but they’re very good for CBS.”
CBS's president Les Moonves: What's bad for America is "very good for CBS." (Photo cred.: LATimes.com)
CBS's president Les Moonves: What's bad for America is "very good for CBS." (Photo cred.: LATimes.com)
CBS president Les Moonves’ candid comment at an entertainment law conference (Bloomberg3/10/12) was one of the few honest things said by someone so deeply involved in the post–Citizens United political ad frenzy.
This past election season was dominated by a record amount of ads, including many that were alarmingly misleading, and which raked in record profits for the media corporations who covered the election. Moonves was celebrating what, according to Bloomberg (3/10/12), was a projected boost in profits “by $180 million this year from political advertising,” far more than the last presidential election.
While fourth-quarter profits have not been announced as of this writing, the media tracking group SNL Kagan (PRWeb11/1/12) reports that “[2012] TV station political advertising revenue is expected to increase to $2.6 billion, a 68 percent increase over the 2008 total of $1.6 billion.” Other estimates have that number as high as $6 billion (New America Foundation, 11/16/12).

This trend was entirely predictable, given the record profits in the 2010 midterm elections (Extra!, 1/11), which followed on the heels of the Supreme Court decision that removed restrictions on political ad spending by corporations. In the words of the Associated Press (10/30/10), Citizensessentially constituted a “stimulus package” for broadcast and cable media corporations in 2010, which saw major increases in revenue. Much of this windfall can be attributed directly to the Citizens decision, according to SNL Kagan, which described the 2010 election climate as “a political ad revenue treasure trove for broadcasters” (Hill9/22/10).
Political ads came in three basic forms: ads officially sanctioned and paid for by candidates, ads by Super PACs—the Frankenstein’s monster of Citizens United—and ads from 501(c)4 groups, which are similar to Super PACs, but legally distinct and even less transparent. (Karl Rove’s 2012 operation included both a Super PAC and a 501(c)4.) In 2012, these outside groups were extravagant spenders, shelling out “more than $1 billion all told, about triple the amount in 2010” (New York Times11/8/12).
Many of the ads that dominated airwaves—especially from the out-side groups—were notably inaccurate. A six-month study conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center on behalf of the Center for Responsive Politics in early 2012 concluded that “campaign attack ads from outside groups are about 85 percent false” (ABC News6/22/12).
They were also more likely to focus negatively on the preferred candidate’s opponent. A report from the Wesleyan Project in May (5/2/12) found that 86 percent of interest group ads mentioned the opponent (versus 53 percent of candidate-sponsored ads). Outside groups’ ads, the Wesleyan Project found, produced nearly 60 percent of all political ads—way up from just over 3 percent of ads in the 2008 election.

Aside from the proliferation of false and negative information, the intersection between money and politics should trouble a press corp that seeks to hold the powerful accountable. Yet the toughest criticism the corporate media could muster was to portray the huge ad buys as a failed strategy. Soon after the election, the New York Times (11/8/12) ran a front-page story explaining that there was “Little to Show for Cash Flood by Big Donors” in the way of election results. The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza (11/8/12) quoted one Republican source: “Big givers [are] wondering where the money went and why Karl [Rove] was so mistaken.” The narrative was that “dark money” and big spending proved not to help the GOP win many elections.
But as Tim Karr, campaign director of Free Press, pointed out, “This does not consider the many other impacts of this money, including all the money that went to Democrats.”
“The list of dark-money beneficiaries extends from the D.C. consultants and media strategists who counseled the campaigns to the owners of television stations that raked in campaign cash and clogged the airwaves with political ads,” said Karr.
“Political influence is an industry,” Karr told Extra!. “And those in this industry are working hard to make sure it continues to grow.”
Indeed, while Barack Obama and the Democrats may have won the elections in 2012, it seems that in the Citizens United era, the real beneficiaries of political advertisements—ad agencies, D.C. consultants and media companies who rake in record profits—are poised to win every election in the coming years.

Michael Corcoran (MichaelCorcoran.blogspot.com) is a freelance journalist based in Boston. He writes frequently for Extra!, as well as for such outlets as The Nation and Boston Globe.

8/30/12

Impossible Choices? The Conservatism of "Breaking Bad"


Published at Truthout. 

This Sunday (September 2) AMC will air the final episode of part one of it's fifth and final season of "Breaking Bad," an immensely popular and critically acclaimed show about a down-on-his luck high school chemistry teacher who, after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, starts a life as a crystal methamphetamine manufacturer. The high praise of the show is largely warranted: the premise is fascinating, the photography and acting is superb and the drama intense. Some have even dared to suggest that "Breaking Bad" represents the best that modern television has to offer, even surpassing HBO's the "Wire" as the greatest show of its time. This, it must be said, is to give the show too much credit.

As entertaining as the show is, it is important to understand what it is not: a serious analysis of the drug war, the health system, middle-class drug culture or the American experience at all. In fact, the show is very much a demonstration of a very conservative worldview that posits that life is but a series of individual choices. The show, rather simply, attributes the consequences of these choices squarely on the women and (mostly) men who make them. As Chuck Klosterman wrote forGrantland, in a 2011 essay praising "Breaking Bad" as the greatest show of the modern era, the show presents a world where "goodness and badness are simply complicated choices, no different than anything else." This, he adds, is in contrast to "The Wire," where (emphasis in original) "everyone is simultaneously good and bad" and "[t]he conditions matter more than the participants."

Klosterman, in trying to explain why "Breaking Bad" is the best of the great shows of the modern era, is actually, and unwittingly, pointing out its most glaring weakness. "Breaking Bad's" biggest shortcoming is its lack of systemic analysis of the American experiment, which also happened to be the "Wire's" greatest asset. In fact, "Breaking Bad" does the exact opposite of systemic analysis; rather than focus on society's problems from a macro level, it has a laser-like focus on the micro - into the world of one unique man, with unique ambitions and morals. As a result, "Breaking Bad" teaches us a lot about one fascinating man, and almost nothing about the American experience.

"Breaking Bad" did not have to be this way. After the pilot, one could have reasonably projected that the show would serve to address the bankrupting impact of our woeful health care system. In fact, a recent essay in the Nation describes the show as being (wrongly, I would argue) about the "failed American Dream," filled with "impossible choices." "Breaking Bad," the author writes, "works to deconstruct these little fallacies that keep the poor from demanding dignity."

But this interpretation greatly overstates "Breaking Bad" as a critique of American capitalism and/or its institutions. Indeed, soon after the pilot the show quickly pivoted to something very different, and something rooted deeply in a sort of masculine, individualist conservatism. It turned out Walter White did not cook crystal meth because he could not pay his medical bills, but because he did not want to accept charity (from well-to-do friends) to pay these bills.

Using a rationale and language that conservatives must love, White would not demean himself by accepting help from others, no matter that else he must do to avoid that fate. Receiving charity in White's world, makes him weak, makes him less of a man, and is far less desirable to him than dying of cancer. The idea that he was "forced" into a life of crime does not do justice to the evolution of White into Heisenberg. White did have choices; they may not have been perfect choices, but they were not "impossible" choices, such as the ones the character's on the "Wire" faced all the time.

Read the rest, here. 

7/13/12

Little Credibility: U.S. Coverage of Iranian-Latin American Relations



Originally published for the NACLA Report on the Americas

Michael Corcoran
In January, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took a weeklong tour of Latin America. That the media seem to dismiss the tour as a joke, while at the same time ramping up fears that somehow Iranian relations in the Americas poses a security risk to the United States, only further shows how little credibility there is in the U.S. corporate media coverage of the Iranian–Latin American relation

5/9/12

The Corporate Media's Attempt to Kill the Occupy Movement (Truthout)

Originally published at Truthout.

The Corporate Media's Attempt to Kill the Occupy Movement Monday, 07 May 2012 13:15 By Michael Corcoran and Stephen Maher, Truthout | News Analysis  

"It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen." George Orwell, "1984."
This May Day brought the explosive global resurgence of Occupy, one of the most significant social movement in decades. In New York City, the heart of global capitalism and center of the movement, the New York Civil Liberties Union estimated that 30,000 demonstrators took part in a massive rally and march down Broadway, led by a score of city taxicabs. As has become alarmingly common for a country that constantly proclaims its zealous devotion to democracy, the day ended with brutal police violence and arrests.

The visible success of Occupy in creating a space for the voice of the people impelled uncontrolled thousands to pour onto the streets of New York City, Oakland, and elsewhere around the country and across the world on May Day, in the start of what US organizers have called an "American Spring." Touting its message of class solidarity--"we are the 99 percent" - Occupy has revealed the profoundly undemocratic nature of a democratic consensus expressed by corporate-sponsored political representatives, demanding direct popular involvement in areas of social and political life normally dominated by ruling class power.

The powerful rejuvenation of the Occupy movement, however, was used by the US media - owned by the very same interests that Occupy directly threatens - as an opportunity to finally kill the Occupy movement and marginalize the voices of its participants. Since September, the mainstream press in the US has systematically ignored and demonized the Occupy movement. The nakedness of the class bias in this case, however, was especially jarring: the size and significance of the protests were downplayed, reports of police brutality were largely ignored, and the movement was portrayed as violent and dangerous. Many of the most prominent US news outlets, such as The New York Times, practically ignored the protests altogether. These shameful distortions by the corporate press display the function of the media as an organ of the rule of "the 1 percent," and reveal how threatened elites are by organized, direct action and democratic participation.

Read the rest here.


Ignoring Monetary Stimulus as Economic Policy (Extra!)

Originally published at Extra!, the magazine for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting

Extra! February 2012

Ignoring Monetary Stimulus as Economic Policy
U.S. media offer austerity as nonsensical solution

By Michael Corcoran

With the United States now years into a crippling economic downturn, and Europe facing a looming economic crisis, media have been covering the economy more than any other issue. The two most recent annual reports on U.S. media coverage from the Pew Center for Excellence in Journalism (2009–10) conclude that “the No. 1 story of the year was the weakened state of the U.S. economy.”

Despite this enormous amount of coverage, corporate media present only a narrow range of possible policy prescriptions for the economic crisis. While reducing entitlement spending and otherwise cutting the deficit tend to worsen economic downturns, they have been the policy solutions the mainstream media has amplified the most (Extra!, 6/10). Meanwhile, policies that are traditionally more effective for recovery are either disparaged—the treatment given to fiscal stimulus—or, when it comes to monetary stimulus, largely ignored.

This dynamic prompted Ari Berman of the Nation (10/19/11) to ask about this “central paradox in American politics over the past two years”:
How, in the midst of a massive unemployment crisis—when it’s painfully obvious that not enough jobs are being created and the public overwhelmingly wants policymakers to focus on creating them—did the deficit emerge as the most pressing issue in the country? And why, when the global evidence clearly indicates that austerity measures will raise unemployment and hinder, not accelerate, growth, do advocates of austerity retain such distinction today?


The answer, Berman argued, is that the media narrative has been dominated by an “austerity class” made up of Washington pundits, politicians and think tanks with a shared interest in redirecting government finances to the corporate private sector. From the point of view of these advocates for the 1 Percent, the most effective way to revive the economy—restoring lost demand by increasing the supply of money and putting it in the hands of the poor and middle-class people most likely to spend it—is also the worst way. And so, in the corporate media discussion, monetary stimulus remains safely off the table.


Read the rest here.

2/1/12

Uygur out at MSNBC (Extra!)

Extra! November 2011

Uygur Out at MSNBC
Another progressive show canceled for political reasons

By Michael Corcoran

When talkshow host Cenk Uygur announced that his short tenure at MSNBC had come to an end due to his criticism of “those in power” (Young Turks, 7/20/11), it highlighted an unsettling pattern at the channel.

Uygur’s ouster represented the third time in recent years that a show hosted by someone with progressive ideals and a willingness to challenge the status quo was canceled, despite good ratings. In January of this year Keith Olbermann, well known for his public disputes with right-wing figures, was terminated by MSNBC, just after control of the channel was sold by General Electric to Comcast (Extra!, 3/11). In 2003, during the run-up to the Iraq War, Phil Donahue (one of the few elite media members to openly oppose the invasion) was taken off the air due, a leaked memo would reveal, to his antiwar views (FAIR Action Alert, 3/7/03).

Uygur, who began hosting MSNBC Live in the 6 p.m. weeknight slot in January, said he was warned before his show was cancelled by MSNBC president Phil Griffin that his aggressive style did not reflect MSNBC’s role as a reputable establishment outlet, and that he needed to “tone it down.”

“Outsiders are cool—but we’re insiders, we’re the establishment,” Uygur says Griffin told him (Salon, 7/21/11). “There are two audiences. There is the audience you are trying to appeal to, the viewers. And there is management. And management is basically the club. And they want to make sure that you are cool—can play ball with the club.”

His bosses also told him that “people in Washington were concerned about [his] tone,” Uygur said, and even sent him notes asking him to “act more like a senator.”

Ignoring this advice, Uygur saw his ratings consistently increase; his show, he said, consistently beat its 6 p.m. competition on CNN. But ratings clearly aren’t everything at MSNBC: In June his show was axed.

MSNBC took a drastic ratings hit following the removal of Olbermann, whose replacement, Lawrence O’Donnell, lost about 35 percent of the viewers in the advertiser-coveted 25-to-54 age group. The weak lead-in ratings have also hurt Rachel Maddow’s ratings at 9 p.m., which are down 15 percent, and have put the channel “on the verge of falling back into third place among the cable news networks,” the New York Times (9/27/11) reported.

Uygur was offered a reduced role as a weekend and fill-in host that would have paid him twice as much money, but he declined the offer (Democracy Now!, 7/22/11).

Griffin took issue with Uygur’s account, telling the New York Times that (7/20/11) “we never told Cenk what to say or what not to say.” (Uygur acknowledges that he was never directly censored, just pressured to conform.) But in the same article, Griffin acknowledged he did, as Uygur alleged, reference “people in Washington” having negative views of the show.

“The ‘people in Washington,’ [Griffin] said, were MSNBC producers who were responsible for booking guests for the 6 p.m. hour, and some of them had said that Mr. Uygur’s aggressive body language and overall demeanor were making it harder to book guests.”

But given MSNBC’s past record in similar instances, Uygur’s accusations seem quite plausible. After Donahue’s show was canceled in 2003, a network memo leaked out (FAIR Action Alert, 3/7/03) saying the host’s antiwar views presented a “difficult public face for NBC in a time of war.... He seems to delight in presenting guests who are antiwar, anti-Bush and skeptical of the administration’s motives.” The show, the memo said, could become “a home for the liberal antiwar agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity.”

Olbermann’s firing came just after NBC was purchased by Comcast (Extra, 3/11). The host had come to represent the channel’s reputation as the most liberal option on cable news. He had long drawn the ire of the corporate executives he answers to at NBC, and a few months before his firing, he was briefly suspended for making political donations to guests (Guardian, 11/5/10). Olbermann had also raised hackles at the network for his constant spars with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, which prompted Fox News and NBC officials to attempt to muzzle their stars from further back-and-forth attacks (FAIR Action Alert, 8/7/09).

Fears that Comcast—whose executives have prominently donated large amounts to conservative campaigns and causes—would make the network even more inhospitable to progressive voices have hardly been allayed by Uygur’s cancellation. As Lee Fang of Think Progress (11/5/10) reports, Comcast also has a motive for avoiding antagonizing the incumbent administration:

Why would Comcast be interested in silencing progressive voices? Histori-cally, Comcast has boosted its profits by buying up various telecommunication and media content companies—instead of providing faster Internet or better services.... Many of these mergers, as Public Citizen and Free Press have reported, have been allowed by regulators because of Comcast’s considerable political muscle. Com-cast’s latest regulatory battle has been to oppose net neutrality—a rule allowing a free and open Internet—because the company would prefer to have customers pay for preferred online content.


Unlike Donahue, Uygur could not be accused of promoting a “liberal antiwar agenda”; he supported the Afghan War until very recently (Huffington Post, 12/1/09) and supported Obama’s decision to bomb Libya as part of a NATO campaign (Truthout, 6/3/11).

Uygur was, however, frequently quite critical of Obama, especially in his dealings with Republicans on economic and environmental issues. Before being given his own show, he suggested that Obama was either “the world’s worst negotiator” or might actually “not be a progressive” (Dylan Ratigan Show,12/8/10). When the White House lashed out at progressives who were critical of the administration in the run-up to the 2010 midterm elections, saying they were “irresponsible,” Uygur responded angrily, saying Obama lives “in a bubble in D.C. where you try to please all your Washington buddies, the right-wingers and the media” (Early Morning Swim, 9/29/10), and accused him of trying to “scapegoat his own base” for a poor showing in 2010.

As a full-time host, he continued his attacks on Obama. Uygur said Obama passed a weak financial regulation bill in June because he didn’t want “to offend the Wall Street guys,” in part because he “takes their money” (MSNBC Live, 6/2/11). He also criticized the president for legitimizing Bush administration surveillance tactics, such as the warrantless wiretapping program (MSNBC Live, 6/2/11): “As a former constitutional law professor, he should be embarrassed of that decision. That program basically destroys the Fourth Amendment.”

Could Comcast have been unsettled by such critiques from the left? Former presidential candidate Al Sharpton, who replaced Uygur, recently vowed “not to criticize the president about anything” in an interview with 60 Minutes (5/19/11). The segment also noted that Sharpton was now “a trusted White House adviser” and that “given his loyalty and his change from confrontational to accommodating, the administration is rewarding him with access and assignments.”

Interestingly, Current TV, which hired Olbermann earlier this year to host a nightly news program, has recently hired Uygur to bring his popular Internet show, the Young Turks, to cable TV (Current TV, 9/20/11). While the young channel has only a tiny fraction of the audience that MSNBC gets, its willingness to collect talentMSNBC deems too anti-establishment could steal away some of the very viewers the psuedo-left channel is trying to target.

Michael Corcoran (MichaelCorcoran.blog spot.com), a freelance journalist based in Boston, writes frequently for Extra!, as well as for such outlets as the Nation and the Boston Globe.

11/20/11

Michael Corcoran on Ring of Fire Radio discussing 'Democrats and the Death of Keynesian Economics'


Note: I am having some trouble with the embed feature on YouTube. To watch it please click on the above link, or you watch it on the Ring of Fire website, here.

11/15/11

Smear Campaigns Fuel Shutdowns of Occupations Across Country

Originally posted at Truthout


by: Michael Corcoran, Truthout | News Analysis

An Occupy Wall Street protester is detained following an attempt to re-enter Zuccotti Park, in New York on November 15, 2011. Hundreds of police officers arrested about 200 demonstrators early Tuesday in an operation to clear the nearly two-month-old camp. (Photo: Todd Heisler / The New York Times)

City officials in Burlington, Vermont, recently used the suicide of a 35-year-old man as an excuse to deceptively close down the occupation. In New York City, just this morning, police threatened arrest to anyone who did not clear Zuccotti Park - the birthplace of the Occupy movement. Across the nation the media, right-wing critics and city officials are wrongly blaming Occupy for seemingly any crime or incident that occurs anywhere in their respective cities in an especially sinister smear campaign that aims to discredit and ultimately try to destroy the movement. Other occupations are in jeopardy of being shut down by the police. Organizers and supporters must act bravely and quickly to save - and expand - this movement as we head into the dead of winter.

A new and vicious smear campaign against the Occupy movement is in full swing. The narrative of this campaign is to portray the movement as a hotbed for violent crime and danger. This false narrative, if it sticks, could prompt more city and town officials across the country to shut down occupations, as the City of New York has attempted to do just this morning, and weaken the movement. This cannot be tolerated.

The full picture of the smear campaign became evident to me when I received a message on a social networking site from a right-wing relative of mine. His message linked to a right-wing smear site [3] that, citing the suicide of a 35-year-old homeless man in Vermont among other things, painted the occupations as one of "sexual assault, violence, vandalism, anti-Semitism, extortion, perversion and lawlessness."

My relative and many of his right-wing comrades, it seems, really believe that the Occupy movement is in favor of murder, violence, rape and drug dealing. This is rather astounding, but it is also the reality of how far beneath contempt the opponents of Occupy are willing to go to kill this movement. The mention of "sexual assaults" is especially slimy, given that it was a protester from Occupy Wall Street [4] who was the victim, not the perpetrator, of an alleged rape and her fellow protesters assisted her with medical and legal help and reported the alleged rapist to authorities.

It is fascinating - as well as scary - to see the way attacks on Occupy have evolved since it first started in late September. Originally, the media coverage and the right-wing attacksattempted to portray the protesters [5] as aimless, lazy, hippie freeloaders, who were fornicating and defecating on the streets, while banging on drums and rambling about nonsense. This caricature did not work, as the support and diversity that make up the movement and its supporters were just too obviously different from the cartoonish portrayal the movement's critics tried to paint. As Bill Maher rightly said on his HBO show "Real Time," "Occupy is not the counterculture. It is the culture [6]."

Take back the media by making a tax-deductible donation to Truthout this week. Click here to support news free of corporate influence. [7]

But, now, this new and far more sinister smear campaign is well underway. The corporate media, right-wing critics and city and town officials are trying to blame the protests for virtually any and all crime that has occurred on or near the encampments. The headlines in the media outlets - which are owned by corporations [8] that make up the 1 percent in most instances - continue to amplify these narratives and push for the closing of the occupations. The vast majority of these crimes and incidents have nothing to do with the Occupy movement; in fact, many of them speak more about the major social and economic injustices the protesters are trying to end. But that has not stopped city officials from trying to use these instances to stop the occupations. The occupation in Burlington, Vermont, has already been shut down. Occupy Oakland has been shut down twice. Zuccotti Park, the birthplace of the movement, is being cleared out by police as I write this [9]. And if the false narratives continue, other occupations - and the strength of the movement - could be in jeopardy.

This is now a crucial moment for the Occupy movement. How organizers and supporters proceed in the next few days may well shape the health and survival of the movement heading through the winter and into the spring. It is absolutely essential that Occupy organizers and supporters (including independent media) work aggressively to: 1) counter the false narrative that tries to, absurdly, link the movement to street violence, rapes and drugs deals, in order to discredit the movement; 2) better explain the relationship between the homeless and the Occupy movement, as the media has portrayed the relationship between organizers and the homeless as vitriolic and divisive, while understating the spirit of acceptance and cooperation between activists and the homeless - themselves products of our unjust economic system; and 3) most importantly, the movement must continue tomaintain the occupations, even in the face of crackdowns from city officials and police. This movement is the single most exciting development in decades for the prospects for creating a more just society. It must continue.


Read the rest here.