SYNDICATED COLUMN: Coverage of the anti-NSA Protest is an Example of a New Way to Disseminate Government BS

Redirection to Water Down the Potency of Dissent

On Saturday, October 26th several thousand people gathered near the Capitol Building in Washington to protest National Security Agency spying against Americans. As juicy news, it didn’t amount to much: no violence, no surprises. Politically, it marked an unusual coalition between the civil liberties Left and the libertarian Right, as members of the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements stood side by side. But that’s not how it was framed.

The way U.S. media outlets chose to cover the march provides a fascinating window into a form of censorship they often use but we rarely notice: redirection.

The message of the marchers was straightforward. According to the British wire service Reuters, the protesters carried signs that read “Stop Mass Spying,” “Thank you, Edward Snowden” and “Unplug Big Brother.”

USA Today reported another sign —  “No NSA mass spying” — and that  marchers chanted “no secret courts” and “Hey hey, ho ho, the NSA has got to go.”

The message of the marchers was unambiguous: they demanded that the NSA stop spying on Americans, or be shut down. If the signs and the slogans and the things marchers said weren’t clear — “this isn’t about right and left — it’s about right and wrong,” USA Today quoted Craig Aaron — the group that organized the event is called “Stop Watching Us.”

Not “Keep Watching Us, Albeit With Increased Congressional Oversight.”

Stop laughing. I know, I know, no one in the history of protest marches has ever called for half-measures. U.S. Partly Out of Vietnam! Somewhat Equal Rights for Women!

Yet that’s how the media covered the anti-NSA event.

First line of USA Today‘s piece: “Thousands rallied against NSA’s domestic and international surveillance on Saturday by marching to the Capitol and calling for closer scrutiny of the agency as more details of its spying are leaked.” [My italics, added for emphasis.]

Associated Press headline: “NSA spying threatens U.S. foreign policy; protesters demand investigation of mass surveillance.”

MSNBC: “‘Stop Watching Us’ sees a chance to reform the NSA”

It is true that “Stop Watching Us” sent a letter to Congress. But there’s no way for a fluent English speaker to interpret their statement as “calling for closer scrutiny” or “reforming” the NSA. “We are calling on Congress,” the group wrote, “to take immediate action to halt this surveillance and provide a full public accounting of the NSA’s and the FBI’s data collection programs.”


“Stop Watching Us” didn’t call for “reform.” Nor did the October 26th matchers. They called for the NSA to stop spying on Americans. Some of them called for the NSA to be closed.

No one called for less than a 100% end to domestic surveillance.

USA Today lied about the rally. So did the AP. As did MSNBC.

They did it by redirecting a radical, revolutionary impulse into a moderate, reformist tendency.

The U.S. is an authoritarian police state with democratic window-dressing. Stopping NSA spying on Americans would fundamentally change the system. There’s no way the government, or its mainstream media outlets, would voluntarily give up their info trolling. What they might do, however, is “pull this back,” as Al Gore said. “I think you will see a reining in.”

Categorizing strong political views of swaths of Americans as weaker, more moderate and watered down than they really are is a relatively new tactic for American media gatekeepers. Until recently, the standard tool of the U.S. censor when confronting dissent was to ignore it entirely (c.f., the 2003 protest marches against the invasion of Iraq and the long time it took for them to cover the Occupy movement of 2011). For activist groups and protesters, this might seem like an improvement. Which is what makes it pernicious.

Getting covered by the media isn’t always better than being ignored. If your radical politics get expressed in public as moderate reformism — and you tacitly acquiesce with this misrepresentation by your silent cooperation — you’re serving the interests of the system you oppose, making it appear open to reform and reasonable, and you less angry than you really are, though neither is true.

(Ted Rall’s website is Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)



  • First of all, there is no OWS anymore. There’s no such thing, so how could “they” be there? I will say, if OWS was there — they definitely were the ones chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, the NSA has got to go.” They’ll have as much success too.

    As always, the left is full of shit. In fact, the MSM did you a favor by reporting it at all, whether or not they got it right. Bottom line, no one really cares.

    (Hey Hey Ho Ho This Web Designer Has To Go!)

  • Congratulations to Bill de Blasio, supporter of and presenter to Occupy Wall Street, on his overcoming the rule of the 1%.

    • alex_the_tired
      November 8, 2013 9:17 PM


      Sorry, but in a couple of weeks, Bill de Blasio will be just like all the other “this time it’ll be different” crowd.

      Case in point. Stop and Frisk. I suspect that the program will either end or be curtailed. As a result, the police will simply step up their game and start arresting black people for possession of drugs and guns.

      Talk to a magician. It’s the work of five minutes to teach someone how to palm a bag of weed and make it “appear” in someone’s pocket. And Bill de Blasio knows that.

      Will he go after the cops?

      Of course not. His kids, like all politicians kids, will never be hassled by the cops, and that’s all that matters.

      • I agree, DiBlasio will be corrupted. That’s what the system does. The results are interesting nevertheless, not because of him but because of what they symbolize. New Yorkers elected the leftiest possible choice. That says something about where we are now.

    • I agree with all the de Blasio naysayers.

      The model to be followed for electoral success has been advanced by Obama—promise them anything, but give them anything but.

      At some point, as people come to understand the innate fraudulence of capitalist owned elections, the compunction to vote for these parties should subsist.

      The positive outcome is that some American dreamers are waking from their decades long slumber and this development promises trouble for fraudulent promisers.

      As the government finds its propaganda system to become more apparent to the people, and as it consequently becomes less effective, the murderous psychopaths in power have been resorting to the violence with which it has imposed its control with in most of the world. The transformation of domestic police departments into military units has transformed the “land of the free” into a military occupation by The Unitary State of America under the Unitary Executive.

      Fifty years ago the assassination of JFK brought people to tears because of the broad belief that something out of national character had happened. Today, many people now see that the belief in stolen elections, totalitarian spying on citizens, assassinations, and torture by the government has become the more plausible belief and less out of the national character as we have come to know it, and the government thereby less able to present itself as somehow a noble and legitimate servant of a public good.

      The beliefs of individuals are being challenged by realities that are becoming more undeniably apparent to many. Change happens first, if it happens at all, in the minds of the citizens.

      The spirit of Occupy Wall Street still lives in those who were able to recognize its motive power when it was a presence in the deliberately abstruse-by-design corporate media.

  • alex_the_tired
    November 8, 2013 9:11 PM


    This one hit a nerve. A tired, worn-down nerve, but a nerve nonetheless.

    I wrote a really long response, and then deleted it. Good-bye to an hour of my life. And I spent about a half hour trying to write a shorter one. That’s gone too. As are the two other tries.

    The best I can offer? I don’t think my generation was ever in charge. While we were waiting for the Baby Boomers to drop dead so we could have a turn, the Internet Infants came along and wiped out the business model. In about another 10 years, they’re going to realize they can’t sleep on couches for the rest of their lives, but the damage is already done.