The right to publicity
: The New York Times complains today that “police tactics mute protestors and message” — even as, without acknowledging the obvious irony, the paper gives those protestors coverage right on its front page in that story and in a picture of a protestor against something global being carried out of Madison Square Garden.
Whoa. Let’s examine the assumptions behind this: The Times assumes that if you hold a demonstration, you have some right to coverage. How come? If 10 people or 100 people gather on a street corner and shout about something, is that necessarily newsworthy? Does that mean they represent a movement with a story that needs to be heard? Aren’t there better ways to measure the size of a movement these days?
Next, this assumes that mediated media is still the right, the only way to get a message across: that a movement has to shout on that corner and get arrested before Times and TV cameras to be heard. But in this new era of emerging unmediated media — that is, the internet — this is soon to be untrue. Going to all that trouble to perhaps get five seconds on TV or five sentences in print is not going to be the most effective and efficient way to get your message across.
MoveOn and Michael Moore and the Swifties are all more effective taking their message off the streets and online.
The Times’ next assumption is that it is somehow the job of the police to help these demonstrators get publicity by letting them get close to the Garden or by waiting for cameras to arrive before arresting them if they exercise civil disobedience. Of course, that’s wrong. It’s the job of the police to protect New York and it’s important and understandable that they are doing that swiftly and efficiently — because of the experience of both terrorism and of violent anti-globalism nuts in Seattle.
Let me be clear: I’m all in favor of exercising the fullest right to free speech and protest. But as I pondered here and here, what’s fascinating me about the scene in New York this week — to my surprise — is the role of these demonstrations in a new world of unmediated media where you don’t — or soon won’t — need mainstream media as the sole pipeline to the public and where our view of friends and enemies must radically change.