A news search on Google brings up 170 articles from across the nation—plus one from our friends in the United Kingdom—about yesterday's protests at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. Needless to say, no two news outlets handle the event in the same way. Many look for some figure to represent the action: the ever-juridical CNN, for example, focuses on the arrests: "Hundreds to be charged in court," reads the headline.
Most news outlets, however, can't resist the opportunity for a good old fashion us-versus-them report, and a few of them will even be so bold as to tilt their coverage in favor of one side or the other, empathizing with the police or the protestors. A Fox News affiliate in St. Paul, for example, seems to take the side of the police against the "unruly and violent" mob. There is no mistaking the tenor of the language in this report which classifies the demonstrators as "anarchists" who are "causing chaos" in the streets. For a different take, you can check out a Minnesota daily newspaper that takes up the showdown from both sides but nevertheless seems to make allegiance with the protestors. This is made clear less in the language than through the telling photograph of a lone demonstrator getting "hosed down" with pepper spray. She stands alone in the center of the image, cringing and hunched over as an intimidating line of masked police in full riot gear march at her, sticks held bent sinister across their chests. Nothing of their faces is visible behind the reflective plastic and the gas mask tube over the mouth.
However interesting it is to do this compare and contrast with national news stories, and whichever point-of-view you choose to take on the events in St. Paul, there is one very definite image that emerges from out of all the coverage, and it is best represented in these two paragraphs from the New York Times:
As the protests grew, scores of National Guard troops in riot gear and gas masks fanned out around the Xcel Energy Center, where the convention is being held, and set up a blockade about three blocks away. Police helicopters buzzed over St. Paul throughout the day. Humvees painted in fatigue green ferried water to police officers working in the 88-degree heat, and city dump trucks were used to block traffic on some streets.
At one point, a group of about 200 protesters — many wearing black bandannas across their faces and some wearing black balaclavas — roamed through downtown, shouting and chanting and throwing street signs and concrete planters in the road. At another point, a police officer grabbed one of the youths. Others wrested him away, then appeared to knock the officer to the ground. On one knee, the officer released an arc of pepper spray.
What an image! Step aside Alexis de Tocqueville, this is democracy in America.