This weekend, some prominent KWTV reporters and anchors proved that their necks were as red as their “9” logo, breathlessly reciting Breitbart fan fiction about the peaceful Black Lives Matter protest taking place under the shadow of Bob Mills SkyNews 9 helicopter.
“There’s antifa groups in here,” said SkyNews 9 pilot/reporter Jim Gardner during the Sunday protest. “Now, if this was a protest, why would you be wearing riot helmets, face shields and rocks in your backpack? There’s kids down here, dressed in black, they’ve got full helmets on and face shields. They’ve got shinguards, they’ve got shoulder pads, they’ve got everything dressed out and that is not a protest.”
This was provable garbage, a lie promulgated in the face of News9’s own live footage. Gardner was fully lathered in hard-right spew, blathering Fox News-style agitprop while protesters peacefully gathered below. News9 anchor Kelly Ogle tried to corroborate Gardner’s falsehoods during the coverage by saying police had “intel” on bad actors in the crowd. And as usual, Ogle’s “two cents” were overvalued.
KWTV storm chaser Alan Broerse joined the alt-right fray with a since-deleted post on Facebook.
“Okc residents … please stay home tonight … as night falls antifa has planned a much more violent confrontation,” Broerse wrote as if we were dictating a telegram to Western Union from deep inside an undisclosed, remote location. “Many peaceful protesters are going home now…leaving a core of violent individuals. Stay away from downtown … defend your home front and don’t question my source….lock it down….”
“Don’t question my source”? That is some seriously authoritarian jackboot language. Furthermore, is this the “intel” Ogle talked about on air? Broerse is a retired Oklahoma City Police Department officer who served as a member of the department’s Emergency Response Team. I am not sure on whom this reflects most poorly, News9 or OKCPD.
OpinionFrom George Lang, our lead opinion columnist
Gardner issued an apology on News9’s social media on Tuesday.
“I understand that some of the comments I made during our protest coverage have hurt people. That was never my intention,” Gardner wrote. “I’m sorry and I sure wish I would have said things differently. I can and will do better. I certainly did not mean to hurt anyone with my comments.”
But is Gardner sorry for thinking and saying things that promote division through dishonesty, or is he just sorry that people were offended?
Many other media outlets reported the truth and provided context for the protests. What we got from News9 was straight from the fever swamps. I do not know how my pets got through all the dog whistling.
Fortunately, most people carry powerful multimedia devices and were able to refute News9 at every turn, and sounder minds tried to set the record straight, including Oklahoma City mayor David Holt.
“Today’s protest and march in NE OKC was well-attended and entirely peaceful,” Holt tweeted on Sunday. “When someone defaced our Capitol, a group of people removed their shirts and began cleaning. My gratitude to the organizers and those who attended. I listened and I learned.”
Too often, I experience these feelings of abject horror over my lifelong profession, specifically over what went misreported in the days before immediate truth responses. For years, television journalism was mediated by a relatively small group of white men.
The true nature of events was blinkered, viewed through the prism of privilege. What we know about the Vietnam and Watergate era is what ABC’s Harry Reasoner and Howard K. Smith, NBC’s Chet Huntley and David Brinkley and CBS’ Walter Cronkite knew, and what they wanted us to know.
Many people in traditional media outlets still operate in a pre-social media world, one in which a few people with undeniable privilege write the history of our lives. Ogle, Gardner and Broerse all acted as though no one would ever question their coded messages about the protesters.
But not everyone has the democratic tools of social media to help correct the record. Older generations still overwhelmingly rely on television or newspapers to get their news. They do not get the corrected version of the story. And there are many people who are not as media literate, as sophisticated in their consumption, as we would like them to be. They consume 24/7 Fox News and believe COVID-19 is a hoax to destroy Donald Trump’s presidency.
That kind of information diet leaves people prone to accepting bad information and dog whistles. Using the term “antifa” itself is loaded with assumptions over who participates in protests. Savvy consumers know from the jump that Broerse’s post about how “antifa has planned a much more violent confrontation” is white-hot garbage because “antifa” is not a centralized group with any leader or structure.
In fact, the whole phenomenon of “antifa” is really about arch-conservatives demonizing people who are against fascism. It sounds foreign, like Al Queda, the better to scare grandma.
Antifa is literally a contraction for “anti-fascist.” When people like Gardner and Broerse use the term to deride people who are protesting for the right to live free without oppression, they are transitively saying they support fascism. They are “profa,” or something.
Because I am writing about the language used in media reports, I want to be clear on the definition of fascism. Merriam-Webster defines it as a “political philosophy, movement, or regime (such as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.”
I do not need a dictionary to tell me about fascism, nor should you. Trump shows us what a fascist is every time he speaks. On Monday, Trump ordered the tear-gassing and physical suppression of peaceful protesters in Washington, D.C. so he could stand in front of an Episcopal church holding a Bible for a photo opportunity. It was textbook fascism.
The next time a storm chaser, a chopper pilot, a news anchor or your racist uncle at Thanksgiving calls someone “antifa” in a derogatory tone, they, like Trump, are telling you who they are.