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The mainstream media distorted our protests against the Vietnam War fifty years ago. They follow the same strategy today: Mondoweiss

Fifty years ago, I was one of many thousands of students and others who regularly participated in nationwide protests against the Vietnam War. I was arrested twice; the second time, in August 1972, we disrupted Richard Nixon’s renomination at the Republican Convention in Miami, and I was one of more than a thousand demonstrators trapped in the Dade County Stockade just days later.

What is striking is that the mainstream media’s current efforts to smear the pro-Palestinian student protests are so eerily similar to the way we were vilified at the time. Here’s the current strategy, clearly visible on TV news and in more highbrow channels like the New York Times and the Atlantic Ocean magazine.

  1. Top priority: Ignore the actual events that sparked the demonstrations. Say little or nothing today about Israel’s murderous and ongoing assault on Gaza.
  2. Ignore the content of the student’s demands. Don’t mention ‘divestment’. (Never quote the call for non-violent boycott-divestment sanctions.)
  3. Disrupt the behavior of demonstrators; portray them as violent, in word and deed. The new twist now is to also label them as anti-Semitic.
  4. And spend most of your time slandering the character of the students. Today, as then, call them “privileged” or “naive” or worse. Blame ‘outside agitators’.

Dana Bash’s now infamous afternoon report on CNN last week was just the most extreme example of bias. She actually compared the protests on campus to the rise of Hitler’s Germany: “(The protests are) . . . thinking back to the 1930s in Europe. And I don’t just say that. The fear among Jews in this country is palpable right now.”

But other mainstream news reports were only slightly less obviously distorted. Take, for example, the night of April 30 on the UCLA campus. Eyewitnesses, including teachers, testified that a mob of violent pro-Israel counter-protesters attacked the peaceful demonstrators’ camp for hours while campus police and California law enforcement stood idly by; There were films and photos of injuries. But much of the print press and TV news reported the events as “clashes,” without blaming the pro-Israel crowd. (You can get an accurate report in UCLA’s university newspaper, the Daily Brown.)

I was also personally present at some of the police brutality at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention. Much of the press at the time followed the same playbook, exaggerating the violence of anti-war protesters and exonerating the police. Prepare for the same treatment this summer when Democrats convene again in Chicago.

Perhaps even worse this time is the media’s refusal to report the student demonstrators’ demands.

But perhaps even worse this time is the media’s refusal to report the student demonstrators’ demands. You have to look carefully to see that the students have two interrelated requests: 1) Colleges must disclose their assets in companies that supply Israel with weapons of war and other support, and 2) Colleges must then publicly relinquish those assets.

Anyone who followed Israel/Palestine before October 7 will recognize that the broad, nonviolent movement for boycott-divestment sanctions has been calling for the same steps for decades. By now, the mainstream should have profiled this movement, pointing out how several state and local governments have passed legislation that even calls for handcuffs to BDS. Nothing so far. (One interesting exception. In 2019, the honorable Nathan Thrall somehow smuggled an honest report on BDS into the world. New York Times magazine. He is on the ground in the occupied West Bank. Why not ask him to update his report?)

At least during the protests against the Vietnam War, our demands were clear: stop the bombing. Stop the War. Bring our troops home.

Moreover, the mainstream downplays and ignores the news from Gaza itself.

Moreover, the mainstream downplays and ignores the news from Gaza itself.

In the Atlantic Ocean, George Packer published an entire attack on the students without even writing the word “Gaza.” Michael Powell, also in the Atlantic Ocean, visited the Columbia campus to contort and condescend. He met Layla Saliba, a Palestinian-American student, who told him she had lost family members in Gaza. He wrote that she spoke to him “at length and with nuance,” but he didn’t bother to quote her directly, except when she said, “We are not anti-Jewish, not at all.” (Layla Saliba has plenty to say. She’s on X, formerly Twitter, @itslaylas)

Instead of reporting on Israel’s demands and continued mass killings in Gaza, the mainstream media focused almost exclusively on specific details. At CNN, Anderson Cooper fooled himself when police finally cracked down on the Columbia campus on April 30; he demanded that his reporters on the ground document the police’s every move, as if we were watching an elaborate football game or a choreographed dance move – but he failed to notice that the police had moved the entire press out of camera range so they would have little witnesses when they entered the occupied building.

(The press’s limited obsession with maneuvering between police and protesters brought back one of my memories of the anti-war demonstrations in Miami in 1972. When I was arrested, I happened to be in an area where there were a lot of reporters. I was captivated with zip ties, and as I was loaded into a police van with dozens of others, the reporters all asked, “How are the police treating you?” To my credit, I responded, “The police are not our enemy and the war criminals are not our enemies.” .” This quote went viral, appearing in many press releases and later being read on air by at least one famous TV host.)

Another near-perfect parallel between fifty years ago and now is the mainstream obsession with criticizing the character of the student demonstrators.

Finally, there is an almost perfect parallel between fifty years ago and now: the mainstream obsession with criticizing the character of the student demonstrators. Like today’s students, we were called privileged, spoiled and naive. In an almost forgotten analysis, we were actually blamed for the parenting practices promoted by Dr. Benjamin Spock, a pediatrician Baby and child care (1946) was a huge sales guide for young parents in the 1950s and 1960s. Spock was indicted for promoting permissive parenting techniques that supposedly explained our immaturity. (Spock himself, an excellent and humane man, actually came out against the Vietnam War and participated in many protests.)

However, the slander against the students actually lost steam as the Vietnam War continued and others who were not students joined the anti-war movement. At those 1972 demonstrations in Miami, the leaders of the protest were actually members of an extraordinary organization called Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). On the front lines of those marches in Miami were several vets who were in wheelchairs because they had been injured in combat, including two moral giants named Bobby Muller and Ron Kovic. Behind them marched more vets, including others with canes and missing limbs, most wearing their old military gear. The rest of us, a thousand strong, followed them.

Today, the successors of Bobby Muller and Ron Kovic are emerging. The American students, who are arrested and risk their future because their conscience will not let them remain silent.