Journalists are blaming the wrong people for violence at college protests

The college campus protests against Israel’s destruction of Gaza have been overwhelmingly peaceful. But elite reporters– following the lead of politicians of both parties – continue to refer to them as violent and chaotic.

With almost no exceptions, the only violence involved in these protests has been the violence perpetrated upon the protesters – either by police in riot gear, or by counter-protesters, or in some cases, like at UCLA, both.

The only chaos has come as protesters try to flee or defend themselves.

The peace has been broken, but not by the protesters themselves.

Even the most extreme measures taken by protesters, the taking over of college buildings, have been nonviolent. Building takeovers have long been a staple of campus protests.

As political newsletter author Hamilton Nolan put it on the site formerly known as Twitter:

Having police violently break up protests and then calling them “violent protests” is an old trick that succeeds only when the press takes the bait which is what’s happening now.

Student journalists, who base their reporting on what they see with their own eyes, have done a vastly superior job of covering the protests.

As Zito Madu wrote for The Nation, student journalists at WKCR radio described “in precise, riveting detail, the terrifying invasion of their campus by the New York Police Department at the request of their school’s administration.”

By contrast, “the corporate media repeatedly laundered NYPD and other government propaganda—and in the days that followed, news outlets continued this pattern in their reporting on other protests around the country.”

Even social media has done a better job than the MSM. While there are plenty of people spreading misinformation, some of the most viral videos have included police wrestling professors to the ground for the crime of asking what was going on or firing rubber bullets at students.

Republicans, as part of their overall attack on higher education, have highlighted every extreme (mostly off-campus) act, in an overt attempt to get the media and the public to see them  as emblematic of the overall protests.

It has worked like a charm.

As I wrote two weeks ago, members of the mainstream media immediately adopted an overwhelmingly negative tone about a movement that deserved their admiration for its peacefulness and inclusivity. (Many of the protesters are Jewish.)

President Biden contributed to the calumny on Thursday, speaking out about antisemitism and violence on campuses as if it were the norm.

The press didn’t correct him because they’ve been saying the same thing.

The White House had earlier declared that taking over a building “is not an example of peaceful protest.” It is.

The real outrage of the last several weeks has been the over-reaction of university administrators – following Columbia University’s lead – and the abuse of force by the police who at UCLA, for instance, fired rubber bullets at students and destroyed personal property.

Consider how after a particularly brutal attack on protesters at the University of Texas in Austin, the local attorney’s office threw out the charges against all 57 of the people arrested, saying the police lacked probable cause.

At Emory University, police descended on protesters only hours after they had set up their encampment, brutalizing students and professors.

Police at Indiana University – complete with snipers on rooftops — raided an encampment that, until a stealth rule change the night before, would have been entirely legal. The ACLU is suing.

Ryan Enos, a professor of government at Harvard, wrote in the Crimson about the “fog of disinformation” that “has covered these protests”:

Some claim that universities are overrun with antisemitic hordes, while others, including myself and my colleagues, have seen only peaceful actions from diverse student protesters, including many Jews, earnestly challenging what they see as a grave violation of human rights.

But the mainstream media blames the protesters.

An NPR report on the protest said that “some have stayed peaceful, some turned chaotic and have included student arrests.” In fact, they were peaceful until the police made them chaotic.

The New York Times reported on the political impact of “scenes of chaos unfolding on campuses.”

The Washington Post reported that “ two weeks of sometimes violent protests on private and public campuses have garnered global attention.”

In what was arguably the most heinous examples of anti-protester hysteria in mainstream media, CNN anchor Dana Bash on Wednesday essentially accused them of terrifying Jews all over the country.

“We start with destruction, violence and hate on college campuses across the country,” she said. She inaccurately reported that protesters “rocked the University of Arizona” (police set upon them with pepper balls and rubber bullets) and that “pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups were attacking each other” at UCLA (it was the counter-protesters who attacked.)

She continued: “Many of these protests started peacefully with legitimate questions about the war, but in many cases, they lost the plot.” Instead, she said, they turned antisemitic. “Making Jewish students feel unsafe at their own schools is unacceptable and it is happening way too much right now,” she said, before drawing an analogy to the rise of Hitler: “Hearkening back to the 1930s in Europe and I do not say that lightly. The fear among Jews in this country is palpable right now.”

It was an “unhinged screed,” as Jack Mirkinson wrote in his newsletter. And, as he noted, it  apparently was “just fine” with CNN management.

And that’s my biggest concern: That the leaders of our corporate newsrooms have given their staffs the green light to vilify protesters, and that it will continue as long as students keep trying to call attention to the horrors in Gaza.


  1. We live in opposite world, where Jews who join with Palestinians to protest the actions of a nation against territories it occupies are anti-Semitic, and the mostly non-Palestinian/non-Jewish right-wingers who beat them up are the forces of order and definitely not anti-Semitic.

    Obviously, not all protesters are angels and not all counter-protesters are hitting people with metal rods. Breaking into a building and trashing furniture is a crime. People who do it can and should be arrested.

    But there have been far more dangerous protests by right-wingers than the Gaza protests. The police response for the latter has been wildly disproportionate.

    • No, Israel hadn’t occupied Gaza. It left in 2005. Hamas won legislative elections in 2007, and then violently expelled Fatah. Hamas has been in charge since then. They did a great job, building tunnels instead of schools and businesses.

      Here’s a better irony: Students protest occupation by … forcibly occupying buildings on the campuses of the schools to which they pay tuition, who then turn around and, according to the students, finance genocide, which means the students are funding the genocide they’re protesting.

      I’m yet to see an estimate of how much investment the schools have invested in Israeli companies, but the students, just out of high school, know it’s A LOT.

      This is the critical thinking taught at elite colleges and universities.

      • The Israeli occupation started after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire back in the early 1900’s after the U.K. goaded the now-Palestinian people to stage a coup.

        Why do you think the students are occupying it and calling for a Boycott, Divest and Sanction campaign against the Zionist-regime of Israel. Evergreen State College was successful in it.

    • Gen Z aren’t about that life. They’re all talk. They won’t even throw hands on each other and get hurt by words…. But yes, let’s pretend they’re the aggressors.

  2. Your observations match those of our student on the Columbia campus. This is a repeat of the defensive-establishment versus the hopeful-youth conflict that we’ve lived though before. The powerful don’t give up their privilege easily.

  3. “… the leaders of our corporate newsrooms have given their staffs the green light to vilify protesters, and that it will continue as long as students keep trying to call attention to the horrors in Gaza.”
    I tend to think the problem’s less a green light from bosses and like directions, implicitly or explicitly, for the lies they’re passing off as truth.


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