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The unbearable Whiteness of Protesting: Commercial news coverage of the April 30 protest at the State Capitol in Lansing

April 30, 2020

On Thursday, an estimated 600 – 700 people gathered in front of the State Capitol in Lansing, to protest the Governor’s Stay at Home order. In this post, I particularly want to look at how the news media reported on the protest, the kind of language they used, what sources they cited and what was omitted.

The news sources that I want to deconstruct are MLive, WOODTV 8, WZZM 13, WXMI 17 and the Detroit News. The MLive headline read, Protesters tell lawmakers ‘vote no’ on extending state of emergency, argue freedoms outweigh coronavirus threat. The MLive article does provide some history with when Gov. Whitmer first issued a state of emergency, along with the current order, which expired on April 30. The Governor did request an additional  28 days, which would put the stay at home order in effect til late May.

The MLive article cites one cop from the Michigan State Police and three people involved in the protest, Patricia Stephanoff, Jason Kelley and Lou DeLuca. Kelley was identified as one of the organizers, but the other two protesters were identified based on their profession. While Kelley is identified as one of the organizers, MLive fails to mention that the protest was organized by Michigan United for Liberty, with support from  the Michigan Conservative Union and the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

MLive also fails to mention that Patricia Stephanoff was also at the protest outside of Whitmer’s home last week, as reported on by the Lansing State Journal. Lou DeLuca, also sourced in the article, has a lot of video from the April 30 protest on his Facebook page, footage that once again demonstrates that many of those protesting did not practice social distancing. DeLuca was quoted in MLive as saying:

“We should have been the beacon of hope to the world,” DeLuca said. “That we will not tell our citizens what to do. We’re adults. They could have asked us and we could have followed. The second you demand or force somebody to do something or threaten jail, it ends America.”

DeLuca’s comments are instructive, since there is no criticism being directed at the federal government and specifically the Trump administration. The last sentence about threatening people with jail, which apparently ends America, is definitely reflective of a white privileged worldview. The government has been threatening people with arrest or worse, death, for not obeying orders since the beginning. Just ask indigenous people and African Americans how long the US government has been demanding conformity and submission, always with threats of violence.

The MLive article also does not include any dissenting views, which seems pretty standard to how the commercial media reports on protests, or at least that is the case with protests from the left. Also, there is no mention of the significant push from GOP legislators, like Senator Mike Shirkey and Lee Chatfield or the groups like the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, all of which have messages that align with those protesting at the State Capitol. 

The WOODTV 8 story focused more on the lack of social distancing and the fact that the protestors moved inside the State Capitol. There are several short videos of police and protestors, but little information about the motives of those protesting. The channel 8 story does cite a protestor, but there is no name attributed to that person. Reporter Leon Hendrix spent most of his report on “how loud people were” and then films people singing the Star Spangled Banner.

The WZZM 13 story follows a similar approach to the channel 8 story, but with even less information.  The WXMI 17 story was also limited in scope, with even less information and mostly protest video. 

The Detroit News coverage was also lacking in substance, with a headline that read, Protesters, some armed, enter Michigan Capitol in rally against COVID-19 limits. The Detroit News piece focused on the inside protest, with very little information or comments from those protesting. The story did end with this:

“the Michigan House authorized Speaker Lee Chatfield to file suit against Whitmer over her use of emergency powers and the Senate was scheduled to vote on a similar measure.”

Overall, the commercial news coverage tended to focus more on the spectacle of the protest, rather then offering any insight or analysis of what the protest was really about. In addition, the commercial news sources we looked at failed to mention that in all of the photos and video taken, it was essentially a sea of white people. Along with the whiteness of this protest, the news media also could have made a stronger connection to the message of those protesting, with that of the GOP legislators and the organization who are essentially pushing for the same outcome……the open up Michigan’s economy, regardless of the health consequences.

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