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Media coverage of protests sure looks

different when demonstrators
Updated by German Lopez on January 4, 2016, 10:25 a.m. ET


Ryan Bundy, a militia member, talks on the phone at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.
Associated Press

Over the holiday weekend, a group of predominantly white militiamen

took up guns and began occupying the government's Malheur National
Wildlife Refuge headquarters in Oregon, culminating in a tense
standoff ( with law enforcement in the area.




standoff) with law enforcement in the area.

It's a big story. This is an armed militia using the threat of violence to
get the federal government to change the law specifically, the
gunmen want the feds to give up publicly managed land to local
ranchers, loggers, and miners. And, yes, they are using the threat of
violence: As Les Zaitz explained ( for
the Oregonian, "In phone interviews from inside the occupied building
Saturday night, Ammon Bundy and his brother, Ryan Bundy, said they
are not looking to hurt anyone. But they would not rule out violence if
police tried to remove them, they said."
Yet media outlets don't seem to consider this an alarming story,
instead treating it by and large as a peaceful protest. Here, for
instance, is an Associated Press tweet about the events:






For many on social media, the reaction seems very different from how
the media would react if, say, black or Muslim protesters with guns
took over a government building instead of a predominantly white

The media's reaction to a group of armed people taking

over a government building was timid
One would think that an armed group taking over a government
building would be a big deal. The public certainly seems to think so,
with #OregonUnderAttack ( trending
on Twitter and Malheur National Wildlife Refuge trending on Facebook.




But media outlets mostly seemed to shrug at the situation, at least at

first. Here is the New York Times's front page as of Sunday afternoon,
when the story was relegated to a sidebar:

New York Times (

And here is Fox News's front page, where it's hard to even see the
story right by one about a hoverboard robbery:




Fox News (

The coverage also generally had little language about the threat of
violence. The AP, for example, characterized the protests as peaceful,
and Fox News called the group in Oregon "armed protesters."
Several people on social media complained that this story was getting
much less or at least a different kind of attention than it would
have gotten if these were mainly black or Muslim protesters. Here's a
sampling of some tweets, which don't encompass the entire
conversation but get to a lot of what people are upset about:




























Generally, the sentiment is that if these were black or Muslim

protesters, the media reports would be much more alarmed in nature.
The media and public might not even call the militia members in
Oregon "protesters," but instead refer to them as "thugs" or
"terrorists." After all, that's exactly what happened with the Black
Lives Matter protests over the past couple years.

The media reacted to black protesters over the past few

years in a very different way

Mladen Antonov/AFP via Getty Images

Behind these complaints is the media's very different reaction over




Behind these complaints is the media's very different reaction over

the past few years to Black Lives Matter demonstrators protesting
racial disparities ( in the criminal justice system and,

specifically, police use of force ( Those protests led media outlets not just to
cover the demonstrations as wholly violent, but to suggest that the
protests led to a wave of crime and violence in 2015.
For one, there were several instances in which victims of police
shootings and Black Lives Matter protesters even largely peaceful
ones were called thugs or other racially charged language. This is a
problem that CNN (, the New York Times (, and Fox News ( all ran into.
But it went further. After a police officer was shot and killed in Texas,
investigators in the case specifically said (
they had no idea what the motive of the shooter was. But that didn't
stop Fox News from repeatedly pinning the blame on Black Lives
Matter protesters, whom pundits blamed for fostering distrust and
even hatred toward police: Fox News's Elisabeth Hasselbeck
wondered aloud on air why Black Lives Matter isn't considered a "hate
group." Bill O'Reilly was more blunt, concluding the movement was
indeed a "hate group." And Megyn Kelly characterized the movement
as violent and anti-police in another segment.

Fox Calls Black Lives Matter A Hate Group After Laudin...




This continued to be a popular talking point among some news

outlets, with the New York Post and Fox News repeatedly referencing
a "war on cops." But with 2015 over, the data shows that the year was
one of the safest years ( to
be a police officer, with on-duty deaths of cops near historic lows and
falling compared with 2014.
News outlets suggested that Black Lives Matter led to not just more
violence against police but more violence in general. The New York
Times (

Today (, and NPR ( ran stories about a
supposed increase in murders and crimes in 2015, usually suggesting
that protests against police were one factor. In a reference to the
original Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson, Missouri (,
this became known as the "Ferguson effect" the idea that protests
against police had demoralized police and emboldened criminals,
leading to more crime.
While murder rates are significantly up in some US cities, crime is not (
Throughout the year, criminologists also repeatedly cautioned (
that there's no evidence of a nationwide wave of violence; they've also
said (




said (

sharply) that there's no evidence that the Black Lives Matter protests
have anything to do with a potential rise in violence. But that didn't
stop the widespread media narratives of a "Ferguson effect."
Asked about the discrepancies, CNN law enforcement analyst Art
Roderick suggested ( that the differences make
sense because the Oregon protesters are in a largely empty rural area
and "they're not destroying property, they're not looting anything."

Art Roderick: Oregon militiamen 'aren't looting anything'...

But, while the Baltimore and Ferguson protests resulted in some

rioting, the overwhelming majority of Black Lives Matter protests have
been peaceful. And Black Lives Matter protesters never showed up to
a rally with guns and vowed to take over a government building "for
years" with the threat of deadly force, as those in Oregon have vowed
As some people pointed out on social media, it's hard to imagine news
outlets viewing an armed protest as peaceful if their racial, ethnic, or
religious identity were different.









Similar media standards seem to apply to Muslim Americans. After a

terrorist attack, pundits are quick to suggest ( that the entire Muslim community should apologize for
the tragedy as if every Muslim is in someway culpable for it. (In a
particularly egregious example, CNN anchor Don Lemon asked ( MuslimAmerican human rights lawyer Arsalan Iftikhar ( if he supports ISIS, drawing a
clearly baffled Iftikhar to ask, as Lemon nodded, "Wait, did you just
ask if I support ISIS?") But there are no comparable cries demanding
that all white people apologize for the militiamen in Oregon.
To be clear, it's not that critics necessarily think the Oregon militiamen
should be subjected to the same wild, unfounded accusations as
black or Muslim people. The complaint, instead, is that the media
seems to be quick to treat minority groups as violent, while giving a
predominantly white group a pass even when it's heavily armed.

The public (and media) really do hold racial biases, even if

they don't know it
Underlying the accusations of skewed reporting toward the media is
what's known as "implicit bias," or subconscious prejudices that can
change how we approach and treat people of a different race,
ethnicity, and religious affiliation. Researchers have shown that this
phenomenon is real time and time again.




As part of a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social

Psychology ( in 2014, researchers studied 176 mostly white, male police
officers, and tested them to see if they held an unconscious
"dehumanization bias" against black people by having them match
photos of people with photos of big cats or apes. Researchers found
that officers commonly dehumanized black people, and those who
did were most likely to be the ones who had a record of using force on
black children in custody.
In the same study, researchers interviewed 264 mostly white, female
college students and found that they tended to perceive black
children ages 10 and older as "significantly less innocent" than their
white counterparts.
"Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group
with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection,"
Phillip Goff, a UCLA researcher and author of the study, said in a
statement ( "Our research found that black boys can be seen as
responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit
from the assumption that children are essentially innocent."
Other research ( suggests there can be
superhumanization bias at work, as well, with white people more likely
to associate paranormal or magical powers with black people than
with other white people. And the more they associate magical powers
with black people, the less likely they are to believe black people feel




Joe Posner/Vox

Subconscious racial biases are worrying because they may contribute

to greater use of force by police. Studies ( show, for example, that officers
are quicker to shoot black suspects in video game simulations ( Josh Correll, a
University of Colorado Boulder psychology professor who conducted
the research, said it's possible the bias could lead to even more
skewed outcomes in the field. "In the very situation in which [officers]
most need their training," he said, "we have some reason to believe
that their training will be most likely to fail them."
The fact these biases exist is at the very least something media
outlets and pundits should be aware about in their reporting. Because
the fact is such biases could be coloring how we approach these
stories, even if we like to think that's not true.

Watch: Race isn't biologically real