Loud protests by Wisconsin public employee unions against a budget reform proposal from new Governor Scott Walker have drawn considerable national network news attention since Thursday, the day Democratic state senators fled the state in a last-ditch gambit to prevent the bill from becoming law. A story-by-story analysis by the Media Research Center shows the Wisconsin protests are a perfect case study in the media's longstanding double standard favoring left-wing causes while demonstrating much more hostility to the Tea Party and conservative protests.
Last March, as thousands protested on Capitol Hill in the days before the passage of ObamaCare, CBS's Nancy Cordes slammed it as "a weekend filled with incivility," while World News anchor Diane Sawyer painted the Tea Party as a violent gang, with "protesters roaming Washington, some of them increasingly emotional, yelling slurs and epithets." In August 2009, ABC anchor Charles Gibson complained how "protesters brought pictures of President Obama with a Hitler-style mustache to a town hall meeting," failing to mention that the signs were produced by Lyndon LaRouche's wacky fringe movement, not the Tea Party or conservatives.
Over the past several days, the liberal demonstrations in Wisconsin (bolstered by the national Democratic Party and President Obama's Organizing for America group) have included signs just as inflammatory as the ones that bothered the networks during the health care debate, including several showing Governor Scott Walker as Adolph Hitler. Others have likened Walker to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin ("Scott Stalin") and recently deposed Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak ("Walker = Mubarak").
Another protest sign drew a cross-hairs over a picture of Governor Walker's head, with the caption "Don't Retreat, Reload; Repeal Walker" — an obvious parallel to a Facebook map posted by Sarah Palin last year, although that much-criticized graphic placed the target sights on maps of congressional districts, not any politician's face.
Yet none of these signs in the hands of liberal protesters have drawn the slightest complaint from network journalists. MRC analysts examined all 53 ABC, CBS and NBC morning and evening news stories, segments and anchor briefs on the Wisconsin protests from Thursday, February 17 (when they first drew major national coverage) through Monday, February 21. While eight of the 53 stories (15%) visually displayed one or more of the signs described above, none elicited a single remark from the network correspondents.
Instead, network journalists actually suggested the "Walker = Mubarak" theme of some of the more inflammatory signs. On Sunday's This Week, for example, ABC's Christiane Amanpour linked Wisconsin to the uprisings against oppressive dictatorships: "Populist frustration is boiling over this week, as we've said, not just in the Middle East, but in the middle of this country as well." So did NBC's Brian Williams on Friday's Nightly News: "From the Mideast to the American Midwest tonight, people are rising up. Citizens' uprisings are changing the world." NBC's on-screen caption: "The Uprising at Home."
ABC's Diane Sawyer opened Thursday's World News by empathizing with the protesters:
Today, we saw America's money trouble meet a reality, a human reality, as teachers, nurses, tens of thousands of state workers took to the streets in this country, protesting cuts by the governors, saying to these governors, a promise is a promise. One lawmaker looked out at the crowds gathered in the Wisconsin capital today said it's like Cairo moved to Madison.
The only time network journalists fretted about the Wisconsin protests getting out of hand was when their favorite bogeyman, the Tea Party, became involved — as ABC's Barbara Pinto did on Saturday's Good Morning America: "Today, those demonstrations are expected to get more intense and more polarizing — we're watching police officers arrive here this morning. And that is because the Tea Party is staging a counter-demonstration of its own today."