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When protests become performances

“Disabled people have human rights!”

“Sham president! Sham justice!”

“Stop Kavanaugh. Our bodies, our choice!”

These shouts interrupted the Supreme Court hearings during the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh earlier this year.

Protestors filled the Senate halls from September to October during the hearings—making their voice clearly heard regarding Kavanaugh and the allegations against him.

However, many questioned whether the protestors acted out of genuine concern. Claims that some of the protesters were paid to protest started circulating.

Shawna Thomas, DC bureau chief for Vice News, told ABC that there were paid anti-Kavanaugh protesters “steering” people to create “viral” moments. Senator David Perdue described the protestors as “paid activists.”

On Oct. 5, President Donald Trump tweeted about a viral video of women protesting in an elevator. In his tweet, Trump referred to the women as “elevator screamers” who were “paid professionals” looking to make senators look bad.

Some believe the protesters were guided by progressive organizations such as UltraViolet or paid by individuals like liberal billionaire George Soros.

This situation puts a question into the minds of reporters across the nation: how can journalists cover protests accurately if they are professionally organized?

Journalists claim to report fair and accurate information, but protest organizers risk distorting the opinion of the public by blowing a protest out of proportion.

Consider the mission statement UltraViolet gives on their website: “We are a 1,000,000 strong community that leverages high profile media moments to hold decision makers accountable, create a cost for sexism and shine a light on the people and policies that are improving all women’s lives.”

Dramatizations could be unapparent to reporters covering protests. It won’t always be clear to journalists if people were paid to say what they say.

The focus of covering a protest should be on representing the perspective of the people. What are the protestors communicating? Even if there is an organization behind a protest, they are still trying to say something.

That is why the size, duration or intensity of a protest shouldn’t be the journalist’s focus. Instead, reporting should be focused on the message of the protesters. 

A reporter could gather accurate information by interviewing people outside of the protest environment who have similar or varying opinions on the issue. Journalists should also find out what organizational groups are present at a protest.

Protests should not be ignored because they represent a portion of the opinions of a group. However, including broader coverage of perspectives is vital.

Journalists must dig deeper. Theater should never be taken for reality.