Opinion: Many media outlets got Sunday’s rallies wrong, depicting them as ‘an orgy of violence’

Berkeleyside got the facts right about Sunday’s rallies while many national media jumped on hackneyed stereotypes of Berkeley extremists. They, and Robert Reich, should apologize.

How quickly the lessons we learn are lost.

Just over two weeks ago peaceful protester Heather Heyer was murdered at the hands of neo-Nazis and Donal Trump provoked renewed outrage with his absurd claim that there was “blame on both sides.” The national media coverage was — ever so briefly — sensitive to subtle ways apparently neutral, objective language can elevate hate and denigrate dissent.

Leaders from across the political spectrum recognized that the equivalence implied by placing blame on “both sides” makes the violent expulsion of immigrants and Jews from our country and oppression of African Americans and American Indians seem just as legitimate a policy goal as tax reform or any other longtime conservative priority.

That lesson survived the first week, when non-violent protestors in Boston were widely praised, but couldn’t survive a second week. While attending Sunday’s Bay Area Rally Against Hate I stayed informed about events at other protest sites around Berkeley largely by following Berkeleyside’s Twitter feed and live blog. Their reporting lined up well with my first-hand experience: thousands of people came out for a largely celebratory rally.

After two hours of speeches and revelry, we marched towards Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park. Marching band in tow, with children and babies scattered through the crowd, we were surely not a menacing force. Looking for a fight, the dozen or so Trump supporters who came found antifa who were happy to oblige. A couple of brief fist fights were an unfortunate but minor distraction from the main events of the day, summed up perfectly in Berkeleyside’s headline, “Thousands come out against racism; far right a no-show.”

After the protest, I was a little worried about how the national media were portraying the protests when my family out of state texted to ask if I was safe after “lots of violence in Berkeley.” My worry escalated to dismay when local liberal hero and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich asked of protesters, “how stupid can they get?”

Outside of Berkeleyside, most media outlets depicted the day as an orgy of violence pitting the far right against the far left. The well-reported facts in Berkeleyside’s coverage make it clear this just wasn’t so. Thirteen arrests were composed of non-violent violations of the municipal code and a few fist fights. In a crowd estimated by the police at 4,000 people, these events were a trivial distraction. Making the coverage of today’s overwhelmingly peaceful protests all about supposed attacks on the right-wing plays right into Donald Trump’s “both sides” false equivalence in response to Charlottesville. It makes right wing fascists look like victims and discourages peaceful dissent.

Kudos to Berkeleyside for getting the facts and shame on the LA Times and other national media outlets for jumping to hackneyed stereotypes of Berkeley extremists. I call on journalists and political leaders — starting with Secretary Reich — to correct the record. Led by faith leaders and people of color like Berkeley Pastor Michael McBride, Sunday’s peaceful protest was an expression of support for vulnerable communities under ever more imminent threat of attack.

Dayton Thorpe is a UC Berkeley alumnus and a Berkeley resident.