As peace protests are violently suppressed, CNN paints them as hate rallies

Some in corporate media very clearly took sides, portraying student protesters as violent, hateful and/or stupid.

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Image Credit: Yana Paskova/The Washington Post

As peace activists occupied common spaces on campuses across the country, some in corporate media very clearly took sides, portraying student protesters as violent, hateful and/or stupid. CNN offered some of the most striking of these characterizations.

CNN's Dana Bash: Clashes at Campuses Nationwide as Protest Intensify

CNN‘s Dana Bash (Inside Politics, 5/1/24) blames the peace movement for “destruction, violence and hate on college campuses across the country.” 

Dana Bash (Inside Politics, 5/1/24) stared gravely into the camera and launched into a segment on “destruction, violence and hate on college campuses across the country.” Her voice dripping with hostility toward the protests, she reported:

Many of these protests started peacefully with legitimate questions about the war, but in many cases, they lost the plot. They’re calling for a ceasefire. Well, there was a ceasefire on October 6, the day before Hamas terrorists brutally murdered more than a thousand people inside Israel and took hundreds more as hostages. This hour, I’ll speak to an American Israeli family whose son is still held captive by Hamas since that horrifying day, that brought us to this moment. You don’t hear the pro-Palestinian protesters talking about that. We will.

By Bash’s logic, once a ceasefire is broken, no one can ever call for it to be reinstated—even as the death toll in Gaza nears 35,000. But her claim that there was a ceasefire until Hamas broke it on October 7 is little more than Israeli propaganda: Hundreds of Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces and settlers in the year preceding October 7 (FAIR.org, 7/6/23).

‘Hearkening back to 1930s Europe’

Eli Tsives confronting protesters at UCLA

“They didn’t let me get to class using the main entrance!” complains Eli Tsives in one of several videos he posted of confrontations with anti-war demonstrators. “Instead they forced me to walk around. Shame on these people!”

Bash continued:

Now protesting the way the Israeli government, the Israeli prime minister, is prosecuting the retaliatory war against Hamas is one thing. Making Jewish students feel unsafe at their own schools is unacceptable, and it is happening way too much right now.

As evidence of this lack of safety, Bash pointed to UCLA student Eli Tsives, who posted a video of himself confronting motionless antiwar protesters physically standing in his way on campus. “This is our school, and they’re not letting me walk in,” he claims in the clip. Bash ominously described this as “hearkening back to the 1930s in Europe.”

Bash was presumably referring to the rise of the Nazis and their increasing restrictions on Jews prior to World War II. But while Tsives’ clip suggests protesters are keeping him off UCLA campus, they’re in fact blocking him from their encampment—where many Jewish students were present. (Jewish Voice for Peace is one of its lead groups.)

So it’s clearly not Tsives’ Jewishness that the protesters object to. But Tsives was not just any Jewish student; a UCLA drama student and former intern at the pro-Israel group Stand With Us, he had been a visible face of the counter-protests, repeatedly posting videos of himself confronting peaceful antiwar protesters. He has shown up to the encampment wearing a holster of pepper spray.

One earlier video he made showing himself being denied entry to the encampment included text on screen claiming misleadingly that protestors objected to his Jewishness: “They prevented us, Jewish students, from entering public land!” (“You can kiss your jobs goodbye, this is going to go viral on social media,” he tells the protesters.) He also proudly posted his multiple interviews on Fox News, which was as eager as Bash to help him promote his false narrative of antisemitism.

‘Attacking each other’

Daily Bruin: Pro-Israel counter-protesters attempt to storm encampment, sparking violence

“Security and [campus police] both retreated as pro-Israel counter-protesters and other groups attacked protesters in the encampment,” UCLA’s student paper (Daily Bruin, 5/1/24) reported.

UCLA protesters had good reason to keep counter-protesters out of their encampment, as those counter-protesters had become increasingly hostile (Forward, 5/1/24; New York Times, 4/30/24). This aggression culminated in a violent attack on the encampment on April 30 (Daily Bruin, 5/1/24).

Late that night, a pro-Israel mob of at least 200 tried to storm the student encampment, punching, kicking, throwing bricks and other objects, spraying pepper spray and mace, trying to tear down plywood barricades and launching fireworks into the crowd. As many as 25 injuries have been reported, including four student journalists for the university newspaper who were assaulted by goons as they attempted to leave the scene (Forward, 5/2/24; Democracy Now!, 5/2/24).

Campus security stood by as the attacks went on; when the university finally called in police support, the officers who arrived waited over an hour to intervene (LA Times, 5/1/24).

(The police were less reticent in clearing out the encampment a day later at UCLA’s request. Reporters on the scene described police in riot gear firing rubber bullets at close range and “several instances of protesters being injured”—LA Times, 5/3/24.)

The mob attacks at UCLA, along with police use of force at that campus and elsewhere, clearly represent the most “destruction, violence and hate” at the encampments, which have been overwhelmingly peaceful. But Bash’s description of the UCLA violence rewrote the narrative to fit her own agenda: “Pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups were attacking each other, hurling all kinds of objects, a wood pallet, fireworks, parking cones, even a scooter.”

When CNN correspondent Stephanie Elam reported, later in the same segment, that the UCLA violence came from counter-protesters, Bash’s response was not to correct her own earlier misrepresentation, but to disparage antiwar protesters: Bash commended the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles for saying the violence does not represent the Jewish community, and snidely commented: “Be nice to see that on all sides of this.”

‘Violence erupted’

Instagram: "I am a Jewish student at UCLA"

“For me, never again is never again for anyone,” says a Jewish participant in the UCLA encampment (Instagram, 5/2/24).

Bash wasn’t the only one at CNN framing antiwar protesters as the violent ones, against all evidence. Correspondent Camila Bernal (5/2/24) reported on the UCLA encampment:

The mostly peaceful encampment was set up a week ago, but violence erupted during counter protest on Sunday, and even more tense moments overnight Tuesday, leaving at least 15 injured. Last night, protesters attempted to stand their ground, linking arms, using flashlights on officers’ faces, shouting and even throwing items at officers. But despite what CHP described as a dangerous operation, an almost one-to-one ratio officers to protesters gave authorities the upper hand.

Who was injured? Who was violent? Bernal left that to viewers’ imagination. She did mention that officers used “what appeared to be rubber bullets,” but the only participant given camera time was a police officer accusing antiwar students of throwing things at police.

Earlier CNN reporting (5/1/24) from UCLA referred to “dueling protests between pro-Palestinian demonstrators and those supporting Jewish students.” It’s a false dichotomy, as many of the antiwar protesters are themselves Jewish, and eyewitness reports suggested that many in the mob were not students and not representative of the Jewish community (Times of Israel, 5/2/24).

CNN likewise highlighted the law and order perspective after Columbia’s president called in the NYPD to respond to the student takeover of Hamilton Hall. CNN Newsroom (5/1/24) brought on a retired FBI agent to analyze the police operation. His praise was unsurprising:

It was impressive. It was surprisingly smooth…. The beauty of America is that we can say things, we can protest, we can do this publicly, even when it’s offensive language. But you can’t trespass and keep people from being able to go to class and going to their graduations. We draw a line between that and, you know, civil control.

CNN host Jake Tapper (4/29/24) criticized the Columbia president’s approach to the protests—for being too lenient: “I mean, a college president’s not a diplomat. A college president’s an authoritarian, really.” (More than a week earlier, president Minouche Shafik had had more than a hundred students arrested for camping overnight on a lawn—FAIR.org, 4/19/24.)

‘Taking room from my show’

Guardian: CNN staff say network’s pro-Israel slant amounts to ‘journalistic malpractice’

“The majority of news since the war began…has been skewed by a systemic and institutional bias within the network toward Israel,” a CNN staffer told the Guardian (2/4/24).

Tapper did little to hide his utter contempt for the protesters. He complained:

This is taking room from my show that I would normally be spending covering what is going on in Gaza, or what is going on with the International Criminal Court, talking about maybe bringing charges. We were talking about the ceasefire deal. I mean, this—so I don’t know that the protesters, just from a media perspective, are accomplishing what they want to accomplish, because I’m actually covering the issue and the pain of the Palestinians and the pain of the Israelis—not that they’re protesting for that—less because of this.

It’s Tapper and CNN, of course, who decide what stories are most important and deserve coverage—not campus protesters. Some might say that that a break from CNN‘s regular coverage the Israel’s assault on Gaza would not altogether be a bad thing, as CNN staffers have complained of “regurgitation of Israeli propaganda and the censoring of Palestinian perspectives in the network’s coverage of the war in Gaza” (Guardian, 2/4/24)

The next day, Tapper’s framing of the protests made clear whose grievances he thought were the most worthy (4/30/24): “CNN continues to following the breaking news on college campuses where anti-Israel protests have disrupted academic life and learning across the United States.”

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