As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Why Are Some People More Authentic Than Others?

Yesterday, 6 protesters were arrested outside UnitedHealth Group headquarters in Minneapolis for blocking the entrance and refusing to leave during a demonstration. Here's some video of the arrests:

Watch Six Arrested For Stopping UnitedHealth "Business-As-Usual" in News  |  View More Free Videos Online at

Dawn Smith, the brain tumor victim who's struggles to get CIGNA to cover her treatments have become national news, is headed to the headquarters of CIGNA CEO Ed Hanway in Philadelphia, to get some answers on why she was denied coverage. She is live-blogging the trip and has some video on her site as well.

Stacie Ritter is also headed to confront Ed Hanway at his mansion:

Health Care For America Now has transformed the main homepages of UnitedHealth, CIGNA and WellPoint into virtual crime scenes, and they are mobilizing people to visit the headquarters of all these corporate bad actors with yellow police tape and declare them actual crime scenes. There are dozens of events in over 60 cities scheduled.

It is true that these events, scattered throughout the country, have been organized by health care advocacy groups. Of course, throughout the month of August, corporate front groups organized around town hall meetings, busing in folks from out of town and preparing them with talking points and rules to disrupt the events. Yet, in the eyes of the traditional media, only one of these two actions are seen as authentic:

For several months, HCAN—a national coalition of religious groups, community organizations, unions, senior citizen groups, health care professionals, and consumer advocates—has been organizing polite demonstrations, rallies, and public forums, trying to put faces on an industry that has spent multiple millions of dollars lobbying against reform, while angry protests at town meetings swelled August’s big national story. On Sept. 22, HCAN sponsored about 150 demonstrations at various insurance company headquarters around the country. The Los Angeles Times did not bother to report about the several hundred demonstrators at WellPoint’s California subsidiary office, located a few blocks from the newspaper’s office. Nor did The Philadelphia Inquirer note those who descended that day on CIGNA, nor The New York Times those outside UnitedHealth in midtown Manhattan.

The HCAN rallies did attract print and broadcast coverage in dozens of cities, but most reporters treated them as isolated local events rather than components of a nationally coordinated protest (its slogan, “Big Insurance: Sick of It”) and a burgeoning grassroots movement [...]

With Congress debating extensive health care reform, and companies like CIGNA, WellPoint, and UnitedHealth major protagonists, the organizers supposed that their protests would dramatize the exorbitant profits of the insurance industry and the imposing compensation they pay top executives (UnitedHealth’s Hemsley made $57,000 per day last year) while millions of Americans go without insurance or bankrupt themselves with medical bills.

HCAN was mistaken.

“At a certain point,” Indianapolis Star senior editor Jenny Green told us, the demonstrators are “not adding to the debate. They’re just one side saying exactly what you’d expect them to say.”

Her colleague, Greg Weaver, the Star’s deputy public service editor for business, maintained that the raucous town meetings of August, dominated by conservative activists shouting down Democratic Congressmembers, were newsworthy because they “are more of a public forum where you have many sides of the debate, whereas at the [HCAN] protest [at WellPoint CEO Bray’s house] you have only one side of the debate.”

“I did not think the protest at [Cigna CEO] Hanway’s house was news,” Philadelphia Inquirer business reporter Jane Von Bergen told us. “It was a staged event. It wasn’t real news. I avoid them. I can’t stand them. They don’t add anything. They don’t teach anything. If they go to his house, we don’t learn anything more about the health care debate.” The protest was “too manufactured,” said Von Bergen. “Just a bunch of people going blah-blah-blah.”

By contrast, said Von Bergen, who covered the rowdy town meeting in August where right-wing activists confronted Sen. Arlen Specter, the news value of that event was “readily apparent.” “It involved public figures”—members of Congress. So political reporters picked up the story.

Isn’t Hanway a public figure? we asked. He’s well known in the business community, she said, but not among the general public—a condition that HCAN is trying to change, but can’t do if the media won’t cover their events.

This is a revealing set of quotes, showing the true orientation of corporate-run media. They are willing to blind themselves to the corporate front groups who organize town hall meetings, but call demonstrations of insurance companies "staged events." This is not the work of a neutral arbiter in the debate; it looks more like one class is being protected while the other is being savaged.

I don't know what the value of street protests are in the digital age. But I certainly know they have little value if they go unreported. Apparently such protests can get coverage, but only if they feature people with tea bags attached to their hats and guns in their side holsters.

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