• Analysis

‘More media inquiries than participants’: Media hypes anti-lockdown protests but downplays anti-Trump rallies

Protestors stormed Michigan’s Capitol again. This time legislators wore bullet proof vests.

AP Photo / Paul Sancya

Poll after poll shows that Americans are overwhelmingly supportive of stay-at-home measures and social distancing, but media outlets have painted a different picture hyping relatively small protests against the measures.

If the breathless media coverage of the protests seems out of proportion, that’s because it is. Vox took a deep dive into media coverage of lockdown protests and earlier anti-Trump protests, finding that the media paid far more attention to today’s small protests than it did to larger rallies against Trump’s policies.

Media inquiries outnumber protestors

Fake News Lies Fire Newspaper

Unsplash/Nijwam Swargiary

A Maryland official said an Annapolis protest against Gov. Larry Hogan’s efforts to restrict the spread of COVID-19 had “minimal participation.” That didn’t stop the media from treating the protest as if it were a massive rally. A Hogan spokesperson said there were “more media inquiries about this than there were participants.”

Climate protests drew far more people anti-lockdown protests

School strikes are changing the world, says UN climate science advisor

Flickr / Julian Meehan

In September 2019, on a single day, there were 1,184 “climate strike” events demanding immediate actions to address climate change. But when Vox reporters tallied several weeks of protests against coronavirus, they found just 245 anti-lockdown protests.

Protests against Trump’s immigration policies also dwarfed anti-lockdown protests

Trump Administration held unprecedented 69,550 migrant kids in custody this year

Screenshot / YouTube

On July 12 of last year, more than 100,000 people turned out for Lights for Liberty protests in nearly 700 communities to call for an end to inhumane Trump’s policies that put children in cages. Vox estimates that less than half that number showed up for anti-lockdown protests that took place over a period of weeks.

Media falls for shock value of protestors

Conservative protesters risk safety to demand access to lawncare & paint

AP Photo / Paul Sancya

Why have media outlets given these protestors such a large megaphone? One reason: shock value.

Despite the small number of protests, they attract disproportionate coverage by arming themselves with semiautomatic weapons, dressing in camouflage, and comparing governors to Nazis — or, in some cases, espousing neo-Nazi and white supremacist views. That has given the protests a second life as reporters cover the extreme views held by a fringe group of Americans.

Bigger — and more newsworthy — protests are happening right now

Video of health care workers confronting anti-lockdown protestors goes viral

Screenshot / Twitter

Vox also tracked the number of current protests calling for tightening restrictions to limit the spread of the virus and counter the economic effects that are devastating workers.

Over the course of April there were at least 240 protests nationwide whose message was that leaders are not doing enough in response to the pandemic, with another 155 protests in early May as nurses protested PPE shortages.

The media would better serve the nation by turning its attention away from the small anti-lockdown protests. Far more newsworthy are those calling for better treatment of prisoners and immigrant detainees who are at great risk of contracting the virus. Or they could look to those protesting for rent relief and eviction moratoriums, funding to protect the integrity of elections, personal protective equipment for front-line workers, or anything else that will help Americans recover, physically and financially.

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