Random Thoughts: December 18, 2011

Show Me What Bad Reporting Looks Like:
"This Is What Bad Reporting Looks Like!"
by Jasmine Sailing

The title is an ode to a resurrected chant that is popular at Occupy Denver, but I do feel compelled to critique reporting, by 9 News (Denver's NBC affiliate) and The Denver Post (Denver's only remaining daily newspaper), on yesterday's Cherry Creek shopping district events.

9 News: Occupy Denver snarls holiday traffic in Cherry Creek
Denver Post: Occupy protesters march around Cherry Creek

These articles finally changed while I was writing this, I found the corrections a little after 6:30pm. Both sources originally identified the march as an Occupy Denver one. Other changes: The Denver Post article now includes an addition about some people identifying themselves as Occupy Denver protesters (how?), and mentions Occupy Denver saying it is in no way affiliated with... (read more at 9 News, link included).

On 9 News, "Occupy Denver" in the title (and url) was changed to "Protesters" (just don't look at the video caption under it, right?). They also added that protesters identified themselves as Occupy Denver people, that the Occupy Denver website did not list such an event, and that Occupy Denver had a Migrants' Rights march that day. People had been asking 9 News to fix the errors since last night, the amount of time it took for the amendments was unfortunately ample time for their readers and viewers to get worked up fuming about Occupy Denver doing something it didn't do. Most of those people won't notice the changes.

A very basic summary of the original articles: "Occupy Denver marched on 1st Avenue on Saturday night, blocking traffic around the Cherry Creek shopping district. One person, dressed as a Santa, was detained for trespassing."

Now let's take a look at the simple details that failed to appear in either of these articles (until tonight, on point 1... the other details are still missing).

1. It wasn't Occupy Denver. Occupy Denver marched a little earlier in the day, in a completely different area (quite a few blocks northwest, they marched to the 16th St. Mall as usual). The march began close to 1pm, and there was an open People's Mic (in Civic Center Park) afterward. The event was listed on their web site, as their events always are (and the web site mentioned nothing about a Cherry Creek march or Santa suits).

2. The Santas were from the annual very long-running SantaCon, organised by the Denver Cacophany Society. They very clearly state on their web site that they had an event scheduled yesterday, and they have another one scheduled next Saturday. SantaCon is a national event that often allows families to let their kids see a puking Santa in a mall or other commercial district before Christmas. Some people find it amusing, some don't at all. The SantaCon in Denver has always loved going to the Cherry Creek Mall because it is considered to be our wealthiest mall. I honestly have no idea if any of them have ever thrown up there. And, sure, I'm silently kind of hoping they have, because I'm not a big fan of malls in general or that one in particular. Even my Mom, upon taking my then toddler daughter to buy shoes there once, congratulated and encouraged her for dropping cookie crumbs on the floor. I suppose it's one of those places that can bring out the best in us. ;)

3. The people who blocked traffic by marching around the area were Elves Revolt. Quite to the contrary of being an Occupy Denver event, it was organised by Denver Anarchist Black Cross - a local anarchist group that had publicly disavowed Occupy Denver and stopped participating in its activities. The event was advertised to Occupy Denver, via colour handbills at marches and via the Twitter #OccupyDenver topic (I'm one of the multiple people who chuckled and reposted it there... I even called it something like "The 99% Elves Revolt Against the 1% Tyrant Santa!" when I posted it to a mailing list. That isn't what you call "Occupy Denver". It is what you call "satire" and "parody", and it evokes Occupy Wall Street overall - something the organisers are still supportive of). The Elves Revolt march congregated at Hungarian Freedom Park at 3pm.

4. The Santas and the Elves, despite both being in the Cherry Creek shopping district area, and both being Christmas themed, had no connection to each other and were there for very different reasons. They also had very different targets. The Santas arrived at the Cherry Creek Mall on a bus, and swarmed into the mall... until they were chased out. The Elves marched up 1st, past the country club and, yes, around the streets of the shopping district (over to 2nd, back over to 1st and the mall, and then back to the park). They did block traffic, but they didn't set foot on private property and they weren't arrested or ticketed.

For reference:
SantaCon Denver
The Elf Revolt
Occupy Denver Migrants March

I have to say the part I find strangest about the news coverage is that major media outlets have (if we're assuming this was an honest mistake) never noticed several years worth of drunken Santas swarming the Cherry Creek Mall. SantaCon is so long-running (not to mention well known around the country, it seems particularly big in New York City) that back around, maybe, 2004 or 2005 a friend of mine who had been going got bored with it and involved himself in a (one-time, as far as I know) off-shoot called JesusCon. Are drunken Santas at the mall a common thing unworthy of noticing, or is an occurrence of them only worth noting if one is arrested and it can somehow possibly be connected to Occupy Denver? I can't help but wonder.

And how can it be connected to Occupy Denver, anyway? Some people who go to Occupy Denver went to the Elves Revolt. I heard a couple of guys were wearing Occupy Denver knit caps (a lot more people were wearing elf hats). The Occupy Denver hats had been given out, free of charge to anyone who wanted one, before the Migrants March. You could've gotten one if you happened to wander by when the boxes were set out near Broadway. I got one! I enjoy Occupy Denver marches and open mics, because I enjoy people being politically active and vocal instead of disillusioned and apathetic. I also enjoy going to the Denver Botanic Gardens on a regular basis. Does that mean the Gardens are an Occupy Denver thing? Obviously not.

The Elves were followed by a disproportionately large number of police, including 2 vehicles loaded with riot cops. Perhaps that could be considered something similar to Occupy Denver... though the police didn't leave the vehicles and no pepper spray was involved. But we can always look back at the Democrat National Convention. It preceded Occupy Denver, and it wasn't exactly devoid of police attention. What do all of these things have in common? Politics! Though the Elves were being political in a more subtle and light-hearted fashion than Occupy Denver or protesters at the DNC.

All in all, it seems quite a stretch to mistake the Elves Revolt for Occupy Denver. It's even more of a stretch to give the impression that SantaCon Santas are Occupy Denver. There were some Elf and Santa interactions (which still doesn't have anything to do with Occupy Denver). When the SantaCon bus passed by the park where the Elves were amassing, they dropped by to check them out. That's what they do, they rove around in the bus and drop in unexpectedly. The Elves couldn't have Santas at their protest against him, and the Santas had a mall to swarm so they got back into their bus and drove away. The Elves continued to amass, then began marching. When they reached the entrance to the mall driveway and were ready to march back to the park, they were greeted by one Santa who was standing on the sidewalk by the street. He mentioned that the Santas had been chased out of the mall. That's not a lot of connection between the groups. At least it was civil, though, and there was only mild joking spars passed between the Revolting Elves and the Santas who wanted their slave-workers back.

The event organiser in me has been torn on whether I find it more annoying that Occupy Denver got the blame for something it didn't do, or that the organisers of the two very separate events didn't get their due credit for being the ones who actually did them. Both aspects are pretty sad.

Occupy Denver notified 9 News of the error last night, by emailing and tweeting (and replying to the flames about Occupy Denver that were appearing in the comments section). I independently sent info about SantaCon and the Elves Revolt to 9 News, along with links for SantaCon, SantaCon Denver, and The Denver Cacophany Society. I also threw around the very happening #SantaCon topic on Twitter quite a bit (where you could, at least right then, see people around the country talking about their kids having the opportunity to see Santa lying in a puddle of his vomit).

Someone tweeted to the #OccupyDenver topic that they're wasting peoples' time and money with the Cherry Creek antics. I replied, pointing out that it wasn't Occupy Denver. It was SantaCon and the Elves Revolt. The person thanked me for the clarification and deleted their tweet.

9 News didn't delete their tweet, fix their article, or say thanks for the clarification last night. At least they did finally amend the article.

I figured Denver Post would have pretty much the same story in the morning and, sure enough, they did. People also informed them of the mistake. I wonder which one of the two finally listened?

Obviously 9 News can't take back a newscast, and the Denver Post can't take back a printed newspaper (I'm saving a clipping). But these things happen all the time... what you do in these situations is fix the on-line versions and any references to them (like, say, the undeleted 9 News tweet). And, in a polite world (something I fantasise about), you apologise for any trouble caused. Easy enough, right?

As an editor, publisher, and writer I needed to have some cognizance of issues like slander and libel. In fact I've noted in another area of this web site that I removed one word from an article after getting a Cease and Desist. That C&D was a valid complaint, I took care of it immediately... the only near problem was that the warnings were emailed to me and landed in my spam. I happened to notice the FINAL warning while checking my spam for something else. Eep! What happens when you blow off a C&D? You get taken to court. That, of course, is expensive and therefore no one would ignore a C&D without reason.

Obviously major media is well aware of this, and in cases involving, say, corporations with enough money to easily crush them in court they would most certainly check their wording more carefully. They wouldn't hastily and "accidentally" write an article about how (insert name of large beer brewery) organised a pro-CIA assassination rally if it was actually organised by (insert name of major soda manufacturer) (and, no, I'm not citing anything that happened, it is an example of large companies with money). Maybe an intern would, but an editor would catch the mistake and fix it. If it wasn't fixed and a polite request to fix it was made by either company, they would do it in a hurry.

This case, however, involves 3 different organisers who wouldn't be expected to have the means or inclination to 1. issue a C&D and 2. carry through by taking it to court if the C&D isn't complied to. So false facts were reported, no editor corrected them, and requests to fix the incorrect information were disregarded for a day.

That's how it goes when you're the little people, right? It is perhaps a little ironic that Occupy Denver, who stands up for the little people, suffers from being them as well.

You may be wondering why I happen to know so many details about the Elves Revolt. Let's just say I have a cute little elf hat and I love taking pictures. Did it look like an Occupy Denver thing to me? No, Occupy Denver doesn't dress up like Elves in green bandanas and they're a lot more anti-corporate than anti-Capitalist overall. As am I, at least to the extent of wanting them to be better regulated, but I also love satire.

Back to the Thoughts Index.