Hey, remember the great Trucker Convoys that tied up downtown Ottawa and shut down the Ambassador Bridge because Truckers Mad About Freedom? Yeah, doesn’t that just scream “February”?
Well, it’s March, and I think it’s time to stop paying attention.
VTDigger, WCAX-TV and WPTZ-TV didn’t agree. They sent reporters to cover Freedom Convoy gatherings in Lebanon, NH and Champlain, NY. And having sent the reporters, they felt duty-bound to produce stories — despite the fact that the only “news” was how few people bothered to show up. And both broadcasters devoted more than two minutes to the story, which is an eon in TV time.
The reporters allowed themselves to become stenographers for the convoy movement. Participants were given plenty of time to list their grievances and depict themselves as simple, peaceful, freedom-loving Americans. There was no mention of the chaos and economic disruption caused by the Canadian protests, which was exactly the outcome the American organizers had hoped to produce.
See the image above? That’s a screenshot from WPTZ’s story. While that image was on screen, reporter Liz Strzepa said that the parking lot was “filled with red, white and blue.” Um, I see only six flags, ma’am.
Maybe that was an unfortunate juxtaposition and the lot was much fuller than it appeared. But Strzepa never showed a wide angle. There were many close shots of a few people and a few vehicles, but no establishing shot that would have given the whole picture. Probably because it would have exposed the gathering for what it was: a complete washout.
More on WPTZ momentarily; Strzepa’s report was a master class in How Not To Do Journalism. First, let’s say that while VTDigger’s story was a waste of time and effort, at least reporter Ethan Weinstein put a little effort into providing perspective. He gave actual counts: “Some 50 supporters gathered…” Note he didn’t say 50 convoy participants. That number was much smaller; Weinstein described the convoy as including “a logging truck, an oil tanker and about a dozen smaller vehicles.”
Now, that’s just sad.
Weinstein, to be fair, went some distance to portray the mean-spiritedness and occasional incoherence of the convoy’s stated goals. “Freedom” was the big one, which looks awfully whiny against the backdrop of war in Ukraine, where people are actually fighting for their actual freedom against an actual tyrant. Weinstein mentioned a soft-focus anger at the behavior of celebrities, and noted the presence of a Three Percenter logo used by anti-government militia types. Still, on balance his story was pretty darn convoy-friendly.
Like Weinstein, WCAX’s Adam Sullivan was at the parking lot of The Fort, a truck stop/restaurant (great place, btw) in Lebanon, NH. His establishing shot was a mirror image of Strzepa’s, with almost the same dismal number of vehicles and flags:
Yeah, that’s one actual working truck and a total of TWO vehicles visibly sporting flags. The Fort’s parking lot is a busy place, so it’s unclear whether the other vehicles in the shot were convoy-related or were simply there for the bacon and eggs. Weinstein’s tally would suggest the latter.
To give Sullivan his due, he pointed out that the convoy is chasing a ghost: “The group’s online mission statement indicates that the ultimate goal is for the country to lift all mandates… It comes at a time when mandates and restrictions…are going away.”
Strzepa slipped a similar statement into her report, but otherwise provided no context whatsoever as she offered a parade of sympathetic participants. Her narrative began with the hilariously unbalanced “It was a very peaceful protest in the North Country, and they intend it to stay that way as they head south.”
And then came the Good Ol’ Ordinary Amurricans with their down-home philosophies.
“It makes you feel good, these people besides me who really care.”
“It’s just a great feeling, you know, to think there are so many people that are taking time out of their busy day to come and do this.”
“The government overreachin’ a little bit too far.”
“Why does it have to be mandates? And, um, we believe that it’s something that is not constitutional, something that’s not, should be withheld by law. And so therefore, it’s something that we need to stand up for.”
The only hint of the Bizarro World of alternative facts motivating this protest came from the guy who provided the above quote: “It’s not just about the elites and the people that make decisions that we are, we exist as well.” Okay, then.
Strzepa concluded her report with the heartwarming, “They want people to know that they’re ready for things to get back to normal.” Drink the Kool-Aid much?
I don’t normally spend any time watching, or critiquing, the local teevee news. That way madness lies. But I couldn’t let this garbage pass by without comment. The coverage generally was vastly out of proportion; Strzepa’s in particular was an embarrassment to journalism.
This was especially grievous since the broader narrative of convoy coverage is what an underwhelming disaster it’s turned out to be.
A group that started from California “arrived in Las Vegas early Saturday with only five trucks in its ranks, the organizers said, prompting them to scrap the convoy.”
A convoy from Scranton included a mere seven trucks, and got lost in Washington, D.C.
A gathering in Lansing, Michigan produced a turnout of ten people.
“Only a handful of people” attended a D.C. rally in advance of President Biden’s State of the State address; organizers had expected thousands.
Organizers of an Indiana contingent had promised thousands of convoyers, but only about 300 showed up — and very few actual working trucks, mainly plain old passenger vehicles.
“A handful of trucks, dozens of cars” was the total in a convoy starting from Spokane, Washington.
The total picture you get from scanning national news reports is of a “movement” whose mission is unclear, whose tactics and strategies seem to change from day to day, whose turnout has been a complete disappointment, which had to scrap its original goal of disrupting Biden’s speech because most participants didn’t get there in time, which failed to attract very many truckers at all, which has raised millions of dollars with no clear picture of where the money is going, and which can’t even make up its mind on where it’s going or what it will do when it gets there.
All this was obvious Tuesday when assignment editors were sending reporters out to cover this damp squib of a protest, and Wednesday, when reporters dutifully echoed the statements of participants and when editors decided to go ahead and fill a bunch of space with a story about basically nothing.
Let’s remember this the next time there’s a left-wing march on Washington, D.C. We should expect proportionate coverage if the rally is a success, and we should expect the same kind of breathless stenography if the event is a failure.