There are two things we need to be very clear about in coverage of the pro-coronavirus protests being held in several states recently: these are not grassroots endeavors, and they do not reflect the will of the majority. Interestingly, The New York Times rewrote its initial coverage of such protests in Michigan and elsewhere to reflect the former point, doing more to identify organizers like Greg McNeilly, who miraculously shifted shape from being a “Republican consultant” to being chair of the Michigan Freedom Fund and a longtime DeVos family functionary.
Although that coverage still claims that “The rallies reflected both economic frustrations and political divides,” a subsequent article even describes the protests as “well-organized” and notes that “From the available polling on these issues and the public statements of many organizers, there is reason to believe that this backlash is more about ideology than about fears of the restrictions’ economic impact.” But it’s important—and unfortunate—that it took The Times a little time to catch up with those realities, and it still left in the “economic frustrations” angle, so let’s review. Just so no one forgets.
According to a Gallup poll, just 20% of people would return immediately to normal activities after government restrictions were lifted. Never mind protesting to get the restrictions lifted more quickly. According to Pew, 66% of people are concerned that restrictions will be lifted too quickly, and 73% believe that the worst is yet to come.
Yet somehow The Times cites that Pew survey and concludes that protests nonetheless show that “in a deeply divided nation, the size of the protest in Michigan, and the appetite in other states for more rallies, suggested that anger over the no-end-in-sight nature of the lockdowns was not limited to the far right.” Hmm. Has the media managed not to notice that right-wing extremists are very well organized to turn people out to dangerous protests?
You’ve got the Michigan Freedom Fund, backed by the billionaire DeVos family—a family that includes a Trump Cabinet member. You’ve got this stuff being pushed by an InfoWars host and an Ohio state Senate candidate and the Idaho Freedom Foundation.
It’s not grassroots economic frustration, in short. That may exist, but in your average person, even many average Republicans, if polls are to be believed, it coexists with a healthy dose of concern about the virus, not with the impulse to get into a dense crowd of people and scream things and breathe in the vapors of other people’s screaming while brandishing a gun or a Gadsden flag.
Can we just please try to remember that? And when I say “we,” that’s a hint for major media organizations.