“By reducing the story to one sign, the newspaper has also helped to jeopardize the health of every woman in this state. Oklahoma women, along with their physicians, should decide their health needs, not ideologically driven legislators.”—Kurt Hochenauer
The pedestrian fixation on what The Oklahoman has called a “vulgar” sign at the recent anti-personhood rally is just another way conservatives are marginalizing and attacking women here in Oklahoma.
Do any women who work at the newspaper use birth control? (I’ll go out on a limb here and bet that some do or have in the past.) That’s a legitimate question given how the newspaper covered the rally, at least judging from the NewsOK.com content.
The rally at the state capitol Tuesday, which attracted about 1,000 participants, was held to protest Senate Bill 1433, which has passed the senate. The anti-abortion bill grants rights to a fertilized egg in a woman’s womb. The bill, if passed, could outlaw forms of birth control, especially Plan B, and complicate the in vitro fertilization process for women trying to get pregnant. It could also lead, and this is not hyperbole, to an eventual ban on contraception here. Does anyone think conservatives will stop their assault on women's bodies if this bill passes?
State Sens. Constance Johnson, an Oklahoma City Democrat, and Judy Eason McIntyre, a Tulsa Democrat, spoke at the rally. For a brief moment, after she spoke, McIntrye held up a sign brought by the protesters. The sign proclaimed, “If I wanted the government in my womb I'd fuck a senator.” It lasted no more than a few seconds. I know. I was there right in front of her when she help up the sign.
The rally lasted three hours and featured many speakers, including endocrinologist Dr. Eli Reshef, who spoke about the problems the proposed law would create for women trying to get pregnant using in vitro fertilization methods.
So how did The Oklahoman cover the story? This was one headline on a NewsOK.com story: “Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre, of Tulsa, protests anti-abortion bill with F-word.” The story under the headline, which carried Megan Rolland’s byline, didn’t even note Reshef's comments or other speakers. It didn’t even include comments from participants, some of whom were college students worried about birth control access.
For good measure, The Oklahoman followed up with an editorial calling the sign “vulgar” and arguing McIntyre’s action—again it lasted no more than a few seconds—a part of numerous “juvenile antics” among legislative Democrats.
Let’s set the record straight here: (1) McIntyre didn’t bring the sign. She simply saw it and waved it for a few seconds. (2) The crowd roared in approval when she waved the sign so it was unlikely the sign offended the vast majority of rally participants. (3) If the editors of The Oklahoman found the sign so “vulgar,” as they described it, then why did they run a photograph of it on their site?
Are the reporters and editors at The Oklahoman so detached from the real world that they don’t see the use of the f-word throughout our culture, especially on television or in films? Are they really that narrow-minded and pedestrian and offended? Or are they simply supporting the personhood bill?
So it’s the other way around. The way The Oklahoman covered the rally is vulgar. This is not just word play. The newspaper’s reductionist coverage and the bill are direct attacks on any woman who has ever practiced birth control in Oklahoma or has used the in vitro fertilization process to get pregnant or has had an abortion.
By reducing the story to one sign, the newspaper has also helped to jeopardize the health of every woman in this state. Oklahoma women, along with their physicians, should decide their health needs, not ideologically driven legislators.
I’ve been trying to respond to each of The Oklahoman editorials, published on NewsOK.com, that criticize that Occupy Wall Street movement to highlight the sheer inanity and cluelessness of perhaps the most conservative newspaper in the country.
The newspaper, which is now owned by Colorado billionaire Philip Anschutz, doesn’t “get” the Occupy movement, and it has undoubtedly spent thousands of words proving it. But what the newspaper lacks in basic cultural understanding it makes up for in ad hominem, demeaning attacks on people who basically want a decent economic future for themselves.
The newspaper’s lastest inane offering (“Occupy protests to the contrary, bigger isn’t always badder,” Jan. 17, 2012) essentially argues that monopoly companies such as Walmart are good for the country, and it’s only a “naive and sometimes stupid strain of populism,” i.e. the Occupy Movement, that would dare criticize them.
Here’s the telling paragraph in the commentary:
A local gadfly, speaking at an Occupy OKC rally late last year, evoked this idiocy in urging his audience to shop only at small, locally owned businesses “and stay out of big box stores that feed the 1 percent and wreck local economies.”
Note the words “gadfly” and “idiocy” and the previously cited “stupid strain of populism,” which shows the editorial must rely on name-calling and demeaning language in an effort to make a point, which is obviously strained. In the end, the editorial’s argument is archaic in its simplicity: Walmart good, protesters bad. The words in italic are a mimic of the editorial’s ending, which goes “Two stores good, 400 better.”
The criticism of Walmart has a long history, and I won’t spend much time rehashing the complaints, which center around the monopoly’s impact on communities around the country. The basic narrative, given by the company’s detractors, is that Walmart pushes out independent businesses in communities and pays extremely low wages. A good source of information for this type of criticism, which has cultural validity and is remarkable for its contemporary importance, is Walmart Watch. Here’s an example of the arguments presented on the site:
From small businesses to major chains, all grocery and retail establishments that compete with Walmart are impacted by the company. Competitors are often forced to lower wages and standards. By using a model based on low-wages, high-efficiency transportation, and imported goods, Walmart has a history of destroying once thriving downtowns across rural America.
That the local editorial didn’t refer significantly to the huge, historical body of Walmart criticism is fairly typical because the fallacy of omission is one of the newspaper’s best weapons in protecting the wealthiest 1 percent from any critique. But, once again, the newspaper misses the most salient point of the Occupy Movement, which is 99 percent of the country is essentially enslaved politically and economically by the top 1 percent. That’s an argument that’s been made here and across the country, and not just among Occupy protesters. The great wealth disparity in this country threatens democracy, and, paradoxically, capitalism itself.
So, given what the movement is really about, here’s some information unlikely to be found on The Oklahoman editorial page when it criticizes the “idiocy” of the “naïve” protesters and their “stupid strain of populism.” According to Wikipedia, the three children of Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, using 2011 numbers, are worth the following: Alice Walton, $20.9 billion, S. Robson Walton, $21 billion and Jim Walton, $21.3 billion.
As of 2010, Anschutz, the new owner of The Oklahoman, is worth $7 billion, according to the site.
For weeks, the editorial page of The Oklahoman has mocked and sneered at the Occupy OKC participants and the entire Occupy Wall Street movement, employing demeaning, sarcastic right-wing rants to make its points.
On Wednesday, an editorial published on NewsOK.com (“Continued overnight stays in Kerr Park would only hurt Occupy OKC cause,” Dec. 14, 2011) about the local protesters dropped the silly snark, for the most part, and offered its sanctimonious advice for Occupy OKC: Leave the downtown Kerr Park encampment for the good of your cause.
Of course, the editorial was published as the Occupy OKC protesters were actually already breaking camp after a federal judge’s ruling that they had to leave the park at night because of city park regulations. The Occupy OKC argument was essentially that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution establishes “the right of the people peaceably to assemble . . .”.
That The Oklahoman should now be a source of advice for the OWS movement is about as absurd as it gets. This is a media outlet that, at least in its editorials, has made it clear it favors the interests of big corporations and the wealthy—or the 1 percent—above anything else. This has been the newspaper’s modus operandi under the Gaylord family and now apparently under the ownership of Philip Anschutz.
Perhaps worse than the unwanted and self-serving advice, though, is the newspaper’s failure to even remotely understand the local and national protests, which are sure to continue through the winter and erupt in full force during the spring. That’s the fault line between establishment media outlets and the OWS movement. If the movement can’t be presented as a list of points in a press release, then corporate media outlets are going to marginalize it. But this is a beginning of a movement, here and elsewhere, that might never lend itself to the artificial rhetorical frames still widely practiced as “journalism.”
There are two points of misunderstanding in the most recent editorial about the OWS movement in The Oklahoman.
First, the editorial claims Occupy OKC participants “do indeed have a right to ‘stand up for what they believe in a public space.’ But the First Amendment doesn't say that other rules or laws don't apply.”
But the First Amendment also doesn’t say the right to peaceably assemble IS subject to all “other rules or laws.” Kerr Park’s hours are not, to be obvious, specifically a part of the constitution. The key word here is “peaceably.” One basis of the Occupy movement is to occupy, to be redundant, in both an actual and symbolic sense. It says, We claim this space because it’s ours as citizens. We’re going to live here. We want a voice in making “other rules or laws.” Of course, the temporary or even permanent suspension of some “other rules or laws” is valid when there are pressing social concerns presented peacefully by a widespread, national movement.
It’s difficult to imagine that our country’s forefathers would have considered a small park’s hours of operation more important than peaceful protest.
Second, the editorial asks why the protesters chose Kerr Park and not some other public space. The answer to that, at least from my perspective, seems obvious. The park was donated to the city by the long-gone Kerr-McGee Corporation, a once prominent oil and gas company in Oklahoma City that was sold in 2006 and became part of Anadarko Petroleum Corporation in Houston. In a sense, because of the nomenclature, a historical, now non-existent corporation “occupies” the park 24 hours a day. What better place to protest the outsized role corporate money and influence plays in our political system?
As I’ve written before, once the Oil Age comes to an end, companies like Kerr-McGee will seem like a blip on the city’s and state’s history. Let’s hope that the expression of valid protest and the exercise of free speech will live on and that maybe one day Kerr Park will be known as Occupy Park.