Why Occupy Wall Street Is Bigger Than Left vs. Right
By Matt Taibbi
October 17, 2011
I was surprised, amused and annoyed all at once when I found
out yesterday that some moron-provocateur linked to notorious
right-wing cybergoon Andrew Breitbart had infiltrated a
series of private e-mail lists - including one that I have
been participating in - and was using them to run an exposé
on the supposed behind-the-scenes marionetting of the OWS
movement by the liberal media.
According to various web reports, what happened was that a
private "cyber-security researcher" named Thomas Ryan somehow
accessed a series of email threads between various
individuals and dumped them all on BigGovernment.com,
Breitbart's site. Gawker is also reporting that Ryan
forwarded some of these emails to the FBI and the NYPD.
I have no idea whether those email exchanges are the same as
the ones I was involved with. But what is clear is that some
private email exchanges between myself and a number of other
people - mostly financial journalists and activists who know
each other from having covered the crisis from the same angle
in the last three years, people like Barry Ritholz, Dylan
Ratigan, former regulator William Black, Glenn Greenwald and
myself - ended up being made public.
There is nothing terribly interesting in any of these
exchanges. Most all of the things written were things all of
us ended up saying publicly in our various media forums. In
my case, what I wrote was almost an exact copy of my Rolling
Stone article last week, suggesting a list of demands for the
movement. I said I thought having demands was a good idea and
listed a few things I thought demonstrators could focus on.
Others disagreed, and there was a friendly back-and-forth.
So I was amazed to wake up this morning and find that various
right-wing sites had used these exchanges to build a story
about a conspiracy of left-wing journalists. "Busted. Emails
Show Liberal Media & Far Left Cranks Conspired With #OWS
Protesters to Craft Message," wrote one.
Breitbart's site, BigGovernment.com, went further, saying
that the Occupy Washington D.C. movement is "working with
well-known media members to craft its demands and messaging
while these media members report on the movement."
The list, the site wrote, include:
...well known names such as MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan, Rolling
Stone’s Matt Tiabbi [sic] who both are actively
participating; involvement from other listers such as Bill
Moyers and Glenn Greenwald plus well-known radicals like Noam
Chomsky, remains unclear.
Aside from the appalling fact of these assholes stealing
private emails and bragging about it in public, the whole
story is completely absurd. None of the people on the list,
as far as I know, are actually organizers of OWS -- I know
I'm not one, anyway.
In fact, I was surprised by the entire characterization of
this list as being some kind of official wing of OWS. I
thought it was just a bunch of emails from friends of mine,
talking about what advice we would give protesters, if any of
them asked, which in my case anyway they definitely did not.
This whole episode to me underscores an unpleasant
development for OWS. There is going to be a fusillade of
attempts from many different corners to force these
demonstrations into the liberal-conservative blue-red
This will be an effort to transform OWS from a populist and
wholly non-partisan protest against bailouts, theft, insider
trading, self-dealing, regulatory capture and the market-
perverting effect of the Too-Big-To-Fail banks into something
a little more familiar and less threatening, i.e. a captive
"liberal" uprising that the right will use to whip up support
and the Democrats will try to turn into electoral energy for
Tactically, what we'll see here will be a) people firmly on
the traditional Democratic side claiming to speak for OWS,
and b) people on the right-Republican side attempting to
portray OWS as a puppet of well-known liberals and other
On the Democratic side, we've already seen a lot of this
behavior, particularly in the last week or so. Glenn
Greenwald wrote about this a lot last week, talking about how
Obama has already made it clear that he is "on the same side
as the Wall Street protesters" and that the Democratic Party,
through the DCCC (its House fundraising arm), has jumped into
the fray by circulating a petition seeking 100,000 party
supporters to affirm that "I stand with the Occupy Wall
Street protests"(I wonder how firmly the DCCC was standing
with OWS sentiment back when it was pushing for the bailouts
and the repeal of Glass-Steagall Act).
We've similarly heard about MoveOn.org jumping into the
demonstrations and attempting, seemingly, to assume
leadership roles in the movement.
All of this is the flip side of the coin that has people like
Breitbart trying to frame OWS as a socialist uprising and a
liberal media conspiracy. The aim here is to redraw the
protests along familiar battle lines.
The Rush Limbaughs of the world are very comfortable with a
narrative that has Noam Chomsky, MoveOn and Barack Obama on
one side, and the Tea Party and Republican leaders on the
other. The rest of the traditional media won't mind that
narrative either, if it can get enough "facts" to back it up.
They know how to do that story and most of our political
media is based upon that Crossfire paradigm of left-vs-right
commentary shows and NFL Today-style team-vs-team campaign
What nobody is comfortable with is a movement in which
virtually the entire spectrum of middle class and poor
Americans is on the same page, railing against incestuous
political and financial corruption on Wall Street and in
Washington. The reality is that Occupy Wall Street and the
millions of middle Americans who make up the Tea Party are
natural allies and should be on the same page about most of
the key issues, and that's a story our media won't want to or
know how to handle.
Take, for instance, the matter of the Too-Big-To-Fail banks,
which people like me and Barry Ritholz have focused on as
something that could be a key issue for OWS. These gigantic
institutions have put millions of ordinary people out of
their homes thanks to a massive fraud scheme for which they
were not punished, owing to their enormous influence with
government and their capture of the regulators.
This is an issue for the traditional "left" because it's a
classic instance of overweening corporate power -- but it's
an issue for the traditional "right" because these same
institutions are also the biggest welfare bums of all time,
de facto wards of the state who sucked trillions of dollars
of public treasure from the pockets of patriotic taxpayers
from coast to coast.
Both traditional constituencies want these companies off the
public teat and back swimming on their own in the cruel seas
of the free market, where they will inevitably be drowned in
their corruption and greed, if they don't reform immediately.
This is a major implicit complaint of the OWS protests and it
should absolutely strike a nerve with Tea Partiers, many of
whom were talking about some of the same things when they
burst onto the scene a few years ago.
The banks know this. They know they have no "natural"
constituency among voters, which is why they spend such
fantastic amounts of energy courting the mainstream press and
such huge sums lobbying politicians on both sides of the
The only way the Goldmans and Citis and Bank of Americas can
survive is if they can suck up popular political support
indirectly, either by latching onto such vague right-populist
concepts as "limited government" and "free-market capitalism"
(ironic, because none of them would survive ten minutes
without the federal government's bailouts and other
protections) or, alternatively, by presenting themselves as
society's bulwark against communism, lefty extremism, Noam
All of which is a roundabout way of saying one thing: beware
of provocateurs on both sides of the aisle. This movement is
going to attract many Breitbarts, of both the left and right
variety. They're going to try to identify fake leaders, draw
phony battle lines, and then herd everybody back into the
same left-right cage matches of old. Whenever that happens,
we just have to remember not to fall for the trap. When
someone says this or that person speaks for OWS, don't
believe it. This thing is bigger than one or two or a few
people, and it isn't part of the same old story.
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