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Intensifying Into Violence

A Commentary By Michael Barone

"Protestors in California," tweeted ABC News, about an incident in Oakland, "set fire to a courthouse, damaged a police station and assaulted officers after a peaceful demonstration intensified."

If you'd presented your ninth-grade teacher with that sentence in your weekly writing assignment, she might have taken out her red pen and asked you, "How does a peaceful demonstration intensify?"

This sentence, however, was written not by a ninth-grader but by an adult, a professional journalist working for one of the world's major television news organizations. It was not an accident. As Modern Age editor Daniel McCarthy noted, "George Orwell could not improve on this."

Any "peaceful demonstration" capable of "intensifying" into setting fire to a courthouse, damaging a police station and assaulting law enforcement personnel was never really "peaceful" in the first place.

As The New Criterion editor Roger Kimball wrote, "the overriding criterion for choosing which narrative to plug" is which "will do the most damage to Donald Trump and Republican prospects in the November election."

The narrative that serves that purpose is that the demonstrations that broke out after the May 25 death of George Floyd are peaceful, and the demands of many demonstrators to "defund" the police are a reasonable response with no downside risk. Video footage suggesting the contrary has appeared sparingly, if at all, on broadcast news, CNN and MSNBC.

Demonstrations that have continued for more than 60 days in cities such as Oakland, Portland and Seattle are described as "largely peaceful" -- which, translated into English, means "violent."

Setting fires in federal buildings, aiming blinding lasers and shooting pellet guns at law enforcement personnel are to be ignored (as the Associated Press's Mike Balsamo's reports from Portland have been) or characterized as, in House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler's words, "a myth."

In that spirit, committee members questioning (and permitting few replies from) Attorney General William Barr declined his invitation to condemn violent attacks on federal courthouses and to endorse federal law enforcement attempts to defend them.

Major journalistic organizations seem uninterested as well in learning just who the mostly white and mask-clad violent protesters are, and whether they are part of an organized antifa network. Some, like MSNBC's Joy Reid, are willing to take antifa groups' anti-fascist label literally despite their use of tactics reminiscent of Mussolini's Blackshirts and Hitler's Brownshirts.

It's interesting as well that journalists sympathetic to the Black Lives Matter movement seem either puzzled by or blithely ignorant of the sharp rise in post-May 25 homicides in cities ranging from New York to Chicago to Minneapolis to Milwaukee to Denver to Los Angeles.

It's the fastest rise in murder rates since the late 1960s, another era of urban riots and complaints (more justified then than now) about police conduct.

Democrats and journalists have struggled to explain the spike. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, fresh from "Les Miz," suspects fathers are stealing to feed their children. The New York Times indicts summer heat waves.

They resist the obvious explanation: Less policing plus lighter punishment and delegitimizing law enforcement yields more violent crime. Almost all the extra victims, including children, are minorities in underprivileged neighborhoods. Some black lives evidently don't matter so much.

But that's not a story most journalists want to cover. Falling in the same category is the continued unraveling of the Russia-collusion hoax. The theory that Donald Trump was in cahoots with Russia was rendered "inoperative" (to borrow a word from the Watergate era) by Robert Mueller and his report last year.

Now comes information that former President Barack Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden were kept aware of FBI spying on Trump and his campaign, supposedly justified by the Clinton campaign-financed Steele memorandum. Now it turns out that the supposed Russia expert who was Steele's primary source was a D.C.-based bibulous operative connected with the Brookings Institution.

Thus, media outlets that could not produce enough Russia-collusion stories suddenly have no interest in the subject now that their conspiracy theory has been debunked. They evidently have zero interest in the Obama administration's violation of the American norms of refraining from using legal and intelligence agencies against political opponents, and of accepting election results.

That's "willful blindness" and "deliberately ignoring the facts," says law professor Jonathan Turley. In the process of exaggerating Trump's departures from norms and ignoring those of Trump's opponents, much of the media is doing a good job of tearing down American norms themselves -- a case, perhaps, of peaceful demonstration intensifying.

Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.


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See Other Commentaries by Michael Barone.

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