Black Lives Matter has had plenty of media coverage about their movement, but it is unclear whether or not all publicity is beneficial in their development and goal accomplishment.
The three biggest pieces of publicity are video broadcasts, articles, and social media. When looking at the Black Lives Matter publicity footprint, I felt as though it was important to be rounded in media elements, so I looked at one video, one news article, and a collection of tweets.
KIRO7 News in Seattle released a video about a Black Lives Matter march that happened in the city.
While listening to this video I picked up on some interesting word and language choices made by the news anchors. When first describing the march down town, the female news anchor said:
"A Black Lives Matter march remained largely peaceful tonight." (video)I thought this was interesting because I felt as though it was indirectly saying something about what the Black Lives Matter marches was really about. With this same kind of thinking I then looked at my article which was from the Los Angeles Times. As I was reading I didn't really pick up on anything from the article that sounded like it was implying something negative about the march. As I read it a second time I came across this quote, all by itself:
"They remained at the intersection known for the landmark, Randy's Donuts, snarling traffic for more than an hour." (LA Times)After reading this I started to see a trend in the way that outside media was portraying Black Lives Matter events. When I was looking at tweets, I decided to stay focused on external news sources to examine if this trend was still apparent. Though not all tweets had this negative implication that the video and the article had, there was still a lot that did. one example would be:
#BlackLivesMatter protesters are expected to crash #Westlake tree lighting ceremony. @HenryKIRO7 has more at 11:04 https://t.co/gBy7fn1TM0— KIRO 7 (@KIRO7Seattle) November 25, 2015
To find these tweets I did an advanced search.
Under key words that had to be in the content, I listed Black, Lives, Matter and under the section that asked who's tweets I wanted to look at, I put in the twitter handles of several news stations in the Seattle area. I chose the Seattle area because that's where the video of the march took place, and I'm also from there so I have prior knowledge about these news stations.
I ended up scrolling through about 40 to 50 tweets per news station on the advanced search. From there I chose about 5 to 7 tweets per each news source that had to do with the social movement of Black Lives Matter.
After looking at the tweets, video, and my article, I began searching for common rhetorical devices and strategies that were present in all of them. When I was reading over everything, my focus was on not what they directly said, but rather what they were implicitly saying based off of their word and language choices.
The trope paralypsis, part of the apophasis family, was what applied to all my data. A paralypsis is a rhetorical device that invokes a subject without actually stating it or invoking it.
The tweets, the article, and the video all had specific word choices that made the reader think a little more into what was actually being said. Because of this, I see the paralypsis.
I then looked at the Milford reading about priesthood to continue to examine how outside news media was affecting the Black Lives Matter movement. Here it talked about how the priesthood was in charge of upkeeping the community's value structures. The priests protected and framed these values and those values then set the parameters of what was socially acceptable. I then applied this priesthood theory of Burke's to outside-sourced news media, and its impact on perception regarding the Black Lives Matter movement.
Along with Milford, I also looked at Perelman's Rhetoric of Argument.
As far as what I found applicable, Perelman's quasilogical argument of transivity was present in all three media contexts. Transivity is the idea that if A=B and B=C, then A=C. The video, the article, and the several tweets seemed to be implying this notion that because marches and protests are violent, and the Black Lives Matter movement uses protest and marches, the Black Lives Matter movement is violent.
I also tied in the idea of grammatical ambiguity from a list of fallacies that we looked at.
The last text I used to analyze my media content was chapter 2 from Persuasion and Social Movement. In this chapter it talked about the process of how good communication is important in constructing meaning about a given social movement. It also explained how imperative communication is in the organization and support of a social movement.
This is relevant to what I was looking at because of my analysis of how external news sources are communicating about the Black Lives Matter marches.
So how does this all fit together and what's the significance of it all?
Well, after collecting all this information I wanted to use it to look at how outside media sources impacted people's perception of the Black Lives Matter movement and how that plays a role in their social movement progression.
Like I said earlier, every tweet, article, and video had some kind of instance where there was this the trope of paralypsis. The following is the quote from the video that I looked at:
"A Black Lives Matter march remained largely peaceful tonight." (video)By having the word 'tonight' at the end of this statement, it implies as though peace isn't something that regularly happens at a Black Lives Matter march. As the video goes on, there is also talk about how a man had to overcome his fear of violence at the scene to protest. This also implies the same kind of idea.
When looking at the article, it doesn't seem to do this quite as much, but it definitely has a deliberate implication based off of word choice. In the LA Times the quote said:
"They remained at the intersection known for the landmark, Randy's Donuts, snarling traffic for more than an hour." (LA Times)The use of snarl automatically makes the reader feel negatively about what's going on. One hears snarl and they automatically start thinking about something vicious. The article didn't directly say that the protesters were vicious, but by incorporating that word choice, that what happened.
This same kind of language and word choice is apparent in the tweets too. If we look at the one from earlier,
First of all, having anything to do with crashing a tree lighting ceremony around Christmas in America is going to cause a lot of problems and make a lot of people unhappy. The fact that described it as 'crashing' the tree lighting ceremony implies that there's supposed to be some kind of sabotage involved or something.#BlackLivesMatter protesters are expected to crash #Westlake tree lighting ceremony. @HenryKIRO7 has more at 11:04 https://t.co/gBy7fn1TM0— KIRO 7 (@KIRO7Seattle) November 25, 2015
We see this present in more tweets too. Here's another example, take a look at these two tweets:
'Black Lives Matter' activists disrupt Bernie Sanders speech in Seattle. http://t.co/lHorkOGCQK #Q13FOX pic.twitter.com/4UVrMCfK8Z— #Q13FOX (@Q13FOX) August 9, 2015
Both of these tweets are dealing with Black Lives Matter protesters in the same way. 'Disrupts' and 'takes over' are word choices that are implicit about invasion. Disrupts is a little better in this case, but describing these situations like this is still causing negative responses.Black Lives Matter marchers take over UW race meeting; photo by news partners @Seattle Timeshttps://t.co/BMWz8tHzzo pic.twitter.com/V2pOjh5TpN— #Q13FOX (@Q13FOX) April 6, 2016
From this I felt as though each tweet or quote was trying to bring light to a message without being upfront and stating it. Each case encourage this thought of violence and viciousness in relation to the Black Lives Matter events, but none were straight forward with what they were saying.
Cue Burke's priesthood theory and Milford.
When I looked at this piece of text, I ended up using the priesthood theory as framework for how the news media was in relationship to Black Lives Matter. Essentially the priest are the authority in the model, they govern a given communities orientation and this is the foundation for that community's social order or expectations. From there things, situations, people, ect. are judged and either they fit the parameters of the social expectations or they don't.
I looked at the news media and black lives matter situation very similarly. In this case, the 'priesthood', or orientation controlling authority, would be the external news media outlets.
Since the news media is the 'priesthood', then the foundation that they're laying is the perception of how people view the BLM movement. This perception is then grounds for whether or not people are positively seeing things or negatively seeing things. The factors that decide whether or not a certain Black Lives Matter event is being perceived good or bad would be where the rhetorical strategies and what they're arguing come into play.
As we can see, the usage of paralypsis and grammatical ambiguity is implying that the Black Lives Matter movement is intertwined with violence and thus it's creating this bad perception about what the movement is actually about.
From the video and article alone, 5 times, violence or lack of violence was mentioned, and only twice was the actual purpose of the specific BLM march or protest mentioned.
This focus on violence being a part of the march I think is what is being implicitly argued.
This is where Perelman's idea of Transivity and Quasi-logical arguments come into play. As a reminder, the transivity argument is the idea that if A=B and B=C, then C must = A.
There's this almost universal agreement that because protests and marches are violent, and the Black Lives Matter movement has protest and marches, the BLM movement is violent. Every news source that I looked at directly said or implied that the marches and protest were something that was is at least should be violent or malicious. So from the paralypsis and grammatical ambiguity, the news media is making the argument that BLM is violent.
With that being said, we need to now look at how this all effect the Black Lives Matter movement.
What I the news media is doing, intentionally or not, is driving away possible supporters and obscuring the real reason behind why the movement started.
Before actually beginning this research project I wasn't really educated about what the Black Lives Matter movement was trying to accomplish. I, like many others, was getting all my information from the news stories I heard about the protests and marches. As seen above, I probably wasn't getting very positive information. Luckily I picked up on that for this project.
For people like the white and elderly, they're not active on social media and probably don't get much information about the BLM movement other than from what they're reading and hearing from news stations. If these external news sources are manipulating people's perception about what this movement is actually standing for, it's going to make fighting this battle a lot harder.
The media however, has plausible deniability about everything because of their uses of these implicit rhetorical strategies which means they can't really be blamed for the influence that have on the Black Lives Matter movement.
I'm not really sure how one would go about solving this issue come the future because of how tricky it all is. The BLM movement can't exactly blame the media for false representation because of the plausible deniability, but also because they need the good publicity that they're receiving also. I think that main focus now for them should be pushing their objective and goals as much as possible because of the obscured reporting that's occurring.
Then people like me who are late to the party can understand from the beginning that what they stand for is right and just, not just violence and complaining.