Friday, August 18, 2017

Is the New York Times advertising to join a violent group, condoning its methods?

There is a an organized group of activists that formed “a human chain …, blocking” people to participate in a scheduled rally.  They “have shown no qualms about using their fists, stick or canisters of pepper spray to meet” them, “armed with sticks and masked in bandannas”.  “In February, black-clad protesters [of that group] …  smashed windows, threw gasoline bombs and broke into a campus building, causing $100.000 in damage.”  At “Mr. Trump’s inauguration … a masked member of the movement punched the prominent R.B. Spencer”.  “Now, more than ever, ‘physcial confrontation’ would be needed,” according to one member of the group. 

Repugnant?  Dangerous?  Should police lock them up?  Should politicians publicly condemn them? 
Make your choice now.  And meet the new darling of the vast majority of the press and the large majority of the public these days: the Antifa movement.  Antifa, as in anti-fascist (and who isn’t against fascism, right?).  More, pro-North-Korea, perhaps: after all, communist regimes are typically not called fascist.  More importantly, this was the group that violently clashed with the rally participants in Charlottesville, among them the White Supremacists.  Trump has criticized the violence on both sides.  For that, Trump was criticized from pretty much all sides (well, excluding the White Supremacist groups).  Hardly anyone, except for Trump, has dared criticize the Antifa movement in the ensuing days. 

So, the perfect time for a bit of advertisement, then?  The quotes above are all taken from a New York Times article today, Friday, August 18th, starting on the front page. You can  find the online version  here, . Superficially, there is nothing particularly wrong about that article.  It reports on the movement, and lists views on all sides.  All good then, right?

Until one examines the pictures to go along with the article.  Look at them.  Look at them again.  Given the description above, what would one have expected to see, I wonder?  Perhaps an image of the “black-clad protesters [who] … smashed windows”?  Or pictures of them showing no “qualms about using their fists, stick or canisters of pepper spray”?  At least some nice pictures, where they are “armed with sticks and masked in bandanas”?

Those weren’t the pictures shown.  On page 1 of the printed New York Times, there is instead a picture of “members of the antifa movement”, showing a rather sympathetic-looking group.  Ok, the one on the left, barely in the picture, wears a bandana.  In the center then is a young woman, looking fierce, but not covering her reasonably beautiful face at all.  There is a black man too, and without a covered face: wonderful, a truly diverse group!  The group does not seem to be threating at all: there is a guy on the right of that picture, calmly stretching out his arm as if to guide them where to go.  A harmless, diverse group of young people in parkas, thus.  Oh, and no sticks.  On the web version, those antifa members seemed to protest peacefully behind some border in the background, while a “White Nationalist” in the foreground looks ready to throw something at them: hardly an illustration either.

But then, turn to page A15 in the printed version, where the article continues, or scroll down the online version.  Another picture of a group member!  This time, it is of Emily Rose Nauert, a 20-year old, who “became a symbol of the movement … when a white nationalist leader punched her in the face”.  A google-search brought me , which I guess was that actual punch.  But that is not what the New York Times showed.  They show her sitting on some stairs in a garden, barefooted, in a flirty dress, the backlit light perfectly reflecting of her long, tussled hair.  This looks like a professional photograph. I was trying to think what the picture was meant to convey.  Do we see traces of that punch?  Do we see someone fierce, ready to battle and impose violence, as the article would seem to suggest?  Do we some tough woman, that is going to stand up to everyone everywhere?

Look at it.  Look at it again.   To me (and, really, is it just me?), it looks more like a young, fragile and, yes, beautiful woman.  If one only saw that picture out of context, one might have thought that this is a picture of Giselle Bündchen on the cover of Vogue, somewhere and a few years ago, perhaps making advertisement for some Laura Ashley dress.  So, the Antifa movement now has its own Giselle Emily Rose Nauert Bündchen!  Congratulations!  She got street-cred by getting punched in the face, ok.  But none of that is seen here.

But how did that picture get into the New York Times?  Theory 1 is that they are no different from any of the other tabloids, that like to print pictures of beautiful women to increase sales.  Let me dismiss that theory: those pictures are typically remarkably hard to find in the NYT.  Theory 2 is that they just happened to have that picture at hand and it seemed to be the best picture to illustrate their story.  Really?  C’mon.

Theory 3 remains.  Show a picture of beautiful woman, who is a member of that movement, to convey how beautiful and humane and loving that movement is.  To all the young men out there, considering joining it, it says: “join us and you get to meet cute, lovely women like her!”.  It is the oldest trick and strategy for getting young men to join anything and to do anything.   Some things just always work.

So, if this was the main web page of the antifa movement, advertising for membership, I’d understand perfectly.  But this is the New York Times, right?  Are they making subtle advertisement?  Are they subtly encouraging young men to join the Antifa?  Hey, have some fun, smash windows, throw gasoline bombs, use canisters of pepper spray on people whose views you find despicable, and meet the girl of your dreams, right? 

Shame on you, New York Times. 

Or perhaps the picture really just got in there by accident, and those capable journalists of the New York Times never reflected on this one bit.  Possible too, of course.

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