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Dear Media: Please Stop Calling Violent Rioters ‘Protesters’

Watching coverage of the unrest in Charlotte, North Carolina last night, I was struck by a common trend in how the most violent acts were being covered. Here are the three most-shared tweets of the night, but notice what they all have in common.

Looting a Wal-Mart, destruction of property, attempted murder, all carried out by… “protesters.”

There are thousands of protests in America every year, all of which manage to be nonviolent. I’ve been to quite a few of them, including entirely peaceful Black Lives Matter protests. None of them involved throwing people into a fire. Heck, none of them managed to set anything on fire.

I suppose you could make a convoluted argument about how the protests were against white supremacy, and capitalism and the media are agents of white supremacy, therefore attacking those institutions are acts of “protest” or whatever. But if even violent attempted murder and destruction of property can be a “protest” so long as the motives are political, I don’t see why the same can’t be said of, say, a terrorist attack. But I’ve never seen a tweet or headline describing Osama Bin Laden as a mere “protester.”

What I suspect is going on here is that reporters are attempting to stay neutral. Calling the perpetrators “looters” or “rioters” or “attackers” carries a degree of moral condemnation with it. Normally that’d be fine, but there’s also a substantial percent of the country that sympathizes with the perpetrators, or at least their motives. To appease those who sympathize broadly with the Black Lives Matter movement or similar groups, they choose to call them “protesters” instead.

But this is a false neutrality. In an effort to please those of all political stripes, the media ended up misinforming their consumers. The men and women who looted that Wal-Mart and destroyed stores were not “protesters,” and if they had done so in a context divorced from politics, media outlets would have the stones to say so.

The irony is that in their quest to cater to those who sympathize with Black Lives Matter, the media ends up doing the movement a disservice. To say that the worst instances of violence and rage were carried out by “protesters” — without qualification — the unmistakable impression is that looters and thieves are emblematic of the Charlotte protests as a whole.

I’m sure conservatives are salivating to chalk this up to an instance of “liberal media bias,” but we’ve seen this before with the Bundy Oregon stand-off. There was a tendency there to refer to armed militants who had seized a federal building as mere “protesters.” Again, by that definition, John McClane spent his Christmas Eve clearing out Nakatomi Plaza of “protesters.”

The principle remains the same no matter if it’s liberals or conservatives embracing lawlessness: criminals are criminals, and the media has a responsibility to identify them as such.

>>Follow Alex Griswold (@HashtagGriswold) on Twitter

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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