To be honest, I'm still working through the emotions and, at times, confusion that poured out the other day in the Crossroads podcast that ran with this headline: "Your depressing 'think' podcast: Faith, hate and details that mattered in Charlottesville."
I want to make sure that readers know how much of a challenge hard-news reporters face covering massive protests at street level, as opposed to the angle used by members of the chattering classes as they sit in studio chairs in Washington, D.C., and New York City (and a few other hives).
Take the demonstration the other day in Boston. How many different points of view did you have to understand to explain to the public what appeared to happen there?
First: Let's mention the religion angle. I became interested in this "Free Speech Rally" because of the involvement of some pro-life, or anti-abortion, demonstrators. They were there as part of the coalition that put the event together for the expressed purpose of (a) standing up for the free-speech rights of conservatives outside the media mainstream and, at the same time, (b) to condemn the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville. I think it's safe to say that religious faith is central to the story of the pro-life demonstrators.
According to reporter Garrett Haake of MSNBC, this small circle of demonstrators faced some pushy, some would say violent, opposition from the left. The quote from Haake's tweet:
Kudos, by the way, to MSNBC for reporting that information.
So we have some pro-lifers, we have some Antifa folks. Who else is there? Let's pause for a moment and look at the top of an ABC News report on this drama. I thought this passage -- which is a bit long -- was especially crucial:
Police Commissioner William Evans said at a news conference this afternoon that some urine-filled bottles were thrown at officers, and police indicated on Twitter that some demonstrators were throwing rocks at police.
But for the most part, Evans said, the day of direct action went off smoothly as police planned, with very little injury and property damage.
"Overall I thought we got the First Amendment people in, we got them out, no one got hurt, no one got killed," he said.
Police did stop three people with ballistic vests and a gun, Evans said, "but we were lucky to get those three out of here and confiscate the vests."
Evans said roughly 40,000 people descended on Boston Saturday, "standing tall against hatred and bigotry in our city, and that's a good feeling." He added that he wished the "trouble makers stayed away," who he said weren't there for either the free speech side or the counterprotesters' side, but "were here just to cause problems."
Evans said that "99.9 percent of the people here were for the right reasons -- that's to fight bigotry and hate."
The first thing I thought when I read that was: OK, who brought the guns? Where those people on the left or the right?
You see, there is evidence that some KKK people showed up as part of the "free speech" crowd, even though the organizers clearly wanted to reject the white supremacy point of view.
You also had lots of Donald Trump supporters there. Now, there were demonstrators there who think supporting Trump equals supporting white supremacy. But let's not go there.
There were counter demonstrators on the scene, however, who supported the right of the free-speech coalition to demonstrate -- they just wanted to express their displeasure. As in:
So how many points of view do we have at this point, on the left and right?
On the right, pro-life doesn't equal Trump supporter (automatically). Neither of those perspectives automatically, or in any cases at all on this day, equals KKK or white supremacist. None of that equals marching with a gun (if the gun people were, in fact, on the political right as opposed to the left).
Now, how many viewpoints do we have on the left? Clearly, we had liberal counter-demonstrators who were pro-free speech, they just wanted to be part of a debate. You probably had clergy in that crowd.
However, then you had the whole "hate speech is not free speech" crowd that wanted to protest, if not ban, the very existence of the original demonstration. That's a point of view that for generations would have been considered illiberal, as opposed to traditionally liberal.
Finally, just as you had KKK people who tried to piggyback on the "free speech" demonstration, it's clear that you had Antifa people who showed up to make trouble -- piggybacking on the organizational efforts of actual liberals who came to protest (and that was that).
I think it's safe to say that the vast majority of the counter-protestors were peaceful and many of them had truly liberal motives.
But there were others, often expressing viewpoints that were bitterly ironic. Watch until the end of this clip and note this quote aimed at an African-American policeman (warning on the language here): "“You stupid-a** bitch. I’ll f***ing spit on you, bitch. You stupid-a** black bitch. You’re supposed to be on our side!”
But was that the majority point of view on the left? I would say "no."
But circle back to the PBS piece at the top of this post. How many of these ideological points of view made it into the reporting there?
The irony: It would appear that most of the marchers on the right, and most of the counter-protesters on the left, wanted to back free speech AND condemn the white supremacists in Charlottesville. It's safe to assume that there were religious voices on both sides.
So did that central point make it into the reporters you saw? How about the post-Trump tweet commentaries?
Stay tuned. And be patient. Read, read, read.