25 September 2011

Headline Writing 101 - Occupy Wall Street

Let's talk about this article.

The headline, if you haven't clicked through yet, is

'Occupy Wall Street' Protests Turn Violent; Video Shows Police Macing Women

Oh noes! Rampaging mobs of rioters are terrorizing New York City! Those crazy lefties are at it again!

...except, if you actually read the article rather than just scanning the headline on Google, the headline has very little to do with the article. The police are mass arresting people (80+ yesterday), but there are no reports of anyone other than the police getting violent (with one exception that I'll deal with momentarily).

From the article:
A New York Police Department spokeswoman today confirmed the group’s claim that approximately 80 people were arrested Saturday, mainly for disorderly conduct and obstructing vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

“One person was arrested for assaulting a police officer,” she said.

She added that no arrests have been made today.

The spokeswoman could not confirm whether police officers are using mace, Tasers or netting against protesters.

Among the video clips on the Occupy Wall Street website is one that shows a police officer macing a group of young women penned in by orange netting.

Another video has circulated of a police officer throwing a protester to the ground, though it is not clear why. The video shows the man standing in what seems to be a non-threatening manner before the incident.

Another video shows police officers pushing male and female protesters off the street, and using a large orange net to move the crowd.

So... one person arrested for assaulting a police officer. Violence! Except... "Assaulting a Police Officer" is completely meaningless. I'll copy the entire statute:
S 120.08 Assault on a peace officer, police officer, fireman or
emergency medical services professional.
A person is guilty of assault on a peace officer, police officer,
fireman or emergency medical services professional when, with intent to
prevent a peace officer, police officer, a fireman, including a fireman
acting as a paramedic or emergency medical technician administering
first aid in the course of performance of duty as such fireman, or an
emergency medical service paramedic or emergency medical service
technician, from performing a lawful duty, he causes serious physical
injury to such peace officer, police officer, fireman, paramedic or
technician.
Assault on a peace officer, police officer, fireman or emergency
medical services professional is a class C felony.

Quite literally: if a cop throws his shoulder out, or bruises his fist, while beating you down, congratulations, you've just assaulted a police officer. That'll be a felony. If you (in DC, but the same principle) refuse to remove your hands from your pockets when a cop, for any reason, orders you to, you've just assaulted a police officer, that'll be a misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail.

So... back to my main point... I'm going to go ahead and call this an irresponsible headline on ABC's part. The protests, as far as we know, aren't turning violent - the police response to them is. There's a difference, and blurring that is going to lead people to the wrong conclusion.

Get it right.

EDIT:

I should add: what I said before may have given the impression that charges were being leveled seriously, rather than as simple intimidation tactics or means to separate people from the protest. In my continuing quest for clarity in my writing, I'm posting now to point this oversight out.

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