By Dr. Mark Mussman
The old adage in news broadcasting, “if it bleeds, it leads,” helps create the belief that the world is more dangerous than it really is. Violent crime is at its lowest point in generations, yet people still believe that the world is more dangerous today than ever before. While mass shootings have become commonplace, the likelihood that a random act of violence will affect you are slim to none. The vast majority of crime occurs between people who are connected in some way. Rape and molestation are more common among family members, acquaintances, friends, and social groups than the random person on the street. Yet, we start early with “stranger danger” which may lull children into the false belief that their family and friend group are safe from harming them. Our limited, and perhaps distorted, worldview can be more harmful when we believe falsehoods touted by media.
Currently, community groups, including the Homeless Coalition, are in a media battle surrounding residential displacement in the West End. The soccer company, FC Cincinnati, has bought several buildings in the West End, and they are currently trying to remove the long-term residents, including 99 year-old Ms. Mary Page. The optics on this are pretty astounding, as Ms. Mary is bedridden and seeing her, hearing her story, is compelling. Yet, local news media is attempting to bury the story to protect the wealthy elite who own the soccer business. This is the type of story that should be running nationwide by now, yet, it is barely making rounds on local news sites. While Ms. Mary is just one of many, (FC Cincinnati’s own housing study, to be released the summer, shows that more than half of the residents of the West End, not including public housing, are at risk of losing their homes in the next 3-5 years), the stress of displacement may not just result in homelessness, it could also end her life.
One of the ways corporate media tries to bury the story is through oversimplification. Media may try to frame things as only two sides, and that each side has only their own interests at heart. In the case of the soccer stadium, it is presented as the soccer stadium is just trying to be built, you know, for the economic development, or progress. This viewpoint does not take in the months of organizing against the stadium, the residents who almost unanimously tried to stop the stadium from coming to their community, the land-swap deal with Cincinnati Public Schools, the many variances and zoning changes that were brought to City Council, research that shows that stadiums are economic wastes, and the whole history of the Bengals’ stadium deal - which we are still paying for in the county. Trying to simplify the issues also leads to a forgone conclusion, such as we saw in the news this week, which claimed that the residents must move for the stadium. Not only does this ignore the promises made by Jeff Berding of FC Cincinnati to “not displace anyone” it also defies logic - they do not need to move, but the business interests don’t value their lives because they are not in the targeted demographic for the stadium or the newspaper.
Another typical tactic used to bury a story is discredit the sources, those who are affected, and those who are helping to organize and amplify voices. Discrediting is seen in the titles assigned to people involved: community leader becomes “activist;” community organizer becomes “advocate;” community member becomes “bystander.” We see this time and time again, and it’s written into the history as well. Somehow, without having political aspirations at all, we at the Homeless Coalition are accused of staging the fight against displacement “for political gain.” I have yet to figure out what that gain is. How do we gain politically when we are aligning ourselves with the people who are thought to have the least amount of power? If we wanted political gain, wouldn’t we align ourselves with the most powerful? This kind of logical fallacy is prevalent in the media as it attempts to discredit the hard work that organizing entails. Other ways that sources have been discredited this week, include statements regarding Ms. Mary’s caregiver and family member, who lives in Mt. Auburn, that claim that she’s not worried about losing her own housing. What does that have to do with this issue? Unless we are talking about multi-neighborhood gentrification, it’s irrelevant. We should all be worried about displacement, and it should not be down-played by the media. But the goal here was to say that it doesn’t really affect the caregiver, so why is she even speaking about it?
Even more egregious than the previous examples, is when the news media clearly side with the oppressor, or agitator. In the case with FC Cincinnati, media outlets were quick to cite false information provided by FC Cincinnati, including that they were working directly with Ms. Mary (and others) to help them through this transition. FC Cincinnati was attempting to hide their new ownership of the buildings, and they were not at all in contact with the residents being displaced, other than notices to vacate the building. By repeating lies over and over, that FC Cincinnati is being altruistic, trying to help, when they have not even had a phone call or meeting with the residents, is a clear example of bad journalism. But beyond bad journalism, or what might be called fake news, it also shows how eager the media is to take what the powerful and wealthy have to say and run with it. It should have never been in print without verifying the facts. There have been other false statements made by FC Cincinnati over the years, including that no one would be displaced, and without a critical media to analyze these false messages, we are left with a mouthpiece for the soccer business.
Distracting the reader/viewer is also done to ensure that the whole picture isn’t received. A promotional video for the proposed soccer stadium ran on top of a recent article about the community members who FC Cincinnati is attempting to displace from their homes. The video, with its upbeat and driven music, shows fancy sketches of the possible stadium, comparisons with existing buildings in the area, including the football stadium, and glamorizes the stadium site. The video itself is overpowering, and I even watched the video thinking it was going to be about the victims, but it turned out to be a promotional video provided by FC Cincinnati. I watched the entire video before realizing that it didn’t even relate to the content of the article. The video itself is so hype that I was exhausted after watching it and I didn’t even read the article. Hours later, after realizing that I missed the content, I had to go back to the news site skip the video, and read the article. To distract us from tragic displacement, I also noticed non-story news popping on the front page of corporate media sites. For example, stories about the 7 Hills student who died in his van last year, and failures of the 9-1-1 system somehow became news again. Lists of hole-in-the-wall restaurants started popping up on corporate media’s social media. The story will be buried through distraction and oversaturation of non-news. Sports plays a specific role in distracting the public from inequalities and inequities that negatively affect our community’s quality of life.
Finally, the use of logical fallacies is prevalent in the reporting around the displacement of the low-income, mostly Black, residents in the West End. An Operation Vortex style blitz is being touted by the Cincinnati Police Department as a solution to the crime of the West End. These type of activities only serve to displace crime to another part of the city. The notion that everyone in the community is a criminal is not only harmful, but serves specific interests, including that of FC Cincinnati and land speculators. When social media pointed this out last year, the Cincinnati Police Department fired back by claiming this is what they do every year. So, every year, they label an entire neighborhood as criminal and become aggressive with them. Does anyone else see this as a problem?
We cannot simply compare FC Cincinnati, with its unlimited monetary resources, with the low-income community it is attempting to control. These are not equal comparisons, and should not be treated as such. We should be mindful of the tactics used to bury the story: oversimplification, forgone conclusions, discredit and deny, siding with the oppressor, distracting the community, using promotional materials as news, using blanket statements that vilify entire communities, and pretending that the villain the victim have the same amount of power. Like rape and sexual assault, the attempt by FC Cincinnati and its corporate partners to take the West End for their own use, is about power and control. FC Cincinnati, with the blessing of Cincinnati Public Schools, Cincinnati City Council, and the Hamilton County Commissioners has the power to do many things, but they cannot erase the power of the people who are organized and unified with a single demand: to remain in their safe and affordable housing, ultimately, to not be removed from their own community.