Why media feasted on possible Thanksgiving Day airport protests

You might have heard, air travelers upset with new TSA body scanners were waging an “Internet campaign” for an “opt out” protest that would cause havoc at airports during the busy Thanksgiving weekend.

When I said “might” have heard, I meant – “you couldn’t avoid this story.” As CNN’s “Reliable Sources” host Howard Kurtz said on his show this week, “Every hour that I turn on cable news, I see this story, even if nothing new has happened in the past 24 or 48 hours…Does it deserve to be on television every hour, and then repeatedly lead the network evening news and the network morning shows?”

Bruce Plante, Tulsa World

Why the insatiable media appetite for this story?

Columnist David Carr in The New York Times this week offered a list of reasons that media couldn’t resist this story: timing, execution, mystery, mistrust of government, relevance, nothing and everything, displacement, race and class, good visuals and gender. His column deserves a read as a reminder of what makes media tick sometimes.

Speaking on “Reliable Sources,” GQ columnist Ana Marie Cox put her finger more simply on the cause – it’s us. Answering Kurtz’s rhetorical question about whether Matt Drudge of the influential www.drudgereport.com had become “America’s assignment editor,” Cox said that in essence Drudge was giving us what we wanted:

Drudge is less America’s assignment editor than he is America’s id…He can plug into those exact fears and insecurities that people have, and then that’s what gets the (Internet) traffic, that’s what then gets these guys working on it.”

After all the media build up, why did this hyped Internet protest simply fizzle? Author Malcolm Gladwell, in a piece published before the airport campaign was announced called “Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted,” explained what he sees as limitations of Internet organizing.

Gladwell wrote that social media wouldn’t have been enough for Martin Luther King in his battle against segregation in the South.

The things that King needed in Birmingham—discipline and strategy—were things that online social media cannot provide.

Gladwell makes a lot of good points. Is that why the protest failed, despite media and viewers gorging on the story? What do you think?

[On a side note of local musical interest, GQ columnist Cox, quoted above, recently wrote about a great Milwaukee band, Sat. Nite Duets. She linked to Milwaukee music blogger extraordinaire Ryan Matteson’s post on the band.]

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