In a story from November 12, USA Today writes an article to discredit the idea that the professional activist community is involved with organizing anti-Trump protests. They invite you to meet the protesters. USA today presents them as ordinary people. However, WikiLeaks exposes them as experienced protest organizers and activists.
USA Today presents the protests as spontaneous, involving people from “all walks of life” – certainly not professional protesters. If anyone in the crowd has protest experience, it hasn’t been since the Vietnam Era:
They come in all ages and walks of life, unflinching and determined to be heard.
Mothers with young children, hoping to impart an up-close lesson in history. Animated college students stretching their political vocal cords for the first time. Aging Baby Boomers who haven't toted a protest sign since their anti-war days in the 1970s.
Ben Wikler, Washington director for the professional activist group MoveOn, is quoted – only to insist that these are not organized protests but an “enormous outpouring of spontaneous energy and concern.”
MoveOn urged Americans to gather peacefully to "take a continued stand against misogyny, racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia." Within hours, about 275 protests and vigils had been organized nationwide Wednesday, Wikler said. "There was an enormous outpouring of spontaneous energy and concern."
So should we expect that everyone quoted in that article is there out of spontaneous concern? Would a reputable newspaper properly identify its sources, noting if they were known activists and organizers? Let’s meet USA Today’s first protester:
Yong Jung Cho, 26, who organized a candlelight vigil in front of the White House on Wednesday night, said about 2,000 people showed up. "Together, we sang, we cried and we marched" to Trump's hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. "In this moment, the protests are showing the people, the country and the world that we are here for each other."
USA Today presents Yong Jung Cho without any introduction. Is she an average citizen, or an experienced protest coordinator? In a February 2016 email from the Podesta files, Yong Jung Cho is described as “350 Action Campaign Coordinator”.
On twitter, she claims credit for organizing the protest in an offhanded way that shows she does not consider herself to be a rookie:
— Yong Jung Cho (@YongJungC) November 10, 2016
The profile for this promising young activist at netrootsnation highlights her experience as an organizer on the protest scene and her involvement with the presidential primary at the state level:
So USA Today’s first person from “all walks of life” is an organizer who has experience on the activist circuit, and in that capacity she worked on the presidential primary. Not exactly the “spontaneous concern” presented by the newspaper.
How about another source, someone that USA Today introduces by more than just a name? Here’s Phil Roeder, a public school official with no disclosed interest except the welfare of his students:
"The majority of students at Des Moines Public Schools are students of color," Phil Roeder, the district's director of communications and public affairs, said in a statement earlier this week. "The rhetoric of this past election has caused many concerns and divisions among them, their friends and their families. The school district will not stand in the way of our students peacefully expressing their concerns."
So: Phil Roeder, concerned public servant without a partisan agenda, or veteran Democratic activist? Once again, WikiLeaks can shed some light on that question.
In the same 2014 email from the Podesta collection, we find that many of the activists in the Iowa organization had private meetings with Obama and Clinton, and that Phil Roeder was prominent in the group. It is not surprising that he would want to be quoted in an anti-Trump piece after Clinton’s defeat, but it would be surprising for an honest newspaper to fail to disclose that connection to the readers.
Phil Roeder is well-enough connected in Democratic circles that he merits more than one mention in WikiLeaks. In May 2015 in the Podesta emails – some years after Roeder became a prominent political organizer in Iowa – we find a Hillary Rapid Response document on Iowa, in an attachment for Iowa flagged “Do Not Distribute”, including this press clipping:
So the Iowa Daily Democrat recognizes Phil Roeder as a Democratic strategist, but somehow USA Today didn’t.
USA Today cites an academic who reassures us that these are not professionally organized protests:
The demonstrations have not been "premeditated," said Kari Winter, a University at Buffalo professor of American studies who has researched protest movements.
If the demonstrations aren’t premeditated, then why are all these average citizens actually well-connected activists and protest organizers? USA Today has misrepresented its sources in a way that falsifies their own narrative that the closest we have to protesters are old-timers who “haven’t toted a protest sign since their anti-war days in the 1970s”. USA Today has instead helped demonstrate that the professional protest community is in fact behind the current political protests.
Though seen as a reputable newspaper (if biased, recall its editorial board declared "Trump is 'unfit for the presidency') USA Today should have identified at least some of its sources accurately. Is the quoted academic Kari Winter “professor of American studies”? That’s not quite how her employer describes her.
USA Today may not have accurately introduced anyone quoted in that article other than a high school student and the MoveOn activist.
There is one more WikiLeaks connection for this article: USA Today appears in the WikiLeaks, and not always in a capacity different from the activists. In this leaked email, the DNC schedule for an upcoming “earned media” campaign shows complete confidence that the editorial board of USA Today and other organizations will coordinate their schedules and their editorial priorities to suit the DNC.
The DNC treats reporters, newspapers, activist groups and PACs as all part of the campaign. The DNC draws no distinction between key allies and reporters. This USA Today story shows that the DNC is probably right about that.