Fight the Power: The New York Post and Portrayal of the Conflict Between Police and Protesters During the Occupy Movement

Fight the Power: The New York Post and Portrayal of the Conflict Between Police and Protesters During the Occupy Movement

Group 19: Matt Martin, Lindi Rohrenbach, Paul Sikora, and Rachel Johnston


As a group we decided to look at both the New York Post and the Salon’s coverage of the Occupy Wall Street/99% movement. In particular we were interested in the differing portrayals of the conflict between police and protesters. Our corpus included coverage of events not just in New York, but in San Francisco, Oakland, and Washington D.C. The Occupy Movement has been a topic heavily covered by the media and a phenomenon that has been a lightning rod for controversy. It is a polarizing topic as people tend to side with the 99% movement or against it. It is important to examine because of the social impact that the movement has had as well as the developing relationship between police and protesters. Demonstrations throughout history have always sparked conflict when the police are called to control the demonstrators. In most cases, the media has the ability to garner sympathy one way or the other by how they portray events and who they paint as the victims. I’ve utilized corpus linguistics tools as well as critical discourse analysis theory to analyze my corpus and support my following claim. The New York Post and’s coverage of the occupy movement takes a sensational approach with polarizing portrayals of police and protesters as either the aggressor or the victim.


The first method that we used was to make a corpus. We got together articles from and the New York Post and put them together to make a reference corpus. “ The word ‘corpus’ simply means ‘body’… It may be defined as ‘a body of complete collection of writings or the like; the whole body of literature on any subject… several works of the same nature, collected and bound together’” (Bauer 23). The reason that this is important to look as is because there is such a vast collection of texts out there would be no way to analyze them all. “Corpora in the linguistic sense are collections of language data for the purposes of various types of language research” (Bauer 23). The reason we chose a corpus was to make sure that we were able to analyze what is being said about the participants in the occupy movement those being the police and the protesters. To get our corpus we went onto to to the Occupy section. Once there I looked at all of the incidents of police and protester interaction. Later we went and grabbed all of the articles form the salon to analyze so we could see what was really being said about the protesters and the police activity. By doing this we was representing the movement as a whole, not just picking and choosing articles to look at.

The discourse genre we focused on was online news articles; in particular we focused on the New York Post and We chose the New York Post because of its long tradition of journalism and the fact that it is produced in the city where the movement began. Although it is generally regarded as a conservative news source, we found a great deal of balance among the articles in our corpus. It was important that we explore this bias because the other half of the group examined a very liberal online publication, The Salon. We collected articles from the New York Posts website and the which included the words police, protesters, and occupy. The resulting corpus was a collection of representations of events centering on conflict between protesters and police during the occupy movement.

One key aspect of critical discourse analysis that we have employed is power. The critical discourse analysis theory surrounding power basically focuses on how the group in power uses their power through force or threat of force and those not in power resenting the perceived abuse of that power. According to the Wodak and Meyer article “CDA researchers are interested in the way discourse (re)produces social domination, that is, the power abuse of one group over others, and how dominated groups may discursively resist such abuse. This raises the question of how CDA researchers understand power and what moral standards allow them to differentiate between power use and abuse” (Wodak 9). The concept behind the existence of a power group and their use of that power is a constant issue within any society. Within my corpus, the power group is clearly the police, who are mandated by the local government to maintain peace and order, authorized to use force when necessary. Protest creates a conflict of interest between the protesters and police, a situation where the police are called upon to demonstrate their authority. Therefore power is an important theory I will explore while analyzing my corpus.

I will also utilize the critical discourse analysis tool of analyzing social actors. The Fairclough article discusses this concept and how it can be used. “Social actors are Participants in clauses…Inclusion/exclusion…Pronoun/noun: is the social actor realized as a pronoun or as a noun?…Grammatical role: Is the social actor realized as a Participant in a clause, within a Circumstance, or as a Possessive noun or pronoun…’Activated’/’passivated: Is the social actor the actor in the processes or the affected or beneficiary?…Personal/impersonal: Social actors can be represented impersonally as well as personally…Name/classified: Social actors can be represented by name or in terms of class or category. If the latter, they can be referred to individually or as a group…Specific/generic: Where social actors are classified, they can be represented specifically or generically.” (Fairclough 145)

This tool has proven very useful in analyzing our corpus because the articles are accounts of events which have happened involving police and protesters. Both are social actors in the articles and depending on how they appear within the clause they produce differing representations.

Another point of emphasis in our analysis will be to look at the narrative structure of the articles. In particular, because of the nature of the coverage of the occupy movement; we will focus on the key event present within the articles in my corpus. In our textbook, Van Dijk explains this aspect of the narrative structure. “All characterizations of the stories will specify a key event that disrupts the equilibrium of ordinary…provoking psychological responses and actions…these psychological and actional responses in turn will have outcomes” (Van Dijk 75).  The narrative structure is vital when analyzing this type of news coverage because each article itself is trying to tell a story. By looking at each article as the presentation of a key event and actions attempting to return the situation to equilibrium, I am able to better understand the encoded representation.

Within the corpus then we used corpus linguistics to get a better understanding of what was really going on in our corpus. We used a website titled KWIC. This website was great we could plug in our corpora and it would do all the analyzing for us.  This made our job easier.  KWIC also helped us generate the Type Token Ratio “ratio between grammatical and lexical items in the text, which is also referred to as lexical density” (Adolphs 39).  One we get the Token Type Ratio for our group of text we can compare it to BNC to see if ours is normal, or on the high end.


Violence between Protestors and Police

This pattern is one that is a reoccurring one throughout all of the articles. We see that the police are over using their power in a negative way. The triangle of communication is a good theory to look at when considering this pattern. “The three elements cook calls the ‘triangle of communication’ are necessarily interdependent in that the topic, or ‘ the spoken about’ is linked to the speakers and the prospective audience, or the ‘spoken to’” (Adolphs 82). With that being said we need to make sure that we look at these three key parts of the text when evaluating whether it is the truth or not. The writer is writing to the public to identify with the protesters rather than the police. The reporter is positioning us that the police are bad and the protesters are peaceful and good.

Here is another instance in history of authority oppressing the rights of peaceful protesters. “Absent probable cause or reasonable suspicion that a person is engaging in or will engage in criminal activity, the F.B.I.’s targeting and questioning of political protesters is antithetical to America’s commitment to the First Amendment right to engage in peaceful, nonviolent protest activity. The reported F.B.I. activity interferes with and chills longstanding First Amendment freedoms” (Siegel)

A specific tool that we used to look at this was the KWIC program we used in class. “A concordance program arranges all instances of a particular search item in a way that makes the search appear in the center of the page” (Adolphs 52). We found that in the concordance the word protester was used in the same sense of being oppressed by the police. The law enforcement officials were walking on their rights and there was nothing that they could do about it or to ensure that they get their rights back. This is one of the specific tools that we have in the corpus linguistics that helps us evaluate language as a whole.

This pattern that we see means that the media needs to take a step back and look and see what is truly going on. If the police are over stepping their boundaries the people need to know, because it they know they might be able to do something about it. The media would be doing their job in performing the watchdog effect. But if they are just trying to push their opinions on the people consuming the media the people need to realize this and hold the media to their job. The people consuming the media need to be informed on what it going on.

In coding my group found a number of interesting things. The most prevalent of which is the clear violence between the police and the protestors. In the coding process in it was clear the police were being portrayed in a negative light for example,

“Like the massive crowd control arsenal unleashed on OWS — riot gear, smoke bombs, rubber bullets, pepper spray, horses, metal blockades, helicopters, plastic cuffs, and the police motorcycles, cars and vans that clog the streets — the three-tiered surveillance seemed like overkill for an overwhelmingly peaceful movement, where the occasional slur thrown at police is usually shouted down with reminders not to goad cops because they’re part of the 99 percent.”

This is just one of the many instances where the code ‘protestors as victims’ was used. In there is no argumentation defending the police, there is not even an attempt at justifying the force the police used against the protesters. However the argumentation is in accusing the police. Inversely in coding of the articles of The New York Post. This is an excerpt of discourse from The New York Post where it is clear that the protestors are made out to be in the wrong, even without mentioning the representation of the movement as a whole,

“There were marches, arrests and plenty of YouTube videos of protesters getting pepper-sprayed. In the end, though, it appeared that eliciting these kinds of moments – provoking the police until they overreacted – was the movement’s primary, if not only, goal.”

That is a clear use of argumentation on page 85 of Discourse Studies by Teun A. Van Dijk says, “Argumentation uses language to refute or justify a standpoint.” Then later on page 93 in figures 5.1 and 5.2 Van Dijk shows the process of argumentation. In the excerpt from the grounds are smoke bombs, riot gear etc. the warrant is the movement was not just peaceful, but overwhelmingly peaceful and the claim is that it seemed like overkill. Then in the New York Post it is the opposite the claim being the police were being provoked. As with the New York Post has many of these examples showing the police being the victims of the protestors, provoking them.  These two excerpts show that there is violence between police and protestors, the argumentation in each one if these excerpts clearly show the varying views from one source to another.


Through critical discourse analysis, we have been able to dissect the power dynamics and narrative structure of the social actors present in the New York Post and coverage of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Each article has a clear preferred reading stance which is reinforced by who is portrayed as the aggressor and the victim. Police and protesters are inevitably going to clash because of the nature of demonstration and the duties of police officers. The media is able to garner sympathy for either side by the way that events are represented in discourse. The New York Post focuses on utilizing the narrative structure to create stories which comment on the social construction of power through force, legality, and position of the social actors. The focuses more on what the participants have to say and there role in the social movement. Although the demonstrator’s only power is to occupy space, when they are not committing any crimes and the police excessively demonstrate their power, the protesters are seen as being morally in the right. As a whole, our corpus can be an important statement on how the actions of individuals can positively, but more commonly in the news negatively impact the image and reputation of the group they are a part of. The negative press whether it be toward protesters or police generally highlight radical or sensational actions by a few individuals and may not reflect the actions or beliefs of the group as a whole.


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Wodak, R, and Meyer, M. (2009). Critical discourse analysis: History, agenda, theory and methodology (pp. 1-33). In Methods of critical discourse analysis. London: Sage.


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