Watching Wall Street

The world's media react to America's newest political phenomenon.

Mario Tama/Getty Images
Mario Tama/Getty Images

After a year of protests throughout the Middle East toppled dictators who were once America’s buddies, the world’s media are understandably captivated by the sight of people taking to the streets and occupying a square in downtown Manhattan. But what does it all mean? As they did with the Tea Party, some countries seem eager to pounce on Occupy Wall Street to highlight that the United States has its own internal dissent to contend with. But, as it turns out, there are a lot of differing opinions.


The Islamic Republic has been the most active in its coverage of Occupy Wall Street. State-run, English-language Press TV, in particular, has had extensive commentary on the movement. As one of its commentators put it, America is "living under a horrendous propaganda system."

Meanwhile, the Fars News Agency was largely critical of President Barack Obama’s approach to the financial crisis:

And God knows, Americans missed the rendezvous they were supposed to have with democratic politics in January 2009. With a newly-elected president who gave great hopes for change in words, politics failed the Americans in that first phase of the crisis. Barack Obama installed a Wall Street-friendly team that resisted fundamental changes in the financial model that caused the collapse and the deep recession that followed.

In another article published by Fars, Wall Street was characterized as more than just a bastion of corruption; it was "the financial Gomorrah of America."

Meanwhile, the Tehran Times, with little apparent sense of irony, emphasized the police brutality toward protesters in Manhattan. The same article also characterized the demonstrations as a statement against "excessive force and the unfair treatment of minorities."


According to the pro-government international television station Russia Today, the protests are more than just a movement against corporate interests: They are the beginning of a "potentially violent revolution" in America. Voice of Russia and Russia Today had pieces referring to the movement as the beginnings of a widespread class revolt within America, with Russia Today stating:

A new season in a different nation: the Arab Spring has become America’s Autumn. 

And on Saturday, New York’s Brooklyn Bridge reminded many of a scene from Egypt’s Tahrir Square.

The U.S. mainstream media was roundly criticized by Pravda, which described the press coverage as a "total media blackout" against the protesters. Russia Today took a shot at Obama, describing the protests as being against "four more years of Bush," while it called the arrest of protesters an example of "heavy-handed policing."


The state-controlled Chinese media picked up on the Occupy Wall Street movement only this past week, when demonstrations finally grew. But they’re not ignoring it now. Xinhua has run slide shows showcasing the diversity of the protesters. The articles, on the other hand, tend to highlight the prospect that Wall Street’s greed will take down America’s financial empire.

Xinhua editorialized:

American citizens and politicians alike love to talk about how Wall Street never seems to receive a harsh enough penalty for its actions. They say that if the capital of the financial world wishes to regain the trust of the public, it needs to reflect on current practices and amend its ways.

The Chinese media have also noted the protesters’ indignation with the role that money has in politics. Perhaps wary of encouraging a resurgence of the recent anti-corruption protests in China, the official media’s coverage of the Wall Street protests tends to take the "it’s-worse-over-there" line, highlighting America as a more decadent society permeated by government corruption.


In India, which recently saw its own wave of massive anti-corruption protests, coverage has been mixed. Online news site has editorialized in favor of the protesters, with one article comparing the movement to Anna Hazare’s hunger strike in August. The Times of India played off the Arab Spring, referring to the protests as the American Fall while harkening back to Gandhi:

Some commentators have rubbished the movement, describing it as a minor "mob uprising" that will not have legs. Others see it expanding with some labor groups and unions ready to join the protests . Gandhi Jayanti on October 2 gave the movement a small bump.

"Today is Gandhi’s birthday . What better day for each of us 2 commit ourselves 2 the OccupyWallStreet movement ? If not now, when?" the film maker Michael Moore tweeted.


Coverage of the protests has been sparse around the Arab world, which is still undergoing its own social upheaval. Granted, after what has happened in Libya and Egypt, a few hundred protesters in Manhattan is small potatoes. Most news sources have been relying solely on wire reports.

Qatar-based Al Jazeera, which gave life and voice to the Middle East uprisings and has an increasingly large U.S. following, writes that "major aspects of Occupy Wall Street remained undefined. The group has not issued any set of demands, and has prided itself in bringing people together over an issue rather than a goal."

The channel has also featured some discussion of the role of social media and technology in both Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring.

The editorials have been, for the most part, sympathetic to the goals of the protesters:

What disgusts some, inspires others, and that event is now firmly embedded in the legacy of the US left, which may have changed its character, but not its dislike of America’s Mecca of money and symbol of greed.

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