Left-wing blogger and Occupy Wall Street provocateur Malcolm Harris recently admitted creating a false rumor that Radiohead would perform a free concert at Zuccotti Park during this fall’s demonstrations.
The hoax may have a connection to former New York Times freelancer Natasha Lennard, who wrote about the Occupy Wall Street protests for the Times while actively participating in them–a fact not revealed in Lennard’s NYT reporting.
The new revelations about the origins of the Radiohead hoax shed further light on how the mainstream media promoted the Occupy movement, then celebrated its emergence as a supposedly independent protest phenomenon.
Harris penned an article for Gawker yesterday entitled “I’m the Jerk Who Pranked Occupy Wall Street,” explaining in detail how he tricked the press into believing the band Radiohead was playing a free concert for Zuccotti Park protesters, including creating a fake Gmail account under the name of Radiohead’s manager.
Malcolm Harris is the managing editor of The New Inquiry, a contributing editor at Sharable.net, and blogs for Jacobin. He edited the collection “Share or Die: Youth in Recession,” forthcoming from New Society Publishers in the spring. He has been active in OWS since the first planning meetings.
Harris’s piece at Gawker describes in detail how how and why he created the false rumor about Radiohead playing at Zuccotti park:
It started like this: an autonomous group of Occupy Wall Street activists were sitting around brainstorming ways to get more people out to Zuccotti Park over beer and pizza. This was a little over a week into the occupation, before the mass arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge, and it still wasn’t clear whether the whole thing would catch on. Someone suggested we should get Radiohead to play a free concert – they were in town for a couple small shows and fans were ready to sell pounds of flesh for tickets. The band wouldn’t even have to play the thing, people just had to think they were going to.
I recently had a Twitter conversation with Harris in which he mentioned that he is “best friends” with Lennard. In addition to her starring role in a Big Government exposé, Lennard also gained notoriety because she was “the reporter who was arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge.” That incident made headlines all over the place: here’s the report from Daily Kos and another from The Hollywood Reporter.
Lennard’s arrest provided the basis for the largely exaggerated meme of police brutality and arrests of reporters that has been a recurring theme of Occupy press coverage.
A few days prior to her Brooklyn Bridge arrest, Lennard suggested there was a possibility Radiohead might make an appearance at Occupy Wall Street. On September 28th, she tweeted:
if @radiohead play #occupywallstreet on saturday, shit gonna get crazy. do hope the rumours are true
I’ve reached out to Lennard for comment, but have not heard back, so let’s try to put it together as best we can. Some of this is obviously speculation on my part, but most of it is now established fact.
The facts: Malcolm Harris and friends were brainstorming ideas about how to get the Occupy movement to catch on. They were aware that Occupy might not catch on. Harris came up with the Radiohead idea. His close friend and New York Times freelancer Natasha Lennard tweeted about it, knowing it would stir up interest in Occupy.
My speculation: Lennard knew her friend Malcolm had created a Radiohead hoax but tweeted it anyway because she wanted to help ramp up interest in Occupy. And then when the Brooklyn Bridge protest happened a few days later, she allowed herself to be arrested to help the Occupy movement pick up steam by creating a headline: “New York Times Reporter Arrested.”
It’s actually not too far a stretch to assume Lennard allowed herself to be arrested on the bridge. Video of the event shows that protesters were sitting down, and the arrests took quite a while to happen.
Every step of the way, the Occupy leaders have played the media like an accordion. In his Gawker article, Harris expresses some degree of shock that the media doesn’t actually do much fact checking–but that’s something any conservative could have told him.