21-Month Tree-Sit's End Makes National News

Campus Community, Media Professionals Reflect On Reasons For Protest's News Coverage

Photo: Media vans and reporters from a great variety of news sources have covered the athletic center tree-sit closely, especially over the past few months as the protest drew to a close.
Skyler Reid/File
Media vans and reporters from a great variety of news sources have covered the athletic center tree-sit closely, especially over the past few months as the protest drew to a close.

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Tree-Sit's End Receives National Attention

The end of the 21-month tree-sit at Memorial Stadium received national news coverage.

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From the Los Angeles Times to The Washington Post, the tree-sit ordeal has garnered significant media attention, especially in the closing days of the protest.

Long after the throng of media reporters left their posts on Piedmont Avenue, the vast amount of coverage has brought its impact on UC Berkeley's reputation into question.

Based on phone calls, e-mails and responses posted on various newspaper Web sites, Dan Mogulof, the campus's executive director of public affairs, said he does not believe the protest harmed UC Berkeley's image.

"We firmly believe that no damage has been done to the university's reputation given the fact that we successfully worked our ways through all those complexities," he said.

However, Mogulof said that he is also aware that a part of the Berkeley community continues to regard the campus with some mistrust and anger.

"While we don't believe that they represent a majority of Berkeley residents, they're very passionate, vocal and well-organized," he said. "We believe that in going forward, we have to find new and innovative ways of including the community in future land use decisions."

But John Searle, a philosophy professor and participant in the Free Speech Movement, said that the tree-sit was a crude parody of the movement and did not fit in with UC Berkeley's history.

"(The tree-sit) was an unusual combination of stupid and evil," Searle said. "Stupid because the trees were of no great ecological importance and evil in the enormous amount of money that this cost the university that could have been spent benefitting our students."

The protest, which was the longest urban tree-sit in history, lasted 21 months and cost the campus $1.5 million in security expenses.

Jesse McKinley, San Francisco bureau chief the New York Times, said he decided to cover the tree-sit, which was on the front page of nytimes.com, because UC Berkeley stands out as one of the traditional centers of activism.

He said the protest received

significant coverage because of its unusual circumstances.

"It was about this very peculiar conflict between a UC and a bunch of people in the trees," McKinley said.

"In general, it attracted media attention because of the amount of time they were up there," he added.

The story was also featured in several collegiate newspapers, including the University of Texas at Austin's The Daily Texan, which ran a brief. The Daily Texan Managing Editor Adrienne Lee said that the story was covered because of similar construction on their campus in the past year.

"We've did a huge expansion to our football stadium, but we didn't have the same controversy that (UC Berkeley) did," Lee said. "Since we've had that kind of construction before, we thought our students would be interested in reading something like that from another large state school."

Mogulof said that because the litigation and laws of this issue were complicated, the media very frequently reported the basic facts incorrectly, influencing public opinion.

Among the falsely reported facts Mogulof cited were reports that the athletic center was funded by taxpayer money when it is actually funded by private donors. In addition, delays reported to be caused by protesters were actually stopped by an Alameda County Superior Court injunction.

"Despite that, because of our ability to use the Web, we're engaged in getting the facts directly to the public and believe that by large it succeeded," he said.

Mogulof said that, as a public institution, UC Berkeley has an obligation to ensure that taxpayers and students have a full understanding of the actions the campus takes and the reasons behind those actions.

"We have to be ready to answer tough questions, remain committed to being transparent and communicating in an honest and forthright fashion," he said. "If we continue to do that, we will continue to protect and preserve one of the most important things that we have - our reputation."


Contact Emily Grospe at [email protected]

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