No, Trump Supporters, the San Francisco Chronicle Didn't Prove Your Point About 'Paid' Protesters

Trump protest NYC
Protesters demonstrate near Trump Tower against U.S. President Donald Trump in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S. May 4. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Ever since the Women's March that followed the presidential inauguration, the supporters of President Trump have sustained themselves with a deeply-held, transparently illusory conviction: That the thousands who've come out to protest Trump, on the coasts and in the heartland, in the name of women, science and American democracy, are not members of a genuine anti-Trump resistance. That's because, the far right's thinking goes, they are being paid by wealthy liberal donors such as George Soros.

The spurious claim has been made by Trump himself and repeated by fact-allergic Press Secretary Sean Spicer. The conviction that the protesters are only so much "astroturf" (i.e., fake grass, as opposed to genuine grassroots) has allowed the far right to discount the anger over his proposals and policies as amplified noise. More moderate voices, including in the Republican Party, have counseled against such a blanket dismissal of the Trump-related rage, to little effect.

No convincing evidence has been found of ordinary citizens receiving compensation for the act of protesting or challenging Republican politicians at town hall meetings. Perhaps it is that utter lack of factual basis for its primary article of faith that led the far right to seize on a San Francisco Chronicle story published online on Saturday with the following headline: "Bay Area demonstrators may be paid to protest, by employers." 

As reporter Marissa Lang explains, many tech companies in the Bay Area "have unveiled policies that allow employees to take paid time off work for political or civic activities, such as protesting, canvassing, voting, volunteering or even running for office." While the story profiles a tech company executive, Traction's Adam Kleinberg, who has a clear antipathy to Trump, nowhere in her reporting does Lang suggest that Kleinberg or any other tech company executive explicitly tells his or her employees to protest Trump—or that those employees will be paid anything above their extant salaries if they do so.

The Washington Post had earlier reported on this newest "luxury" of working in Silicon Valley. As reporter Adha Bhattarai explained in her mid-April article, "The new policies come as technology firms and other companies take a stand against the Trump administration’s plan to tighten restrictions for foreign workers." Indeed, while the tech executives she spoke to were vociferous in their denunciations of Trump, they seemed mostly to be focused on his hostility toward immigrants, who are crucial to Silicon Valley's thriving ecosystem.

The right, though, has decided to tout the Chornicle article as proof that anger over Trump is manufactured—and generously compensated. 

Breitbart, for example, described the Chronicle story as proof that "a growing number of tech companies who are paying their employees to participate in anti-Trump rallies."

This is, however, either a misreading or misunderstanding of the article. Taking time off for an activity without loss of pay is not the same as being paid extra for taking part in that activity. For example, Newsweek won't dock my pay if I take the afternoon to have my cavities filled. I do not, however, expect a bonus for a trip to the dentist.

Is it possible that some Silicon Valley employees have only been protesting because they knew of an explicit company policy that allowed them to do so? Sure, though that seems unlikely, since most of these companies already have generous time-off policies that would have allowed an employee to fly to Washington or drive down to Los Angeles.  

And as Breitbart admits, "the majority of these companies are on the smaller side, and tend to have more liberal workforces," meaning that the number of people taking time off to protests is probably relatively small.

As for the crowds that keep showing up to protest Trump seemingly everywhere he goes? Those are pretty large—and real. More real, in any case, than the actors Trump paid to rapturously receive him at Trump Tower as he announced his run for the presidency in 2015. 

The actors got $50 each for treating Trump's xenophobic speech like the launch of a serious presidential campaign.