Before you read my critique of coverage, understand that marches can be covered well with numbers put into perspective. That's what Bob Herbert of the NY Times does today:
You can say what you want about the people opposed to this wretched war in Iraq, try to stereotype them any way you can. But you couldn’t walk among them for more than a few minutes on Saturday without realizing that they love their country as much as anyone ever has. They love it enough to try to save it.
By 11:15 I thought there was a chance that the march against the war would be a bust. There just weren’t that many people moving toward the stage to join the rally that preceded the march. But the crowd kept building, slowly, steadily. It was a good-natured crowd. Everyone was bad-mouthing the Bush administration and the war, but everybody seemed to be smiling.
So, as you see, crowds build as more people come. If you go with early estimates, you will invariably downplay their size and power.
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MEDIA DOWNPLAYS ANTI-WAR MARCH SIZE
This past weekend’s anti-war march was big, say the organizers and I have no reason to doubt them. They made this claim:
“Washington, D.C. -- In a massive showing of public opposition to the Iraq war, 500,000 people filled the streets around the Capitol today, completely surrounding the building. Participants converged on the National Mall from all over the country to voice their support for an end to the conflict in Iraq.Add in protests in the rest of the country and it was even bigger.
Three hundred buses rolled in early this morning, coming from more than 40 states and including at least 20 buses filled by New York City trade unions. United For Peace & Justice, the march coordinator, called this one of the the largest and most diverse demonstrations since the war began. According to UFPJ National Coordinator and veteran peace and justice leader Leslie Cagan, “This is a decisive moment in the history of this country and of our peace movement. In November, the people of this=nation voted for peace. We are here today, all ages, from all walks of life, to hold our elected officials to the mandate of the people.”
But is that the picture most of America received? I didn’t see any report Saturday night on the front page of the Sunday NY Times online but, by the morning , the print edition of the Times wrote:
"Tens of thousands of protesters converged on the National Mall on Saturday to oppose President Bush’s plan for a troop increase in Iraq in what organizers hoped would be one of the largest shows of antiwar sentiment in the nation’s capital since the war began."
The story was carried as headline at the bottom of the page, not exactly prominent positioning. No Photo. A story about tennis got bigger play. The story was actually placed on p 21 (although it said p 22 on page l.) The story itself by Ian Urbina was well done. And the Times had two other reporters on the scene. The picture caption said thousands, not tens of thouands and certainly not a half-million. Low down in the story, it reported a March claim of 400,000 and then an unnamed police source suggesting that there were less than 100,00. Bloomberg News reported 500,000, one of the few media outlets to do so.
This was not the coverage "organizers hoped" for. Actually the organizers said it WAS the largest show of force since the war began with 500,000 present. The Times only acknowledged "tens of thousands." Does this matter? It doesn't if the numbers game doesn't matter. Years, ago the National Park Service which initially always underreported crowd sizes and then began having aerial photos taken that were analyzed by experts using grids, decided not to provide police estimates which were routinely reported. Perhaps that’s why the march did its own count.
Yesterday, the March claimed a half million—which, if true, IS "one of the largest shows of anti-war sentiment" (although I seem to remember the number of 750,000 used to quantify how many showed up in the big pre-war march of 2003). But the papers, seem to have followed the AP's earlier in the day estimate of "tens of thousands." True to form, the Washington Post online edition only reported "THOUSANDS." The Huffington Post headline: "Why The Anti-War March Won't Change Anything..."
Was this right on Or right off? I wasn’t there this time. My first anti-war march was in l965 so I have burned up my share of shoe or sneaker leather over the years as well as energy cheering some of the same speakers who turned up Saturday. I wasn’t feeling well enough to make the trip this time, but reported on it anyway.
I support marches as PART of a bigger strategy, not as THE strategy. And at least this time, many activists were planning to lobby Congress.
As readers know by now, I think its kind of important to get this message out to the people through the media, and not just the message that there’s opposition to the war but that there’s a movement opposing it. We need to show activism in action as a way for citizens to try to hold politicians accountable and participate in the process. Did that double message get through?
This approach requires a media strategy--and a challenge to the media— beyond sending out press releases and getting on Pacifica radio outlets.
It also requires a commitment to forging a stronger movement by ON GOING organizing and efforts to democratize and INVOLVE member groups and individuals in independent action outside of the Democratic Party. There needs to be some discipline too and a better presentation. Personally I think Dennis Kucinich has a strong message--but he shouldn't be given time on the program just to hype his campaign. That shows no respect for the movement. We need some independent journalists to really analyze this movement's strengths and weknesses, a former peace movement organizer told me. In that sense the numbers issue is not necessarily the only issue even if it does deserve comment. Another criticism I heard was that indy media was not represented with no blogger speaking.
On Saturday morning, the United For Peace and Justice website announced “(Watch live on C-SPAN!) Wow, I thought, you could see the March and Rally LIVE on CSPAN. At l:30, I tuned in just before the march was slated to start, and sure enough several cameras were in the crowed. The only commentary I heard then was that there were “thousands” there. Sounded small. All we saw was a rapper on the stage and people milling around, No interviews. No explanation. I guess I missed it.
Soon, a notice appeared on screen that CSPAN would switch away from the March to cover Hillary Clinton’s first speech in Iowa. And so they did, off to East High School for a stump speech. I expected them to come back while the march was happening. They didn’t. Instead they rebroadcast last Friday’s coverage of a National Review Institute conference on conservatism. Was CSPAN that nervous, that they had to preemptively “balance” the anti-war march?
Instead of the ongoing march, we heard righter than right columnist Michelle Malkin complaining that the media didn’t show the “throngs” at a right to life march, but only a few counter demonstrators. (CNN showed the 15 counter demonstrators and, for balance, had an interview with a conservative critic—but also a song by the raging grannies and a sound bite or two from well-known speakers like Jane Fonda.) It was superficial at best.
CSPAN promised to show it later, but when I tuned in, CSPAN l was running a session from the Memphis Media Conference earlier this month at 9:30 PM. (Later, I received an email saying I was in it so I can't criticize that, can I?)
I am sure the anti-war rally will be rebroadcast but the format with its endless parade of speakers and torrent of rhetoric is not exactly a media or audience turn on.
My point is that there was no real ‘live” coverage on the main CSPAN channel that I saw in a culture with news channels that can’t wait to go live. (When I worked at ABC, there was a term called SLR for Silly Live Remote referring to someone on freeway overpass “reporting live” on an ordinary rush hour where nothing was happening.) We have a media that will go "live" to the opening of an envelope. Just not to an anti-war march!
Coverage is more than just showing it; it is reporting on it, commenting on it, interviewing people there etc.
I flipped to Fox. If there was coverage I missed it. They were spinning a statement by John Kerry to the effect that world public opinion does not support the US war. This was being presented as “anti-American.” What do you expect from Faux News?
CNN did have a report with a journalist who had been at the march discussing it, saying there were “tens of thousands,” not a half million. He was in the studio, not on the Mall, with an anchor who patronizingly referred to protesters as “the kind of people we’ve seen before.” The march was treated as ho-hummer with the only interest expressed about whether active duty soldiers were marching. The CNN man said he heard about there were but didn’t see them.
It was then time for a standup from the White House lawn with a reporter discussing how the White House would respond to Congressional criticism of the war, as if the marchers didn’t exist. And then there was a replay of a soundbyte from President Bush under a graphic banner that said, can you believe, “THE SOUNDS OF DISSENT.”
AP reported “tens of thousands” not half a million.
Convinced this is their moment, tens of thousands marched Saturday in an anti-war demonstration linking military families, ordinary people and an icon of the Vietnam protest movement in a spirited call to get out of Iraq.Andrea Hsu of NPR turned tens of thousands into: “Thousands of protesters gathered Saturday on the Mall in Washington, D.C.” Thousands!
NPR reported January 27: “While some citizens have protested against the Iraq war ever since the invasion of March 2003, the movement has failed to mobilize large numbers of people in public spaces. Has that changed now that a majority of Americans oppose the war?”
For some reason, there seemed to be more movie stars speaking than usual. What signal does that send? Of course CNN ran image of Jane Fonda now and in North Vietnam in l973. There was a photo of Sean Penn marching.
Headline in a newspaper in Komo Washington: "Middle America meets celebrity glitter in anti-war march."
Some outlets, but mostly on the West coast noted that there were protests there too:
“WASHINGTON — Anti-war protesters from around the country converged on Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco and other cities today, …”
Don’t the anti-war organizers see this as a problem? Don’t they think they should try to do something about it and take it as a challenge, and protest this ritualistic treatment? Shouldn’t they make the media coverage a issue? Are they only listening to themselves?
I was on Air America in LA on Saturday afternoon and host Bree Walker, a feisty former TV anchor agreed. But the anti-war movement continues to pay lipservice to this problem, perhaps for fear of “alienating” the press. Give me a break! Back in 2003, the Washington Posts own omsbudsman Michael Getler indicted his own newspaper for “downplaying protests.” He now works for Public Television.
This coverage is deplorable but worse: the anti-war movement had not made it an issue. With more than half the country opposing the war, the movement is still being under reported and marginalized! And, naively, not doing anything about it.
We still need a march on the media. Anyone with me?
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