Sunday, September 16, 2007


The media vs. the antiwar movement

It's an old story, but has to kept being told. The media, representing the ruling class in this country, doesn't just play a neutral role. When it comes to movements challenging authority, like the antiwar movement, they play a decidedly negative role.

Let's start with some pictures:

On top are two pictures (taken in different directions) taken from an online AP photo collection of yesterday's events in Washington, D.C. I have two friends in DC, both of whom described (as did the organizers) the crowd as a "solid 100,000," and the pictures on the top seem to reflect that kind of "sea of humanity." On the bottom is a screen capture of the C-SPAN coverage of the "Gathering of Eagles" counter-demonstration. Being charitable, and assuming that there was an equal crowd on the other side of the C-SPAN camera, there were a couple hundred people there.

And the media? My local paper, the San Jose Mercury News, picked up the Washington Post article. Before you even got to the article, though, you were greeted with two large pictures. The one on top showed a handful of counter-demonstrators with their "give victory a chance" signs, and the second one showed more counter-demonstrators being confronted by a single antiwar demonstrator with his "end the war" sign.

The article was more of the same. The first (and only!) antiwar demonstrator quoted in the article is quoted as saying "it's time for the peace movement to take the next step past protest and to resistance," which is fine, but doesn't say anything about the issue. In contrast, the description of the Gathering of Morons Eagles demonstration includes this text (not a quote, this is the reporter): "Their message: The Iraq war can and is being won, and the troops need unqualified support." That's followed by a quote from one of the counter-demonstrators - "We just want a chance to show America we don't agree with the vocal minority," with no indication in the article about the glaring inaccuracy of that word "minority."

You might think this was an aberration, but The New York Times is almost a duplicate. The very first quote we read is not from the speakers or one of the 100,000 marchers, but from one of the handful of counterdemonstrators - "What troubles me, the thing that is so dismaying, is they don’t realize the big picture." Only in the final paragraphs of the article do we hear from Brian Becker, one of the organizers of the demonstration, and two of the demonstrators.

As far as numbers, it really was the same old story. The Washington Post was "live-blogging" the demo with several reporters. The lead reporter (Marc Fisher) claims to have counted the demonstration and arrived at the seemingly preposterous (and much too precise) 6,850, but did peg the counterprotest accurately as "several hundred." Other estimates of the counterprotest I saw and heard went from "just under a thousand" to "two thousand," which, based on what I could see on C-SPAN (pictured above), was a vast overestimate.

The AP started their report by talking about "thousands of demonstrators," but later resorted to this: "Organizers estimated that nearly 100,000 people attended the rally and march. That number could not be confirmed; police did not give their own estimate. A permit for the march obtained in advance by the ANSWER Coalition had projected 10,000." This isn't the first time I've seen this kind of news reporting based on permits. What an absurd idea! If they're willing to accept ANSWER's word for things, surely their word for how many actually showed up should be a lot more accurate than their advance prediction of how many they expected to show up, especially given the multi-organizational, multi-city nature of the event. The only possible reason to mention the permit is to provide some kind of justification to report a smaller number. The Washington Post had this: "Organizers of the antiwar event said tens of thousands turned out. A law enforcement official, who declined to be identified because authorities no longer provide crowd counts, estimated the gathering at closer to 10,000; the march permit obtained in advance by ANSWER had projected that number." Of course the organizers did not say that "tens of thousands" turned out, they said "100,000" turned out. And, like the AP, the Post uses ANSWER's advance projection to justify their anonymous and scurrilous "police but not really" estimate.

I'm not mentioning the TV coverage. That's because, as far as I saw, there barely was any. Nothing new there. C-SPAN did carry it, but I only caught the last part, because the C-SPAN schedule the day before said they would be broadcasting the Gathering of Morons Eagles event (which they did), but not the antiwar demonstration (which, as it turned out, they did).

Why stop here? There's more...

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