Sunday, September 25, 2005

A Media Ill Wind for Antiwar Activists

After reading several news stories about the antiwar rally this past weekend in Washington, DC, it was clear that the few Bush War supporters received ink space inordinately disproportionate to their meager total.

Nearly every article, from the Washington Post to the Associated Press, devoted one or two paragraphs to the war hounds, complete with extensive quotes. Yet, by most estimates, the anti-war rally tallied at least 150,000 protesters, maybe as many as 300,000, while only a few hundred military proponents — 0.1 percent of the anti-war marchers — showed up to support George W. "Bring it On" Bush.

Unfortunately, local officials no longer report total numbers for protests, but D.C Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said, "the protesters achieved the[ir] goal of 100,000 and probably exceeded it" When asked to clarify and a figure of 150,000 was cited, the Chief added, "That's as good a guess as any."

Now let's see, we've got 150,000-300,000 anti-war demonstrators against maybe 200-300 pro-Bush War advocates. Yet the media treated the two sides as if they were of comparable significance. They weren't; not by a long shot. Of course, I suppose we should give the Bush War supporters credit for having the cheek to call a news conference and somehow to convince media scribes to show up and take note. But why did the media fall for it?

Hey media guys, didn't you get the memo? Just ask Fox News: the Fairness Doctrine was killed by President Reagan nearly 20 years ago, so you are no longer obligated to give equal space to the other side. And by the way, just because there's one side on any given issue doesn't mean there's an equal "other side" — the overwhelming majority of scientists vs. the few (mainly paid flacks for the energy industry) global warming deniers, for instance.

Unfortunately, the Washington Post — the paper that prides itself as the one Congress reads — doesn't seem to have gotten this news. Thus, the Post wrote three protest stories in Section A for a total of 3,625 words. Of that total, I counted 783 words, or 21.6 percent devoted to the few war-supporting party crashers — 200 times disproportionate to the ratio of pro- and anti-war marchers.

Feeling a bit like the Rodney Dangerfield of protest marches, what does an activist need to do to get a little respect around Washington?

Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney of Georgia had it right when she told the crowd, "An ill wind blows against the US." A wind made all the worst by media indifference to readers by way of uneven and distorted reporting.

Although reporters from the Washington bureaus of many publications did manage to pen front page stories, way too much space was accorded to the non-story of the miniscule pro-war "counter-rally." I mean, seriously, I've been to block parties with more than a couple hundred people; why didn't the media put THAT on the front page?

By the way, a cursory review of articles on the weekend protests reveals that almost 14.0 percent of total coverage was devoted to Iraq War sympathizers, despite the fact that they represented just 0.1 percent of the total marchers.

Ohio's Plain Dealer appears to have been the worst transgressor, giving the "Abu Ghraib patriots" more than 35.0 percent of its total coverage! If a reader of the Plain Dealer were to measure newsworthiness by line-inch, and get their news from no other sources, they would probably come away with the mistaken notion that pro-Bush War activists came out in significant numbers to support their un-noble cause. But that would not be true, merely a result of the media ill wind at work.

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