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Protests and Media Coverage

9-12 protests wapoA meme is developing among a handful of Progressive blogs, with Media Matters, Hullabaloo, Discourse.net, and Brad Blog all complaining that the Washington Post and NYT gave A1 treatment yesterday to the 9/12 protests while relegating anti-war marches in 2002 and 2005 to the inside pages.    Steve Benen follows up and observes,

There are competing angles to explain something like this, and some can make a compelling case that the media just overcompensates — outlets are so afraid of being accused of “liberal bias,” they go out of their way to promote one side’s concerns over the other.

But I still think it gets back to the fact that D.C. is just “wired” for Republicans. Anti-war protestors, the thinking goes, were liberal hippies out of step with the mainstream. After all, there was a Republican president and Republican House in 2002, and polls showed reasonably strong support for the war in Iraq. Why pretend the liberal protestors are important?

In contrast, seven years later, Tea Baggers have to be considered a major political movement. There’s a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress in 2009, and polls show reasonably strong support for the administration’s economic agenda, but the right-wing cries can’t be relegated to a few throw-away paragraphs in the Metro section.

My snarky reaction is that groups on the left have been staging protest rallies about every other weekend since the 1960s, making it a dog bites man story.  Conservatives marching on Washington is at least novel.  Beyond the snark, there’s actually a bit of truth to that:  Given that there were numerous anti-war rallies, they did become old hat after awhile.  And they were being compared to the much more massive anti-Vietnam rallies of the 1960s and seemed tepid by comparison.

My secondary reaction is to wonder whether we’re comparing apples to apples here.  The above posts are all self-referencing, giving very little factual information. When were the other rallies held? What else was going on?  They don’t say.

The 9/12 rally was held on a Saturday, meaning print coverage was going to be on Sunday — typically a soft news day.  Were the other rallies held on Saturday?  Further, the 9/12 protesters lucked out and nothing much happened to knock it inside.  Maybe Iraq War protests were knocked off the front pages by, say, developments in Iraq itself?

Amusingly, Tim Graham at NewsBusters is complaining that the liberal Washington Post buried the 9/12 story on its website and that the story contained a lot of editorializing that suggested the protesters did not represent mainstream opinion.

UPDATE:  Several readers assure me that the anti-war rallies in question happened on weekends. Which stands to reason, since weekends are the easiest time to stage rallies.  But that hardly settles the issue.  Here, according to Wikipedia, are the protests against the Iraq War:

That’s a flippin’ lot of protests!  Granted, the list covers even relatively minor gatherings and some that took place overseas.

I have no idea which protests the posters linked in the opener are complaining about, let alone images of the front pages of the Washington Post and NYT on those days.  Most of the protests in 2002 in fact did take place during the week.   Only two were on Saturday, the September 29 event that attracted “roughly 5000″ demonstrators and a huge demonstration on October 26.

Since the latter appears to be the only significant domestic protest from that year, I’ll assume it’s the one being complained about.  I don’t have a copy of the WaPo or NYT from that day but have ascertained that there was a feature in the Sunday WaPo headlined “Antiwar Protest Largest Since ’60s” but I don’t know on what page it appeared.

What else happened that day?   I was able to find a listing of stories that appeared in the Saturday and Sunday editions.  As it turns out, the competing stories were actually much, much bigger than I’d have guessed.

The DC sniper’s rampage had just been ended, with his arrest of October 24, generating dozens of stories covering every detail and nuance.  Believe me, having just moved to the DC area two months prior, I can attest that that story was occupying the minds of those of us living in the DC area.

Oh, and another story took place that likely dominated the Sunday edition and that the Left couldn’t possibly object to having been covered on the front pages:  Senator Paul Wellstone was killed in a plane crash.  (Oddly, that happened the morning of Friday the 25th but it looks to have been covered in the edition of Sunday the 27th.  The archived WaPo version isn’t showing up for me in Google but two reprints of it, both dated 10/27, do. Regardless, it was a huge story with ripple effects that went on for weeks. )

I don’t have time to comb the stacks to figure out what 2004 protest was minimized.  But, again, looking at the list above, I’m guessing that protest stories had become decidedly less interesting by that point.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Don’t you just hate the political protests of people who disagree with you politically? Why do the news media cover them at all? If they were real progressives/conservatives/Illuminati, they wouldn’t be!

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  2. odograph says:

    Come on Dave, there’s always the sport of “crazy person (or sign) hunting.” Both sides can play.

    I mean, go to a globalization protest and find some vegans, right?

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  3. odograph says:

    BTW, is that sign really “Founding Fathers Now Best”?

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  4. cian says:

    and that the story contained a lot of editorializing that suggested the protesters did not represent mainstream opinion.

    Well, lets hope that’s true. Obama as Hitler is not a mainstream position. Nor does a majority consider Obama a racist president, or his health care plan the equivalent of Hitler’s Euthanasia Program. Most of the weekend’s protesters do.

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  5. Brian Knapp says:

    This seems largely true to me. Large rightish protests are rare in comparison to leftish protests.

    And as far as media coverage goes, tens of thousands on a soft media day vs. Cindy Sheehan in a lawn chair in remote Texas seems like a no-brainer.

    Hey, I’m no fan of protests, but in the world of protests, it doesn’t seem like there’s much to complain about here.

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  6. Hal says:

    Hey James. All the war protests were staged on Saturdays, or can’t you find this even in your own archives?

    Google, dude, before you post. It’ll do you well.

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  7. Abc says:

    I attended one of the anti-Iraq war rallies and it was definitely on a Saturday because I worked in Arlington, and the only way I would’ve been able to go was to go on a weekend. It was in January or February of, I’m pretty certain, 2003. I had also attended an anti-Kosovo bombing rally a few years before that, also on a Saturday.

    In fact, I’m sure there are rallies against some things on weekdays – for instance, IMF/World Bank protests happened whenever the meetings happened in DC, and those meetings took place on weekdays.

    But the major anti-war rallies were on weekends.

    I guess these protests would be characterized as “leftish” because they were anti-government policy and the party in power was the party of Bush.

    But if you actually, really went into the crowd and beyond the signs, you would find that not an insignificant number of people were anti-war conservatives or libertarians. I would say roughly 10 percent.

    Also, I’m not totally sure about this point: “Large rightish protests are rare in comparison to leftish protests.”

    I mean yearly, various POW/MIA bikers descend on Washington, DC. This tends to be a mixed bag, but significant numbers of right-wingers are among them.

    Also yearly there’s the Roe v. Wade protest by anti-abortion protestors. This is largely right wing.

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  8. James Joyner says:

    All the war protests were staged on Saturdays, or can’t you find this even in your own archives?

    There were dozens of protests. I don’t know which specific ones these people are complaining about. Nor do I know what else was on the front pages of the papers that day. Without that information, there’s no way to make useful comparisons.

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  9. Hal says:

    Well, your snark was two fold. First, that protest from the left “happen all the time”. I think in the most banal sense, this is probably true. But then, in precisely the same sense, this is true of the right as well – or haven’t you even been near a facility that performs abortions?

    Secondly, that the war, itself, pushed any serious coverage off the front page. Which may be actually true if these protests we’re happening *after* the war, which they largely weren’t (again, please google).

    Further, the fact that there were major – and by major, I mean at least several hundred thousand – protests numbering in the “dozens”, as you say, would be pretty big news.

    Except they weren’t. You can complain the critics aren’t being specific, and therefore you can’t do any comparison, but actually that’s not true. You can just look at the coverage of any major (again, definition above) and see what the coverage was compared to the tea bagger events of last summer, or the gun toting waterers of the tree of liberty of this August, or the Beck driven, DeLay organized god only knows what they were protesting incident this weekend and see the major difference.

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  10. James Joyner says:

    Well, your snark was two fold. First, that protest from the left “happen all the time”. I think in the most banal sense, this is probably true. But then, in precisely the same sense, this is true of the right as well – or haven’t you even been near a facility that performs abortions?

    I’m just thinking of mass protests,not a handful of people picketing something. The left likely dominates either way — especially if one includes labor unions in that coalition.

    Which may be actually true if these protests we’re happening *after* the war, which they largely weren’t (again, please google).

    I conflated the complaints in the linked posts. Some were complaining about lack of coverage of a 2004 protest but others were complaining on pre-war protests.

    You can just look at the coverage of any major (again, definition above) and see what the coverage was compared to the tea bagger events of last summer, or the gun toting waterers of the tree of liberty of this August, or the Beck driven, DeLay organized god only knows what they were protesting incident this weekend and see the major difference.

    I don’t know what actually made the front pages those days. Google’s unlikely to tell me.

    My sense is that the coverage of the tea bag thing has mostly been as light news — a bunch of yahoos who can’t organize a decent protest — before this weekend, with Fox as the notable exception. Since I get my news through aggregation, though, I’m not absolutely sure of that — I mainly see what bubbles up on the blogs and a handful of other places.

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  11. Hal says:

    I’m just thinking of mass protests,not a handful of people picketing something.

    Really? There’s mass protests every other weekend in the US? So much so that it becomes part of the background noise and a ho hum media event?

    To coin a phrase, what planet are you from? :)

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  12. Wayne says:

    A better comparison would be the so called”million man march” and this protest. I’m not sure about the printed press but the MSM on TV were falling all over themselves covering the first, praising and overestimating the numbers compared to how they cover the 9/12 protest which was just the opposite.

    Ant-war protest have been overdone but Sheehan and her little group received more coverage than what most of the MSM gave 9/12 protestors. Picking one or two exceptions is dishonest in portraying the norm.

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  13. Wayne says:

    Hal
    What do you consider a mass protest?

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  14. Hal says:

    Certainly not all coverage is created equal. Just ask the Dixie Chix. So saying that Sheenan got more coverage without characterizing it is also disingenuous.

    WRT what do I consider a mass protest, I’d say at least a couple hundred thousand. Why, what do you consider a mass protest? Millions? 10’s of thousands? Hundreds?

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  15. What a Joke says:

    Yeah, like the MSM is worried about being labeled as liberal. What a joke. I like how the quote refers to “tea baggers”. Guess we know the bias there, don’t we?

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  16. Charlie says:

    Unh-uh.

    It went like this.

    The Pelosi PR machine sent out the marching orders to inflate expectations for the protest up to two million and then hold the front pages for a story of how it fizzled, how the tea parties are so over.

    That’s the slant the media mouthpieces started out with… “thousands of protestors,” only the story ended up getting away from them and did so too late to switch to the usual all-Obama front page. No wonder the Mau-Maus are mad… complete backfire.

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  17. Rusty says:

    Republicans rarely march in protest because WE TEND TO WORK FOR A LIVING!

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  18. PhilG says:

    CIAN: Well, lets hope that’s true. Obama as Hitler is not a mainstream position. Nor does a majority consider Obama a racist president, or his health care plan the equivalent of Hitler’s Euthanasia Program. Most of the weekend’s protesters do.

    Cian obviously didn’t attend the DC rally or, if he did, he is … prevaricating (?), naw, just a lying lefty. I was there, and saw not a single racist sign, and there were certainly no racist speakers. This is soooo OLD. You guys needs to come up with something else.

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  19. Fen says:

    Steve: “In contrast, seven years later, Tea Baggers have – ”

    Any Lefty who calls these peeps “tea baggers” in my presence will be swallowing his teeth. And I certainly won’t take anyone seriously who uses the term.

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  20. Rich says:

    cian:

    Those Obama as Hitler poster have originated at the lyndon larouche organizations. He is not conservative but Nuts and has been for many years. Blame conservatives for what they are responsible for and we are not responsible for Larouche! See: Poster Info

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  21. Fen says:

    I propose a similar term for the Left and their MSM propagandists.

    Filchers. 1) The standard definition marks them as thieves, and 2) the slang marks them as willing to swallow anything.

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  22. Thomass says:

    I’d say the left has been doing dumb protests all the way back to at least the 30s.

    They did protests before then too… but they were not always as dumb (for tangible things like better wages… when wages were really bad… and saftey issues… when mines and factories were pretty unsafe…). Since then, they’ve mostly been stuck on stupid.

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  23. elaine says:

    Lefties are seriously comparing even their largest anti-war protests to the 9/12 event and wondering why the latter was “over-covered?”

    Um… try looking at the pictures of the crowds of each. That will answer any questions. Had a few dozen or even a few hundred people shown up in DC on Saturday, the event would have had no coverage. Instead, thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands descend on DC (depending on whose numbers you believe) — the images speak for themselves.

    The left simply wants to marginalize what is truly a grassroots organization of dissent. They’ve never seen anything like it, and neither has the media. They want the media and the political class to continue to ignore the tea party. Okay… go ahead. And do so at your peril, for you’ll never see what’s coming.

    When your precious democrat representatives are voted out of office, you can whine and complain about how the right “stole” the election. Yeah… the arguments and spin have become so predictable that we can foresee it more than a year away…

    Maybe rather than whining about the “unfair” coverage, the left should try mounting their own grassroots (rather than astro-turfed) protests. And if you can muster nearly the numbers the tea party did, THEN you can complain if you don’t get sufficient coverage. Otherwise, STFU.

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  24. cian – evidence?

    Hal, you approach some reasonable points, but seem so determined to belittle your opponents by caricaturing them that discussion is going to prove impossible.

    Once a year right-to-life groups have a large demonstration. Of those who are otherwise political, I suspect that most tend rightward. But many of those are not especially political. So too, for the POW/MIA group. That tends to be more cultural than political. In contrast, I think the attempt to paint antiwar protests as politically mixed falls flat. There were indeed libertarian and isolationist types present, perhaps even up to the 10% level. But there was enormous spillage out into other issues, with left-wing faorites highly dominant. Bush fascism, corporate interests, global trade, and oil can at least be superficially connected in to war discussions. But gay rights? Environmental causes? Education spending? All of these were prominent as well.

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  25. tom says:

    in my edition of the saturday NYT the story was on page 33. this is hardly “A-1″ treatment

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  26. submandave says:

    Most of the weekend’s protesters [consider Obama and his policies equivalent to Hitler].

    Gee, generalize or project much? I’m not one to endorse or agree with Hitler analogies that don’t involve, you know, actually planned killing of one’s own citizens, but if you’d like I’ll challenge you to a little contest. I’ll pay you $100 for every picture you find of a “Tea Party” protester comparing Obama to Hitler if you pay me just $50 for every picture I can find of a leftist protester comparing Bush to Hitler.

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  27. Wayne says:

    Hal
    We agree on what we considered as mass protest. I just wanted to be clear on it since I hate arguing on subjective terms when people using them mean two completely different things.

    Can you list three(less than 5 standard you put forth) mass protests (couple hundred thousand or more(I will take hundred thousand)) between approximately July 12 and September 12 in year of 2001 or 2007 in the U.S. ? How about a quick list of mass protest this year in the U.S.?

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  28. Wayne says:

    Give it another try

    Hal
    We agree on what we considered as mass protest. I just wanted to be clear on it since I hate arguing on subjective terms when people using them mean two completely different things.

    Can you list three(less than 5 standard you put forth) mass protests (couple hundred thousand or more(I will take hundred thousand)) between approximately July 12 and September 12 in year of 2001 or 2007 in the U.S. ? How about a quick list of mass protest this year in the U.S.?

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  29. James:

    The biggest anti-war protest on the National Mall, which purportedly drew 500,000, was January 18, 2003, at least as far as I can tell. That same day also had massive protests in other US cities. A massive worldwide protest occured on February 15, but doesn’t appear to have been quite as well-organized in the US as the January 18 protests. So really, I would think you are looking for information on how the January 18 protests were covered.

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  30. An Interested Party says:

    If this protest was supposedly as large as some claim, one would think an old photo wouldn’t need to be used as “evidence”…

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  31. Tantor says:

    All the big anti-war protests here in DC were held on Saturdays. For the most part, they received only perfunctory coverage in the local media. Part of this reason was probably due to the fact that there are so many protests here that many are not even reported.

    However, I believe that the main reason the anti-war protests were not covered in detail in the local media was that it would be impossible to avoid reporting that the organizers, ANSWER and UFPJ, were communist organizations and that the core of march was composed of about two dozen socialist groups. The Communist Party of the USA, International Socialists Organization, Socialist Worker, Revolutionary Communist Brigade, etc, all carried large banners telling you exactly who they were and chanted Marxist slogans. They were impossible to miss.

    Of course, such a blatant communist and socialist presence, if widely known, would undermine the anti-war movement which most journalists from the liberal media supported. They preferred to portray the marchers as representative of the American mainstream. To do that, the media only covered the demonstrations in coarse detail. For example, the Washington Post would show a long shot of a lot of people marching down the street, the communist banners only flecks of red in the distance, to show the mass of the opposition to the war and imply they were just normal Americans. It’s journalistic malpractice, lying by omission.

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  32. Moneyrunner says:

    Cian, nice bit of mind reading there. You have no idea what “a majority of weekend protesters” believe. But if it helps you confirm your bigotry, be my guest.

    Hal, as a tea bagger, would you consider your sexual expression mainstream?

    The use of an offensive sexual slur — or perhaps the normal sexual pre-occupation of liberals — is a dead giveaway of a commenter’s political orientation. And here I thought “tea bagging” was the preoccupation of a certain group of fetishists rather than the preferred sexual encounter of Liberal media personalities and bloggers.

    What’s that running down your chin?

    Who knew?

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  33. Wayne says:

    AIP
    The only time I saw that photo besides your link was for comparison such as a t Wizabang blog which stated it was from the Jan 18 2003 anti-war protest.

    http://wizbangblog.com/content/2009/09/14/how-many-people-attended-saturdays-tea-party-march-in-dc.php#more

    Do you have any links where the right claim that photo was the 9/12 protest or are you relying on Huffington post for you facts. Perhaps you have problem with comparing photos at a anti-war rally that was estimated at 500,0000 to photos of 9/12 that the MSM estimated at a few thousand or tens of thousands.

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  34. Jamie says:

    “Tea baggers”? “Tea bag thing”? Is Anderson Cooper really the eminence gris of the media, to be quoted so commonly? These are Tea Parties. “Tea bagging” does not describe what Tea Partiers do; it does, if I understand the term correctly, serve more accurately as an analogy for media coverage of the Obama campaign, I’d say.

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