Protests and Media Coverage
A 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:
- 2 Prior to the invasion of Iraq
- 3 Invasion to the fall of Baghdad
- 4 After the fall of Baghdad
- 4.1 April 12, 2003
- 4.2 October 25, 2003
- 4.3 June 4, 2004
- 4.4 June 5, 2004
- 4.5 June 27, 2004
- 4.6 August 29, 2004
- 4.7 October 2, 2004
- 4.8 October 17, 2004
- 4.9 November 30, 2004
- 4.10 January 20, 2005
- 4.11 March 19, 2005
- 4.12 June 21, 2005
- 4.13 August 6, 2005 to August 31, 2005
- 4.14 September 24, 2005
- 4.15 November 4—5, 2005
- 4.16 March 18 — March 20, 2006
- 4.17 April 1, 2006
- 4.18 April 29, 2006
- 4.19 May 22—31, 2006
- 4.20 August 9, 2006
- 4.21 September 21, 2006
- 4.22 September 23, 2006
- 4.23 October 5, 2006
- 4.24 November 3, 2006
- 4.25 January 4, 2007
- 4.26 January 10—11, 2007
- 4.27 January 27, 2007
- 4.28 March 11, 2007
- 4.29 March 16, 2007
- 4.30 March 17, 2007
- 4.31 May 21, 2007
- 4.32 September 15, 2007
- 4.33 September 29, 2007
- 4.34 March 19, 2008
- 4.35 March 21, 2009
- 4.36 April 4, 2009
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.