WASHINGTON, D.C. –More than 100,000 people from across the United States–and perhaps over a quarter-million–marched Saturday past the White House to protest the U.S. war in Iraq, their chants echoing a growing opposition to the war by a majority of Americans that could push Congress to impose an exit strategy on President Bush.
No American newspaper or television network covered Saturday’s massive demonstration in Washington that way, and few thought it important enough to put on the front page. Meanwhile, the cable channels were single-mindedly focused on Hurricane Rita.
What does it take to get the American media to acknowledge the growing breadth and depth of opposition to the war in Iraq and the powerful message behind a quarter- million people traveling to Washington and taking to the streets?
According to media scholar Daniel Hallin, who studied coverage of the Vietnam war, reporters won’t seriously write about the antiwar movement until political leaders start talking about ending the war. And most politicians won’t do that until they sense political gain–based on what they see in the media.
The News & Observer was no different than most–a small promo on the front page and a story on page A3. I asked Executive Editor Melanie Sill how they made that decision.
“One thing is,” she said, “this was previewed for a couple of weeks, so it was a planned, a choreographed [event] … One question is how much news was in the event itself.”
At a weekend planning meeting on Friday, editors decided “it would come to page one if there were many more people than expected, or some news that wasn’t telegraphed in advance,” she said.
But with no crowd estimates from the D.C. police, there could be no surprises. And just as reporters wouldn’t independently describe the enormous size of the crowd, neither were editors going to second-guess them. Sounds like President Bush saying things were going well in New Orleans after TV had showed two days of near riots at the convention center.
So what can we do? Writer Norman Solomon writes on commondreams.org, “What’s crucial is that the movement not allow its momentum to be interrupted by media treatment.” In other words, keep shouting until they can’t ignore us.
This week, we offer photos from Jenny Warburg capturing the magnitude of the march, and Bob Geary writes about the need for a strong political leader to take the reins of the antiwar movement.
And there’s another piece of inspiration from friends of Joe Straley, the beloved Chapel Hill activist who passed away last week. They say he’d quote legendary union organizer Joe Hill: Don’t mourn for me. Organize.