People have been lamenting the media’s coverage of anti–Iraq War activism for about as long as people have been opposing the Iraq War. In October 2002 — five months before the US-led invasion commenced — Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), the liberal media watchdog group, accused both the New York Times and National Public Radio (NPR) of incorrectly reporting that turnout at an anti-war rally in Washington, DC, had failed to meet organizers’ expectations. FAIR’s “action alert” had a modicum of success: the Times quickly reversed its assessment, and NPR issued an on-air correction.
That victory notwithstanding, Peter Hart, FAIR’s activism director, insists that media bias against the war’s opponents is abiding. “I think the protest coverage generally follows a rule: that protesters are people who are trying to crash the system and get coverage in a way that is kind of outside the bounds of normal politics,” Hart says. “So reporters are dragged kicking and screaming to cover these events, and, I think, resent the idea that they have to pay any attention to this. It really doesn’t matter how many people turn out or what happens when reporters — or more typically, their editors — aren’t interested in the story to begin with.”
Howard Zinn — the legendary activist, author of A People’s History of the United States, and Boston University professor emeritus — makes a similar argument. “Just take this last rally,” he says, referring to the protest in Washington on March 17. “It was tens of thousands of people, and that was much, much larger than the group of people who were protesting against it. But the people protesting against it got almost as much coverage as the anti-war people. . . . I don’t think the media have been kind. And I also don’t think the media have been fair to the anti-war movement.”
Just because this notion of a hostile media is popular on the left doesn’t mean it’s correct, however. Anti-war sentiment is ascendant in the US today: according to a recent CNN poll, only 32 percent of Americans favor the war, down from 72 percent four years ago. (Sixty-nine percent of Democrats, 47 percent of independents, and 15 percent of Republicans said they oppose the war.) Even without a military draft, which helped Vietnam-era protesters reach beyond the converted to the unconvinced, this should be a period of tremendous opportunity for anti-war activists. But if the anti-war movement can’t improve its own shortsighted self-presentation, that opportunity will go to waste.
Opening the political floodgates
Last Saturday, a protest pegged to the fourth anniversary of the Iraq invasion took place on Boston Common, starting at 11 am and culminating with a march into the Financial District a few hours later. The protest was endorsed by several groups, including United for Justice with Peace — a local anti-war coalition not to be confused with United for Peace and Justice, the national coalition that has supplanted Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (a/k/a ANSWER) as the highest-profile anti-war coalition. The Herald covered the protest in detail, but tucked its reportage and photos deep inside the paper, on page 20. In contrast, the Globe followed the proceedings as they were taking place Saturday afternoon on Boston.com; on Sunday, a story headlined GROUPS UNITE TO PROTEST IRAQ WAR fronted the Globe’s City and Region section, below the fold.