Copenhagen Protests flickr image by PokMcFee
A few days ago, I mentioned a line from an old science teacher: "If you can't measure it, it doesn't exist."
In what passes for corporate journalism in American, this concept has taken the form of, "If we don't report on it, it didn't happen."
That certainly was the case for the emergency protest organized by a coalition of anti-war organizations under the banner EndUSWars.org, which saw over 1000 people gather on short notice in the bitter cold on Lafayette Park opposite the White House to protest President Obama's escalation of the war in Afghanistan on Saturday, Dec. 12.
Not a word about this impromptu protest, which included many people who had supported the election of President Obama only a year ago, appeared in the New York Times. Nor did the Washington Post bother to mention the protest in its own back yard, not even in its Metro section pages. The other arguably national newspaper, USA Today, likewise blacked out news of the protest.
Granted, this first anti-war protest aimed at the new president within days of his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, didn't feature any A-list speakers. Still, it did feature known names like Ralph Nader, former Rep. and 2008 Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney of Georgia, former Alaska Sen. and 2008 Democratic presidential contender Mike Gravel, as well as Ohio Rep. and former 2008 presidential contender Dennis Kucinich. Besides, even if a few hundred people protesting isn't that big a number, considering that past anti-war protests have numbered in the hundreds of thousands, even that constitutes a significant story in itself.
Furthermore, the Times did find newsworthy a small protest in Berkeley, CA outside the home of the chancellor of the University of California, which featured only about 60 demonstrators, and both the Times and the Post saw fit to report on a modest demonstration of 10,000 or so people in Copenhagen the same day.
There were reports on the White House protest in the American Spectator and the Washington Times, two conservative publications, and also in the Los Angeles Times, as well as on Voice of America, oddly enough.
Considering the pathetic performance of the US media in covering the run-up to the Iraq War and the handling of the Afghanistan war back in the early days of the Bush/Cheney administration, and the self-criticism that publications like the Times and the Post have made about their coverage of that period, it is nothing short of remarkable to see them doing the same thing all over again now, missing the early development of an anti-war opposition to Obama's escalation of the Afghanistan War.
What is the explanation for this behavior, which almost makes the state media in China look good?
Speaking as a reporter who worked at a number of daily newspapers back in the 1970s, I have to wonder. The news desks at the papers I worked for in those days were staffed by crusty veterans who for the most part made the decisions on what went into the paper. Certainly there were stories that higher-ups in the offices that had doors took an unseemly interest in, and these sometimes either got embarrassingly overplayed, or axed, according to the wishes of senior management (it was one such story of min getting axed that led to my protest and departure from my last daily newspaper job). But certainly a story like this one, about a demonstration in front of the White House, would not have been in that category, and I cannot imagine any of my old editors deciding that such a story didn't warrant some kind of coverage.
I find it hard to image that the senior management at the Post or the Times was leaning on the weekend news desks of those papers to black out the demonstration and hide it from the public. Rather, we've reached a sorry point, I believe, where the editors at the newsroom level are themselves completely enculturated to the idea that protest doesn't matter, unless there is violence or mass arrests or something, unrelated to the basic point of the protest.
People gathering together in front of the commander in chief's house to protest his war plans is simply not news to the arbiters of news relevance in today's American corporate journalism.
All the more reason why we need to turn to new sources of our information about what is happening in the world and in our own nation and back yards.
It is time to take back the media from the corporate hacks and flaks.