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October 2, 2005

Mass Actions and Their Distractions

It’s been nearly a week since we ran this story about last Monday’s protest in front of the White House, but I wanted to point out a few things in Ben Dangl’s coverage of that event that you didn’t see elsewhere in the media.

First, unlike most of his counterparts, Ben did not focus his coverage on Cindy Sheehan, the media’s favorite anti-war protester. While Sheehan’s protests in Texas and Washington DC have revitalized corporate media coverage of anti-war sentiment in the US, last Monday, her notoriety may have hindered, rather than helped the protesters.

The headlines of most major papers last Monday and Tuesday focused on Sheehan and largely ignored the 370 or so other protesters that police arrested. If you only caught the headlines in the New York Times, USA Today, Houston Chronicle, LA Times and countless other papers, you would have gotten the impression that Sheehan acted alone.

The most reprinted article was by the Associated Press, which was published by the New York Times and countless other papers under the headline "Sheehan Arrested During Antiwar Protest" and in USA Today under the headline "Anti-war Activist Sheehan Arrested at Protest." Reuters focused on Sheehan too, going so far as to leave the other protesters out of the lead completely:

U.S. military mother Cindy Sheehan, whose vigil outside President George W. Bush's Texas ranch drew attention to the anti-war movement, was arrested on Monday at a White House sit-in after she refused to obey police orders to leave.

For a story that says she drew attention to a movement, that movement was peculiarly absent from Reuters’s coverage. A Reuters reader doesn’t find out until the third paragraph of the article that Sheehan wasn’t alone in her protest, but that she was arrested with "several dozen" others.

(It isn’t that we are ignoring Cindy Sheehan, mind you. We were impressed by her story and her spirit when we first interviewed her well over a year ago, long before she became a media spectacle. But we try to use sources appropriately, so we don’t turn a grieving mom overnight into the sole figurehead of a mass movement with decades of history.)

In his own story on Monday’s action, Ben instead focused on the other protesters whose voices have not been heard yet in the national media and on the organizing that went into the protest. He portrayed the protest as it was: a group effort and the culmination of lots of planning and training by the organization behind the protest: United for Peace and Justice.

Grassroots oriented as it may have been, Ben’s coverage was by no means a propaganda piece for UFPJ. His reporting was also unique in the way he reported criticism of the event – not from the usual "mainstream" sources who disparage anyone who takes a strong stand against the government, but from voices inside the anti-war movement itself who questioned the group’s pre-arrangements with the police.


Larry Levine: Mass Actions and Their Distractions

Jessica reminds us why it is always important to consider the source, motives, laziness and vison.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.