by Deck Deckert
(Swans - October 10, 2005) What if they had a war rally, and nobody came?
I'm not talking about the wildly successful antiwar rally in Washington that attracted somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 people, perhaps more, from all over the nation. I'm talking about the pro-war rally, that tiny contingent of people who came to protest the protest.
What happened? Why, the media gave them equal weight, of course. It is a matter of balance, you see. A couple of hundred right-thinking pro-war citizens are the equivalent of 100 times that many antiwar lunatics.
Perhaps I exaggerate, but not by much. An AP story on the antiwar rally made sure to balance it with several paragraphs about the pro-war people who heckled them, leaving a casual reader to think it was a major confrontation. It was not. A friend of mine who was on the march reports he saw only a couple hundred hecklers standing along the line of march, an estimate confirmed by several other people.
But the corporate media's biggest sin was omission, not commission. They treated the antiwar Washington rally as they have treated the antiwar movement -- as though it didn't exist. There was no pre-march coverage, no stories of preparations -- who was going to be in attendance, how many were to be expected, etc. When the march actually happened, the media simply refused to treat it seriously. Only a handful of papers carried the story on the front page, the rest carrying a usually brief story inside the paper. And, of course, it was almost entirely absent on TV.
What was being covered? Why, Hurricane Rita, of course. The fact that the hurricane was relatively benign, no different than hundreds of others that have struck United States, was beside the point. Granted, it came shortly after the deadly destruction in New Orleans, and involved misguided mass evacuations. But by the time of the march it was clear that it wasn't going to be another Katrina, yet it was still being treated like The Second Coming, with massive coverage that apparently didn't leave room for anything else.
Part of that is the media's monomania: they can only cover one story at a time.
A more important factor, however, is the corporate media's automatic and ritualistic support of the ruling elite. The antiwar marchers were making the rulers uncomfortable -- and that made the media uncomfortable. (The belief that the role of the media is "to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable" is itself a comfortable fiction.)
It is true that the media finds itself unable to confront the powerful unless they can find someone else with equal power on the other side. In this case that would be the Democrats. Unfortunately, most of the Democrats are cowering in their bunkers, while others, like Hillary Clinton, are trying to be more hawkish than the Republican hawks.
As hundreds of thousands of American citizens marched through the nation's capital, not only were the top officials of the government, President Bush most conspicuously, absent, but so were the Democrats. They all fled, deathly afraid to be seen in the presence of people who were actually speaking out against their government, against the war.
The antiwar movement has been far too kind to the Democrats. But that could be changing, thanks in part to the woman who almost single-handedly is reinvigorating the movement, Cindy Sheehan.
At a rally outside Hillary R. Clinton's office in New York, Sheehan said that Clinton must either speak out against the war or risk losing her job. Earlier she had told the Village Voice that top Democrats like Clinton need to step up and be the opposition party. "This war is not going to end unless the Democrats are on board with us."
Media coverage of the march could have been different. In a sane country with an honest and free media, the story could have been covered in accordance with its significance. At least a week ahead of time, there would have been stories about various groups and individuals preparing to go to Washington to petition their government.
When the march started, there would have been saturation TV coverage. There would have been a multitude of photos in the print media. There would have been sidebars on particularly interesting or significant groups, such as the Iraq veterans, Chad Soloman, for example, the Ohio national guardsman who said: "We're here to show that not all veterans are supportive of the war, that some of us feel it's wrong, and that we need to take a stand against it."
There would have been sidebars and photos about the abundance of colorful, humorous, and outraged signs such as those reported by Tom Engelhardt of tomdispatch.com: "Yeeha is not a foreign policy"; "Making a killing"; "Ex-Republican. Ask me why"; "Blind Faith in Bad Leadership is not Patriotism"; "Bush is a disaster!"; "Make levees not war"; "Liar, born liar, born-again liar." And my favorite, "War is Terrorism with a Bigger Budget."
And there would have been endless analysis and commentary about the meaning of it all.
Instead we got .... essentially nothing.
Democracy without real opposition and without a free press is not really democracy at all.