Corporate Media Downplays Washington Anti-War Rally

Corporate media and DC law enforcement collude once again in shaving anti-war march numbers. On a postcard perfect weather day in Washington, in excess of 150,000 people gathered on the Washington Mall, west of the US Capitol, to hear members of Congress and Hollywood celebrities call for the Bush administration to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. However, as with past anti-war demonstrations in Washington, the corporate media, largely influenced by New York- and Los Angeles-based special interests, downplayed the number of demonstrators.

Associated Press reporters Calvin Woodward and Larry Margasak wrote an article that described “tens of thousands” of demonstrators. Editors around the world penned headlines for the same article that read “thousands” demonstrated in Washington. The three words – “tens of thousands” – were echoed in newspapers from Melbourne, Australia to Vancouver, Canada and Vienna, Austria to London. Broadcasters, including the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), and Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), used “tens of thousands” in their news reports.

This editor noted that although the National Park Service once again used snow fences to block off access to grassy areas on the Washington Mall, thus forcing many demonstrators off on side streets and thus skewing an accurate count (the Washington Mall can hold one million people), the numbers of demonstrators were in excess of 150,000 and possibly over 200,000. “Tens of thousands” is therefore a misleading description of the actual numbers.

In the press area, this editor noted a conversation between two mainstream media reporters who, even before many demonstrators had arrived at the Mall, were already using “tens of thousands” to describe the numbers. It was clear from the conversation that the major media had been issued a number of pre-conceived editorial points: use “tens of thousands,” ignore rally organizer numbers — one speaker predicted 400,000 marchers, and point to the marchers as largely consisting of “fringe groups.”

After having covered two past massive anti-war demonstrations in Washington, this editor can state unequivocally that the demographics of the crowd had altered from past marches. The participants were largely white, middle and upper class, and from a cross section of professions. Men and woman, young, middle-aged, and seniors, African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic, and white Southerners and Midwesterners, they hailed from affluent suburbs of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Cleveland, among other cities, and rural areas. Many came in buses from small towns in Iowa, Michigan, Kentucky, Connecticut, South Carolina, and New Jersey. In fact, the crowd more resembled those which are found at annual Independence Day celebrations on the Mall than those seen at past anti-war demonstrations.

The few “fringe groups” present, such as Revolutionary Communists, were minutiae compared to the major unions, church groups, and veterans organizations that participated.

On January 18, 2003, the editor wrote the following about an anti-war march in Washington: “A large banner hanging on the side of the East Building of the National Gallery of Art could not have been more appropriate for the January 18 anti-war protest on the Mall in Washington, DC. Promoting an art display inside the museum, the banner read: ‘Deceptions and Illusions.’ It could have easily applied to the deception foisted on the public by the Washington Metropolitan Police Department and the corporate news media.

The Park Police cleverly fenced off a large portion of the Mall closest to the Washington Monument, forcing large numbers of protestors on to Jefferson and Madison Drives. If one were to count the numbers solely on the grassy area of the Mall it would appear that 30,000 or, as the news media is now reporting, ‘tens of thousands,’ were present. However, if the count were to include those forced on to the periphery of the Mall, the number was well over 100,000.

The New York Times has become the chief perpetrator of low balling anti-Bush protestor numbers. A photo caption on its web site stated, ‘thousands of protestors’ took part in the January 18 protest. A similar anti-war protest held in Washington last October 26 was estimated at between 100,000 and 200,000. It was the largest anti-war protest since the Vietnam War, but the Times reported the number of protestors as being in the ‘thousands.’

However, an April 15, 2002, pro-Israel rally at the US Capitol, was reported by the Times to be 100,000. In reality, the numbers were merely in the low thousands. The ‘Old Grey Lady’ later admitted it had erroneously reported the inflated number due to a ‘coordination’ problem with one of its desks. Five days later, a pro-Palestinian rally was held on the White House Ellipse. Organizers claim the crowd was 100,000 but Washington police chief Charles Ramsey put the numbers at between 35,000 and 50,000. Once again, the Times reported the numbers to be in the ‘tens of thousands.”

This is not just shoddy journalism but willful disinformation being perpetrated by corporate newspapers that want to curry favor with the White House, Congress, and the Pentagon. In fact, the January 18 protest was larger than those held in October and April last year. That would obviously put the January 18 numbers well over 100,000. But the failure to accurately report the numbers is not entirely the fault of the news media. In the past, the media was permitted to use their news and traffic helicopters to more accurately gauge crowd numbers. But in the wake of September 11, the only helicopters now permitted over Washington are those belonging to the police. They count the numbers, divide and subtract, and then feed the phony figures to a sycophantic media.”

It is clear that the White House spin doctors and their facilitators – “New York money people” as Gen. Wesley Clark accurately describes them – long ago decided that “tens of thousands” and “thousands” would be used to describe anti-war and anti-Bush rallies in Washington. The media continues to stick to those numbers even when confronted with facts.

Washington insider with many contacts within the capitol's Beltway, the US Intelligence community and beyond