Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Sunday, March 16, 2003  

So, once again we have the disputed numbers. Either 40,000 or 100,000 marched in Washington to protest the Bush war. In Portland, the number was as few as 20,000 (according to the Oregonian) or twice that, according to protest organizers. In San Francisco, the Chronicle/organizers split was 40,000 and 100,000.

What's in a number? Organizers, obviously, want to emphasize the significance of their cause. The press? Well, in the Oregonian and Post's case (I don't know about the Chronicle), the papers have a pro-war stance. The Oregonian's numbers were a third lower than local TV stations' estimates (also here)--TV stations with no editorial position. Maybe it's not a major difference--it's tens of thousands either way. But the way events are presented and interpreted really does matter.

Yesterday afternoon, I tuned in to one of the local TV stations after the event (I don't recall which one). The coverage was remarkably positive--organizers and protesters were characterized as caring, average citizens. Reporting on a small group that tried to block a local bridge, the station characterized them as unconnected to the other 29,850 peaceful grandmothers and middle-schoolers.

The way the media report news creates opinion, unavoidably. But news gets reported by people, who are affected by events. Some questioned the value of marching yesterday, when it was clear that the President had already decided to attack Iraq. In fact, marching for peace may not stop George Bush--it seems nothing can. But the peace marchers can hope to rewrite the book on how Americans feel about that.

In the newscast last night, one reporter stopped to explain a protester's in that melodramatic TV-news voice. It was made by a 13-year old girl, she explained, proffering it for the camera: "30,000 bombs + 5 million in Baghdad = terrorism" (the numbers may have been slightly different) The interesting thing was, the reporter was sympathetic: she was holding a sign calling George Bush a terrorist, and she was sympathetic. That's change.

[Update: In today's Oregonian, an in-house analysis used an aerial photograph to come up with a new number: 14,200. Done deal, right? Not according to the Portland Communiqué, who analyzes the analysis and questions the results.]

posted by Jeff | 10:00 PM |
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