The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

War protests: Why no coverage?

War protests: Why no coverage?

Newspapers have a duty to inform citizens about such democratic events.

antiwar protests in at least 11 American cities this weekend raised
anew an interesting question about the nature of news coverage: Are the
media ignoring rallies against the Iraq war because of their low
turnout or is the turnout dampened by the lack of news coverage?

I find it unsettling that I even have to consider the question.

most Americans oppose the war in Iraq is well established. The latest
CBS News poll, in mid-October, found 26 percent of those polled
approved of the way the president is handling the war and 67 percent
disapproved. It found that 45 percent said they'd only be willing to
keep large numbers of US troops in Iraq "for less than a year." And an
ABC News-Washington Post poll in late September found that 55 percent
felt Democrats in Congress had not gone far enough in opposing the war.

Granted, neither poll asked specifically
about what this weekend's marchers wanted: An end to congressional
funding for the war. Still, poll after poll has found substantial
discontent with a war that ranks as the preeminent issue in the
presidential campaign.

Given that context, it seems remarkable to
me that in some of the 11 cities in which protests were held – Boston
and New York, for example – major news outlets treated this "National
Day of Action" as though it did not exist. As far as I can tell,
neither The New York Times nor The Boston Globe had so much as a news
brief about the march in the days leading up to it. The day after, The
Times, at least in its national edition, totally ignored the thousands
who marched in New York and the tens of thousands who marched
nationwide. The Globe relegated the news of 10,000 spirited citizens
(including me) marching through Boston's rain-dampened streets to a
short piece deep inside its metro section. A single sentence noted the
event's national context.

As a former newspaper editor, I was most
taken aback by the silence beforehand. Surely any march of widespread
interest warrants a brief news item to let people know that the event
is taking place and that they can participate. It's called "advancing
the news," and it has a time-honored place in American newsrooms.

With prescient irony, Frank Rich wrote in
his Oct. 14 Times column, "We can continue to blame the Bush
administration for the horrors of Iraq.… But we must also examine our
own responsibility." And, he goes on to suggest, we must examine our
own silence.

So why would Mr. Rich's news colleagues deprive people of information needed to take exactly that responsibility?

I'm not suggesting here that the Times or any news organization should be in collusion with a movement – pro-war or antiwar,
pro-choice or pro-life, pro-government or pro-privatization.

I am suggesting that news organizations cover the news – that they inform the public about any widespread effort to give voice
to those who share a widely held view about any major national issue.

it had been a pro-war group that had organized a series of support
marches this weekend, I'd have felt the same way. Like the National Day
of Action, their efforts would have been news – news of how people can
participate in a democracy overrun with campaign platitudes and
big-plate fundraisers, news that keeps democracy vibrant, news that
keeps it healthy.

Joseph Pulitzer, the editor and publisher
for whom the highest honor in journalism is named, understood this
well. In May 1904, he wrote: "Our Republic and its press rise or fall
together. An able, disinterested, public-spirited press … can preserve
that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a
mockery.… The power to mould the future of the Republic will be in the
hands of the journalists of future generations."

It's time for the current generation of
journalists – at times seemingly obsessed with Martha Stewart, O.J.
Simpson, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, and the like – to use that power
more vigilantly, and more firmly, with the public interest in mind.

Jerry Lanson is a professor of journalism at Emerson College in Boston.

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