Saturday :: Jan 22, 2005

Bring the War Home

by larre

The re-inauguration of George W. Bush was less a real event than a series of artificially manufactured, triumphalist photo ops stage-managed with the assistance of record-setting cordons of military and police guards. The deliberate isolation of war protestors from the ceremony's venues was made possible only because the mass media largely is blinkered against any serious hint of dissent.

Predictably, the worst media coverage came from cable news networks. Steve Soto made that observation in a somewhat different context downthread, but it bears repeating because TV News has become little more than a grostesque parody of genuine journalism.

As the watchdog Media Matters put it--

Cable news dismissed and ridiculed inauguration protesters.

During January 20 inauguration coverage, hosts and commentators on CNN, MSNBC, and FOX News ridiculed inauguration protesters; downplayed their numbers and significance; and implied that they posed a security threat.

CNN host Wolf Blitzer seemed to ignore fellow host Judy Woodruff's point that parade watchers generally had to pay for seats (and therefore likely supported President Bush), asserting that in contrast with the protesters -- whom he called "angry, angry people" -- "there are a lot more people who have gathered along Pennsylvania Avenue who love this president."

Later, Blitzer again downplayed the protesters' significance: "And we don't want to make too much of the protesters, because we don't know how many there were. Certainly, the nature of this business, the nature of television, we could over-exaggerate based on the images, and they might just be a tiny, tiny overall number." A January 21 New York Times article rebutted Blitzer's assessment, noting that the number of protesters in the protest-designated space alone was in the "thousands," and that there were also protesters interspersed with Bush supporters throughout the parade route: "The numbers of protesters along Pennsylvania Avenue might have been greater, but the swarm of people trying to pass through security checkpoints made it hard to reach the parade route quickly."

Scanning the print and on-line press, there were a few -- very few -- isolated exceptions to the superficial and misleading coverage offered by TV news networks. One exception was Ron Hutchison of Knight-Ridder, who observed --
Presidential inaugurations are supposed to be a time for national reconciliation, but President Bush began his second term on a day marred by persistent division, palpable ill will and a security clampdown that gave the nation's capital the feeling of a city under siege.
Bloomberg also had an anonymous report that:
"More than 100 city blocks were closed to traffic and manhole covers on the parade route were welded shut. City and federal offices were closed, and areas were set aside for protesters.
* * *
Protesters complained that one area designated for them along the parade route was hidden by 8-foot-high bleachers for Bush supporters.

"It's like a bad joke," said Fred Persi, 35, of Arlington, Virginia.

Except for rare observations like these and the WaPo editorial noted yesterday by Steve Soto, media coverage of the anti-Bush protests in Washington and around the nation leaves no doubt that the broadcast industry has become little more than a stage prop for White House news management.

You might as well subscribe to a house plant. As the headline for Alessandra Stanley's article describes it in today's New York Times, the media coverage was "anchored in color and style, not in substance".

Only because I happened to catch Amy Goodman's Democracy Now! alternative news report do I know that protestors brought to Washington the Eyes Wide Open, the traveling display of combat boots for the fallen or that at least two mothers of deceased soldiers movingly addressed thousands of protestors after Rumsfeld refused to give them a couple minutes of his time.

Four decades ago, anti-war protest moved public opinion (and forced a change in our Vietnam policy). This was in part because a far more independent and courageous media covered the views and activities of the anti-war protest movement. Through teach-ins, peace marches, draft resistance, "Seven Senators for Peace," and even music concerts the anti-war movement articulated its message and that message was heard by tens of millions, forcing a sitting war president into premature retirement and sufficiently scaring his successor, Nixon, into committing crimes that led to his resignation from office in disgrace.

None of that could happen today using protest tools of the past because the national commercial media no longer is interested or willing to fairly report the views of the opposition. They turn their conglomerate backs on the caskets coming home and devote almost zero coverage to the more than 10,000 wounded veterans languishing in Veterans Hospitals whose budgets Bush has chopped. A hundred thousand or more Iraqi civilians are killed by our bombs -- and the U.S. national media is silent. Local media coverage at best prints the name or shows a photo of the latest local soldier killed in Iraq, but more often their deaths go entirely unreported.

In short, the pusillanimous media industry in the U.S. is now part of the problem, captured in orbit around the Bush White House and managed by Madison Avenue style commercial promotion by Republican pols. If the anti-war movement is to become an effective political force over the next four years, it seems to me new methods must be devised for 'bringing the war' home to all Americans -- and new ways must be found for compelling the media to report it.

Blogs can help, of course, but they aren't the whole answer. There is a bit too much 'preaching to choir' around most blogs like this (much as I enjoy it). Nor, I think, is a focus on national protest opportunities such as the GOP convention or the re-inauguration necessarily the most efficacious. Pressure on Washington congressmen and senators is fine, as far as it goes, but protest shouldn't be focused there.

"All politics is local," it has been said. So, too, should be political protests. Virtually all of our media organs now are nationally or internationally owned by a handful of corporations. However, most of their outlets continue to indulge in the conceit of being 'local'. Anti-war protest organizations need to do the same thing: Coordinate from a national pespective but give it a local look.

I don't pretend to have any answers, but below are some tentative ideas for how national anti-war protest groups could localize their efforts. I'm sure others have better ideas.

1. Shouldn't state governors whose National Guard units are being expropriated for Iraq duty be pressured into claiming that the state's soliders are needed more at home for training, as some have hinted they can do? Mobs of protestors should be assembling on state capital steps to demand their state governor put a stop to Bush's wasting of local lives. State governors should not longer be given a free ride. Let them know that White House misuse of their state militia is a political problem for them.

2. Isn't it time for state legislators to be called to account, too? Protestors need to be demanding of their local state legislators, "What have you done to protect our local Guardsmen from criminal misuse by the White House?

3. With each day's new deaths, isn't it possible for anti-war protestors to coordinate a flood of letters, telegrams, and emails to the particular local papers, radio, and TV outlets in every dead soldier's home town, demanding that the victim be accorded the dignity of a front page photo and biography? Even local stations owned by distant conglomerates will find, very soon, that such demands cannot be resisted.

4. What about a nationwide campaign among the 60% or more who oppose the war to sell short the stock of Halliburton? Selling the stock of this war profiteer company is no more than what Halliburton insiders appear to be doing.

The Bush administration is venal but not entirely stupid. By insulating the American public from the immediate pain of war ("here's a tax cut - go shopping"), and shielding from our eyes the dead and broken bodies caused by its war mongering, they have kept the reality of war distant from most Americans. Using more than twice as many cops and soldiers to isolate ten thousand protestors in so-called "First Amendment" pens is no accidental move. It reveals the administration's fear that what's left of support for the war will crumble if the pain of war ever is brought home.

And that's what the protest movement has to learn - how to bring the war home to every American and how to do it without help from an insouciant media that no longer knows or cares about the public iinterest.

larre :: 2:55 PM :: Comments (8) :: Digg It!