April 25, 2002

There were between 75,000 and 100,000 protesting various wars in Washington DC last weekend. That's well over the number of people who showed up in Quebec City. As usual, the corporate media made the numbers fuzzy by saying "thousands", "over 10,000", or "50,000"; the last figure is the estimated number of people attending the largest march, which was one of many.

Funny thing, that. When the Washington Post covered the pro-Israeli rally on April 15, they noted that "by 2 p.m., Metro had carried 354,220 passengers today, or 54,604 more than it did by the same time last Monday." That has to be absolutely the most charitable way possible to assess the number of protesters, as it takes into account pro-Palestinian counter-protesters, media and other observers who were probably bustling back and forth, as well as protesters who rode the subway twice. Such methods (or even accurate ones), however, suddenly disappear when it's people protesting against what the media has, not without a little outside influence, decided is a valid protest and what is not.

As I mentioned a few days ago, the effect of ideology on something as simple as covering the number of people to come out to a protest is bluntly evident. During the anti-FTAA protests in Quebec City a year ago, the local media (who wasn't really pro-protester, just, I hypothesize, less influenced by powerful interests) reported that upwards of 75,000 people had come out. The Globe and Mail (one of two national dailies in Canada) reported 50,000 or so, and the NYTimes noted 20,000. It's not as though there aren't accurate ways of determining these things (or skewing them in the other direction, as the case may be).

I was telling my roommate about the phenomenon I just described this morning, and he smiled wryly and said "conspiracy." So I felt compelled to rant, er, explain that there's a perfectly non-conspiracy theory that explains how these things happen rather accurately. There's pressure from various people and groups; notably, those with the power to pull advertising or fire writers, those who can criticize the media publicly (and get attention doing it), and those upon whom the media is dependent for access to information (notably, the pentagon, white house, and other government). These power structures are constantly reaffirming and perpetuating themselves by hiring writers, editors, and journalists who aren't willing or don't feel the need to tread outside the accepted range of debate. It's still surprising when stuff as blatant as the misconstrual of available data happens, but there's a way to account for it that doesn't require talking about men with cigars in rooms with leather walls making calls.

posted by dru in activism