This past Saturday, thousands upon thousands of people worldwide turned out to protest the ongoing Iraq War. It was the two-year anniversary of the invasion. Thinking back to when the war began, it really feels like ages ago. I remember the televisions at the video monitoring service where I then worked, usually tuned into soap operas or sports, being filled with images of a dark Baghdad, occassionally lit up by our "shock and awe." The high-tech war was here, and people (journalists included) were impressed. Two years later, it's easy to see why that halycon time of high-tech war, when our government and press seemed giddy about flexing our military muscle, seems like ages ago. The war has turned into what is often called a "low-intensity conflict," with low-tech and guerilla tactics becoming the deadly norm for those fighting the occupation. As time continue to pass, the death and destruction in Iraq is becoming normalized. Turn on the news, open the paper, some people died in Iraq. Car bombing. Roadside bomb. Hostage killed. My feeling is that many Americans are being numbed to the horrific violence there. The goals of Saturday's protests were myriad, but giving this general numbing of the population, one goal was undoubtably to keep the fact that human beings are being killed on a daily basis (for increasingly invalid and unclear reasons) in the forefront of the average American's brain. If that "average American" reads the three major national daily newspapers, though, these goals unfortunately remain largely unmet. The New York Times, Washington Post, and USA Today, buried their protest coverage and consistently marginalized the activists' efforts and goals. This Sunday's New York Times teased their coverage on the front page. They included a photograph on page A1, but it was teased alongside an article on figure skating. Nonetheless, at first glance, I was glad the Times put a photo tease on the front page, despite it's immediate surroundings. Imagine my horror when I began to read the article, thoughfully buried on Page 35. (Interestingly, the headline in the online article is different and makes the protests even more marginal. Online - "Two Years After Iraq Invasion, Protesters Hold Small Rallies"...In Print - "Hundreds of Rallies Held Across U.S. to Protest Iraq".) But to understand the real marginalization of the protesters in the Times article, the headline is not the place to turn. Instead, we should think of the Times article in terms of one of print journalism's sacred cows, the inverted pyramid. For those unfamiliar with the concept, the inverted pyramid idea basically says that readers might not make it through an entire story, so the most essential facts and ideas must be put up front, in the first few paragraphs. The rest of the story is used to give more detail and fill in the gaps. So what does the Times do with this? In the first paragraph, the protests are characterized as "relatively small." In the second paragraph, we are told that "thousands joined similar protests in European cities," but that overall, the protests were "nowhere as big as those in February 2003." In the third paragraph, the Times notes that "about 350" people protested in Times Square." (The New York protests are key in the Times' coverage, since the story was essentially a local one, running in the Metro section.) The Times then waits until much later in the story to give a more complete picture of the protests' size. In the 11th paragraph, then, they say that "several thousand protesters marched from Harlem to Central Park." In the 15th paragraph, we learn that "it seemed likely that tens of thousands took part across America." And, in the 16th paragraph, for those still reading the article, we learn that "45,000 people marched in London," but not before being reminded that "the gatherings were also modest compared to the 2003 protests." So, while the Times didn't get any facts wrong, their decisions on where to place these facts, and their insistence on constantly comparing this year's protests to those in 2003 dictated the tone of their coverage and gave the overall impression that these protests were, in essence, no big deal. On the whole, the Washington Post did a better job in contextualizing the protests. They ran two stories, one on page A13 focusing on the protests in Fayetteville, North Carolina (home of Ft. Bragg), the other on page A12 - an Associated Press report on the protests in Europe. The AP report is headlined "Thousands March Against Iraq War," but the sub-headline is much more telling, and fits with the pattern established by the Times article. It reads "Fewer Turn Out for Rallies Than in 2003". The AP, to its credit, did note that "45,000 people marched" in London in the very first paragraph. But then, in the third paragraph, as if it wasn't clear from the sub-head, they felt the need to remind the reader that "the rallies were nowhere near as big as those in 2003." The Post, in focusing on Ft. Bragg and Europe, paints a misleading picture of the protests in New York City, mentioning only that "police made more than 30 arrests as a few hundred people gathered" and neglecting the thousands that rallied in Harlem and Central Park. Finally, USA Today may have one-upped both the Times and the Post. In today's edition (USA Today isn't publish on Sundays), they chose to completely ignore the protests alltogether. Overall, this is a bleak, bleak picture of our press. Going by the conservative estimates, close to 70,000 citizens worldwide turned out to voice their opposition to this war. And the major papers decided that that's just not enough to make news. For them, the real news was that this was "nowhere near as many" as turned out in 2003, before the war began. What they fail to note is that, given the war the war (and protests against it) have been covered by their very organizations, citizens are generally left feeling numb, helpless, and powerless. With coverage like this, who can blame them? http://mediamassage.typepad.com/mediamassage/2005/03/the_nations_pap.html