Saturday, October 01, 2005

Pressure media managers to save democracy, Cronkite urges

Society of Professional Journalists: "Cronkite: journalists should pressure employers for better news
He's in his late 80s, a little unsteady on the legs and, as he describes it, 'as deaf as a damn post.' Former 'CBS Evening News' anchor Walter Cronkite might be a lion in winter, but during a brief visit to Los Angeles earlier this week he showed that he's still a lion. Cronkite, who retired from the anchor chair in 1980, has had a quarter-century to watch broadcast news from the sidelines, and he doesn't think the current generation of TV journalists is doing a bad job. Corporate broadcast owners, though, are another story, says Cronkite. He believes they are paying more attention to Wall Street than to the health of the democracy at a time when the nation's dedication to education has wavered. 'We [as a nation] are not educated well enough to perform the necessary act of intelligently selecting our leaders,' Cronkite, 88, said during a day of speeches and interviews Tuesday at USC's Annenberg School for Communication, where he helped present the biannual Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Television Political Journalism. Cronkite issued a call-to-arms for fellow journalists -- primarily broadcast -- to pressure 'our employers, those who are more concerned with profits than they are with performance,' to replace the current roundups of celebrity profiles and personal health and finance pieces with 'the news of the day.' 'If we fail at that,' Cronkite said, 'our democracy, our republic, I think, is in serious danger.'

Source: Scott Martelle, The Los Angeles Times,0,1013269.story?coll=la-home-style

Link: Webcast of the event (RealPlayer video)

MOVIE PREVIEW: Orwell Rolls in his Grave -- to be shown later in the semester

Issues in Journalism students:

We'll be showing this film sometime in the next few weeks. it is 103 minutes long, so we'll either have to start class at 7:30 a.m. one morning, or have an evening session. In preparation for view the film, please read and link to some of the pages below. This will give you some context for the folks interviewed in the film.

"Orwell Rolls In His Grave" is an independent documentary, directed by Robert Kane Pappas, which explores the impact of media consolidation in the United States into the hands of larger and larger corporations. The movie's premise is that these large corporations have one goal: to get larger and control the system that reports the news. Pappas argues that "big media" has aligned itself with the conservative Republican political minority and has pushed a selfish agenda in order to gain political favor and build fortunes. He punctuates interviews with media figures with quotes and phrases from George Orwell's political novel, "1984."

Author: intnsred (intnsred) from Great North Woods, New England

"The film is done in a calm, non-ranting,informative manner primarily via interviews with journalists. Many points about the corporate domination of the corporate mass media are brought out well; the citing of GE Inc.'s top management interfering with NBC news is one case in point. The portrayal of the media industry itself as a political "special interest" similar to the tobacco lobby or other traditional special interest is both insightful and strong. The film also does an adequate job of painting the change in "ethics" of government officials over the years, and gives a few citations to support its point.

"If there is a knock, it's that the film covers a vast amount of points and therefore cannot go in depth unless you want to watch a ninety-hour documentary. This is not a big knock -- it seems that one goal of the film
is to try to tie many disparate issues and trends together to paint the big picture, which is something our regular mass media simply does not do.

"Despite it not being a focus of the film, the film brings out the class gap (aka the growing gap between the rich and poor) and issues of Americans working long hours. This is done in a way related to media self-censorship
but I'm always surprised when this issue rears its head -- simply because reporting about it is so very rare in the mainstream press. The film gives a few stats but its message that the poor are poorer now than a couple of
decades ago and the rich are much, much richer comes through well; it notes the current gov'ts solution to this problem is a tax cut for the rich stands out starkly in its plain-face absurdity. While there was a few of
those conventional-wisdom-turned-upside-down moments in the film, that one stood out."

Principal sources interviewed in the documentary film: "Orwell Rolls in His
Grave," by Robert Kane Pappas:

Mark Crispin Miller
Professor, Media Studies, New York University
director, Project on Media Ownership

Danny Schechter
former CNN and ABC News producer
Founder and executive editor,

Bernie Sanders
U.S. congressman, Vermont

Charles Lewis
Center for Public Integrity

Robert McChesney
Professor of Communications, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Vincent Bugliosi
Legal Scholar, successfully prosected Charles Manson
Author: "The Betrayal of America" about the Supreme Court's 2004 decision in Bush v. Gore

Tony Benn
Former member of British Parliament

Gregg Palast
reporter, BBC News, author of the book: "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy."

Michael Moore

Aurora Wallace
Professor of Communications, New York University
Among her specialties: Crime and the media; she is working on a book about newspapers as the agent of change in communities, towns, regions and the nation.

Jeff Cohen,
Founder of FAIR -- former MSNBC Producer

Jeff Chester
Center for Digital Democracy

John Nichols
Washington editor, The Nation; associate editor, The Capital Times
(Madison, Wis.)

Mark Lloyd
Fellow, Center for American Progress, formerly visiting media professor at
MIT, and former NBC and CNN reporter

Michael Copps, Democrat
Commissioner, Federal Communications Commission
(one of five commissioners; by law three are president's party; two the other party

FYI: Read "Who Owns the Media?" by Mark Lloyd

As an FYI only (not assigned), click on the headline to link to a short essay by Mark Lloyd, a former NBC News reporter who is now a fellow at the liberal Washington, D.C., "think tank", the Center for American Progress. An attorney, he has nearly 20 years of experience as a print and broadcast journalist, including work as a reporter and producer at NBC and CNN. He discusses control of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and wi-fi access in Philadelphia. READ MORE BIO INFO and here too.

ETHICS: Congressional watchdog arm finds Bush "faux news" illegal


PUBLISHED: October 1, 2005
HEADLINE: Buying of News by Bush's Aides Is Ruled Illegal

The New York Times

WASHINGTON, Sept. 30 - Federal auditors said on Friday that the Bush administration violated the law by buying favorable news coverage of President Bush's education policies, by making payments to the conservative commentator Armstrong Williams and by hiring a public relations company to analyze media perceptions of the Republican Party.

In a blistering report, the investigators, from the Government Accountability Office, said the administration had disseminated "covert propaganda" in the United States, in violation of a statutory ban.

The contract with Mr. Williams and the general contours of the public relations campaign had been known for months. The report Friday provided the first definitive ruling on the legality of the activities.

Lawyers from the accountability office, an independent nonpartisan arm of Congress, found that the administration systematically analyzed news articles to see if they carried the message, "The Bush administration/the G.O.P. is committed to education."

The auditors declared: "We see no use for such information except for partisan political purposes. Engaging in a purely political activity such as this is not a proper use of appropriated funds."

The report also sharply criticized the Education Department for telling Ketchum Inc., a public relations company, to pay Mr. Williams for newspaper columns and television appearances praising Mr. Bush's education initiative, the No Child Left Behind Act.

When that arrangement became public, it set off widespread criticism. At a news conference in January, Mr. Bush said: "We will not be paying commentators to advance our agenda. Our agenda ought to be able to stand on its own two feet."

But the Education Department has since defended its payments to Mr. Williams, saying his commentaries were "no more than the legitimate dissemination of information to the public."

The G.A.O. said the Education Department had no money or authority to "procure favorable commentary in violation of the publicity or propaganda prohibition" in federal law.

The ruling comes with no penalty, but under federal law the department is supposed to report the violations to the White House and Congress.

In the course of its work, the accountability office discovered a previously undisclosed instance in which the Education Department had commissioned a newspaper article. The article, on the "declining science literacy of students," was distributed by the North American Precis Syndicate and appeared in numerous small newspapers around the country. Readers were not informed of the government's role in the writing of the article, which praised the department's role in promoting science education.

The auditors denounced a prepackaged television story disseminated by the Education Department. The segment, a "video news release" narrated by a woman named Karen Ryan, said that President Bush's program for providing remedial instruction and tutoring to children "gets an A-plus."

Ms. Ryan also narrated two videos praising the new Medicare drug benefit last year. In those segments, as in the education video, the narrator ended by saying, "In Washington, I'm Karen Ryan reporting."

The television news segments on education and on Medicare did not state that they had been prepared and distributed by the government. The G.A.O. did not say how many stations carried the reports.

The public relations efforts came to light weeks before Margaret Spellings became education secretary in January. Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the secretary, said on Friday that Ms. Spellings regarded the efforts as "stupid, wrong and ill-advised." She said Ms. Spellings had taken steps "to ensure these types of missteps don't happen again."

The investigation by the accountability office was requested by Senators Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey and Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, both Democrats. Mr. Lautenberg expressed concern about a section of the report in which investigators said they could not find records to confirm that Mr. Williams had performed all the activities for which he billed the government.

The Education Department said it had paid Ketchum $186,000 for services performed by Mr. Williams's company. But it could not provide transcripts of speeches, articles or records of other services invoiced by Mr. Williams, the report said.

In March, the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel said that federal agencies did not have to acknowledge their role in producing television news segments if they were factual. The inspector general of the Education Department recently reiterated that position.

But the accountability office said on Friday: "The failure of an agency to identify itself as the source of a prepackaged news story misleads the viewing public by encouraging the audience to believe that the broadcasting news organization developed the information. The prepackaged news stories are purposefully designed to be indistinguishable from news segments broadcast to the public. When the television viewing public does not know that the stories they watched on television news programs about the government were in fact prepared by the government, the stories are, in this sense, no longer purely factual. The essential fact of attribution is missing."

The office said Mr. Williams's work for the government resulted from a written proposal that he submitted to the Education Department in March 2003. The department directed Ketchum to use Mr. Williams as a regular commentator on Mr. Bush's education policies. Ketchum had a federal contract to help publicize those policies, signed by Mr. Bush in 2002.

The Education Department flouted the law by telling Ketchum to use Mr. Williams to "convey a message to the public on behalf of the government, without disclosing to the public that the messengers were acting on the government's behalf and in return for the payment of public funds," the G.A.O. said.

The Education Department spent $38,421 for production and distribution of the video news release and $96,850 for the evaluation of newspaper articles and radio and television programs. Ketchum assigned a score to each article, indicating how often and favorably it mentioned features of the new education law.

Congress tried to clarify the ban on "covert propaganda" in a bill signed by Mr. Bush in May. The law says that no federal money may be used to produce or distribute a news story unless the government's role is openly acknowledged.

This article above is copyrighted material, the use of which may not have specifically authorized by the copyright owner. The material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of political, economic, democracy, First Amendment, technology, journalism, community and justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' as provided by Section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Chapter 1, Section 107, the material above is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this blog for purposes beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

ASSIGNMENT/NEWS DECISION: Why did national media not cover 100,000-person

For Tuesday's class, please read the two stories below. The first is from
the non-profit website Fairness & Accuracy in the Media. The second is a
column by Detroit News columnist. The Detroit News is owned by Gannett
Co., Inc., which also owns USA Today and is the nation's largest newspaper
chain in terms of numbers of papers.

Also please look at:

Consider these questions:

1) How should the media judge or report the size of a crowd in the absence of any "official" estimate? What should a media outlet do if it suspects the accuracy of an official estimate?

2) Does the size of a demonstration matter? Why or why not?

3) Does the fact that Hurricana Katrina was still affecting the Gulf Coast at the time of the march provide an explanation, or defense, for the lack of coverage of the rally?

4) Should a protest by 400 people be afford the same amount of space or coverage as a protest involving at least 100,000 people, and perhaps two or three times that number?

5) What is the relationship between the coverage of a Red Sox game, which might be attended by 35,000 people, and a protest on a civic issue attended by at least three times that number?

6) See:
Was it appropriate for The Eagle to follow up with second-day coverage?
Should it explain the lack of first-day coverage to its readers? Why or
why not?


500,000 People Vanish in Washington, DC ÿÿ

Disappearing Anti-War Protests

Tuesday 27 September 2005

Media shrug off mass movement against war.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans around the country protested the Iraq War on the weekend of September 24-25, with the largest demonstration bringing between 100,000 and 300,000 to Washington, D.C. on Saturday.

But if you relied on television for your news, you'd hardly know the protests happened at all. According to the
Nexis news database, the only mention on the network newscasts that Saturday came on the NBC Nightly News, where the massive march received all of 87 words. (ABC World News Tonight transcripts were not available for September 24, possibly due to pre-emption by college football.)

Cable coverage wasn't much better. CNN, for example, made only passing references to the weekend protests. CNN anchor Aaron Brown offered an interesting explanation (9/24/05):

There was a huge 100,000 people in Washington protesting the war in Iraq today, and I sometimes today feel like I've heard from all 100,000 upset that they did not get any coverage, and it's true they didn't get any coverage. Many of them see conspiracy. I assure you there is none, but it's just the national story today and the national conversation today is the hurricane that put millions and millions of people at risk, and it's just kind of an accident of bad timing, and I know that won't satisfy anyone but that's the truth of it.

To hear Brown tell it, a 24-hour cable news channel is somehow unable to cover more than one story at a time - and the "national conversation" is something that CNN just listens in on, rather than helping to determine through its coverage choices.

The following day (9/25/05), the network's Sunday morning shows had an opportunity to at least reflect on the significance of the anti-war movement. With a panel consisting of three New York Times columnists, Tim Russert mentioned the march briefly in one question to Maureen Dowd - which ended up being about how the antiwar movement might affect Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential chances.

On ABC's This Week, host George Stephanopoulos observed, "We've seen polls across the board suggesting that we're bogged down now in Iraq and now you have this growing protest movement. Do you believe that we're reaching a tipping point in public opinion?" That question was put to pro-war Republican Sen. John McCain, who responded by inaccurately claiming: "Most polls I see, that most Americans believe still that we have to stay the course.... I certainly understand the dissatisfaction of the American people but I think most of them still want to stay the course and we have to."

A recent CBS/New York Times poll (9/9-13/05) found 52 percent support for leaving Iraq "as soon as possible." A similar Gallup poll (9/16-18) found that 33 percent of the public want some troops withdrawn, with another 30 percent wanting all the troops withdrawn. Only 34 percent wanted to maintain or increase troop levels - positions that could be described as wanting to "stay the course." Stephanopoulos, however, failed to challenge McCain's false claim.

(An L.A. Times recap of the protests - 9/25/05 - included a misleading reference to the Gallup poll, reporting that while the war is seen as a "mistake" by 59 percent of respondents, "There remains, however, widespread disagreement about the best solution. The same poll showed that 30 percent of Americans favored a total troop withdrawal, though 26 percent favored maintaining the current level." By leaving out the 33 percent of those polled who wanted to decrease troop numbers, the paper gave a misleading impression of closely divided opinion.)

On Fox News Sunday (9/25/05), panelist Juan Williams was rebuked by his colleagues when he noted that public opinion had turned in favor of pulling out of Iraq. Fellow Fox panelist and NPR reporter Mara Liasson responded, "Oh, I don't think that's true," a sentiment echoed by Fox panelist Brit Hume. When Williams brought up the Saudi foreign minister's statement that foreign troops were not helping to stabilize Iraq, panelist William Kristol retorted: "So now the American left is with the House of Saud." (That was, if anything, a more complimentary take on the protesters than was found in Fox's news reporting, when White House correspondent Jim Angle - 9/26/05 - referred to them as "disparate groups united by their hatred of President Bush, in particular, and US policies in general.")

Another feature of the protest coverage was a tendency to treat a tiny group of pro-war hecklers as somehow
equivalent to the massive anti-war gathering. NBC's Today show (9/25/05) had a report that gave a sentence to each:
"Opponents and supporters of the war marched in cities across the nation on Saturday. In the nation's capital an estimated 100,000 war protestors marched near the White House. A few hundreds supporters of the war lined the route in a counterdemonstration."

Reports on NBC Nightly News and CBS Sunday Morning were similarly "balanced," and a September 26 USA Today report gave nearly equal space to the counter-demonstrators and their concerns, though the paper reported that their pro-war rally attracted just 400 participants (that is, less than half of 1 percent of the number of antiwar marchers).

In a headline that summed up the absurdity of this type of coverage, the Washington Post reported (9/25/05): "Smaller but Spirited Crowd Protests Antiwar March; More Than 200 Say They Represent Majority." Perhaps this "crowd" felt that way because they've grown accustomed to a media system that so frequently echoes their views, while keeping antiwar voices - representing the actual majority opinion - off the radar.


500,000 People Vanish in Washington, DC
By Ron Scott
The Detroit News

Monday 26 September 2005

Imagine 500,000 people marching down the meandering thoroughfares of Pennsylvania Avenue and 14th Street and Constitution Avenue in Washington, DC. They are headed for a date with destiny and the promise of peace, conjoined with a challenge for justice. How could they vanish from the headlines?

Rod Serling, the brilliant creator/writer of "The Twilight Zone," might have written this intro to one of his
teleplays during the 1960s. But it didn't happen then. It happened this weekend, with our media, in our country, in our time.

"They came from as far away as Alaska and California," reported Abayomi Azikiwe of the Pan African Newswire, "from Europe to the nation's capital itself, to make a clear statement that United States military forces should withdraw immediately from Iraq. Honest crowd estimates of the demonstration ranged from 500,000-600,000 (some even thought there were more) making it the largest demonstration in the capital since the winter of 2003."

Journalist Azikiwe rode the bus with 200 Detroiters who attended this national anti-war march in Washington, DC and stood on the Mall with thousands who watched speakers ranging from the Rev. Jesse Jackson to Cindy Sheehan to activist Curtis Muhammad from New Orleans. He provided a full report on this historic event.

But the corporate media was nowhere to be found. The demonstration was lost on CNN. It was buried on MSNBC. It barely escaped a muffle on NBC's "Meet the Press" and the old, reliable NPR (National Public Radio). If you had been watching C-SPAN, you would have seen the speakers (but not the march), but how many people watches C-SPAN?

The media failed to cover the largest antiwar demonstration in America since the Vietnam era. That's not happening in "The Twilight Zone." That is reality today.

Where were they? Covering local news at home? In Iraq? Or covering the Ashton Kucher/Demi Moore wedding?

No. They had a date with Rita. Celeb anchorpersons, clad in Tommy Hilfiger and St. John knits, were standing in knee-deep water as a backdrop. How many stories about Rita did we need? It's a tragedy, of course, but in Washington, a challenge to the Bush administration was in full gear, and the cameras, recorders, and reporters' notepads were missing. If it wasn't real, it would be science fiction.

The failure of the media to cover this, perhaps one of the most important events of this young century, challenges those who read this blog and those who consider themselves to be committed Americans on the left, right, and in between, to fight for full disclosure and total coverage of what's happening in our communities throughout the nation. We've seen too many "in-bed-with" media, too many laughing anchorpersons, and too many roving reporters who scream only after the story is over.

The Bush administration needs to be covered, and covered seriously. To any of you who remember history prior to 1980, lesser failures on the part of a President brought his resignation. That was Richard M. Nixon. Today, the chief executive of this country, and an administration which has clearly attempted to silence the media, needs to be accessed, researched, and critiqued - even when the winds are blowing in Texas.


The articles above are copyrighted material, the use of which may not have specifically authorized by the copyright owner. The material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of political, economic, democracy, First Amendment, technology, journalism, community and justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' as provided by Section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Chapter 1, Section 107, the material above is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this blog for purposes beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

BLOGS/NEWS: Rita Pushes Blogs, Podcasts and Rich Maps Onstage
Posted: Sept. 27, 2005 at MIT Technology REview

HEADLINE: Rita Pushes Blogs, Podcasts and Rich Maps Onstage

By Anick Jesdanun
AP Internet Writer

As Hurricane Rita approached, editors at the Houston Chronicle decided to
experiment: They hand-picked about a dozen Web diarists and asked them to
post regular dispatches on the newspaper's online blog -- all without any
editorial intervention.

"One of the benefits to blogs is that they tend to be more personal, they
tend to provide more the emotional feel of an event," said Dwight Silverman,
the Chronicle's interactive journalism editor. "In traditional reporting you
put on your poker face and do your writing. ... It's not supposed to be the
writer's emotions."

The Chronicle set up a second blog for its own staff writers -- this one
edited -- to post anecdotes and other info before they appeared in any
stories, print or online. And science writer Eric Berger devoted his regular
blog, SciGuy, to the storm.

Besides the Chronicle's blogs, Web surfers were able to get firsthand
accounts Friday through podcasts and photographs. They could track the storm
using Google-powered maps. And they could find housing and other emergency
information from government and private Web sites.

At the Chronicle's citizen-contributed blog, Stormwatchers, one participant
talked of being packed and ready to evacuate, while another wrote of the
calm before the storm: "Our dog is happy, running around the yard, and
having fun."

Silverman said the newspaper picked experienced bloggers from the region,
voices it expected would be civil, lively and informative.

"We had been looking at doing more of these kinds of things, and this seems
like a perfect venue for this kind of experiment," he said. "One of the nice
things about the Web is if it didn't work, if it descended into babble, we
can turn it off. So far it's been valuable."

At The Wall Street Journal's Web site, News Tracker summarized the latest
developments in a blog format -- reverse chronological order. The site,
re-activated after an initial 12-day Hurricane Katrina run, even links to
resources at other news sites -- something common in blogging but still rare
for traditional media.

Meanwhile, Russell Holliman and a few fellow podcasters from Houston decided
to combine the emerging audio-distribution format with traditional Internet

They established a live streaming feed called RitaCast and made arrangements
to produce a new personal audio dispatch every hour, each about 20 minutes
long. The group was even trying to take calls from listeners -- something
rare with podcasts.

Each dispatch was packaged into an MP3 file and distributed as a podcast
through Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes and other networks that automatically
distributing free audio subscriptions.

"It really just did start out as a technical experiment," Holliman said. "We
wanted to see if it can be done. It introduces a new format for podcasts
where people can actually get the live interaction with the listener."

Some Texas newspapers, including the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, suspended
their print editions and turned to the Internet instead. Others, including
the Victoria Advocate, asked readers to submit photographs for online

Visitors to could track the movement of Hurricane Rita on a
map, the colors of the markers changing from green to red as the storm
intensified. The site combines Google Inc.'s mapping tools with data from
the National Weather Service.

The site's administrator, Mike Cornelius, has software to automatically pull
latitude and longitude coordinates from the government advisories.

Resources set up for Hurricane Katrina also have been adapted for Rita.

Among them:'s Web site for connecting refugees with those who
have housing to spare.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

ASSIGNMENT / CLASS NOTES: Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2005

For Thursday:

Be prepared to discuss the ethics case studies in Thursday's class. We will also list to an audio tape of Peter Phillips talking about Project Censored.

Please try to get your copy of the McChesney book soon, we will need to start reading from it in a few more days.

On Thursday we will assign reading of the AP Stylebook's "Briefing on Media Law", pages 340-380, for a Tuesday, Oct. 4 discussion.

As I meet with each of you indivdually over the next week and a half, I will outline the Media Giraffe Project and how writing for MGP will be integrated into our class work during October.

-- bill



In today's class we viewed EPIC, a multimedia online video scenario which projects what may happen to news gathering between now and the year 2015 as Google, Amazon, Microsoft and other companies deploy personalization, search and aggregation technologies. EPIC was produced by two reseachers at the Poynter Institute, in St. Petersburg, Fla. Here is a link to the description of the project (and within it a link to the presentation itself)

After viewing EPIC, we discussed its implications. Here were some general comments:

-- Scary, the prospect is of nobody overlooking, or editing the news. Shouldn't someone, a person or people, be in charge? Otherwise the personalization engines will just serve you information that confirms and reinforces your own beliefs and prejudices.

-- What about the politics of the owners/managers of Google? How will that affect the way the algorithms work? The idea of two big companies (Googlezon and Microsoft) controlling all aspects of news personalization is troubling.

-- Taking facts from stories and then recombining them according to the preferences of individuals seems to raise major concerns about facts being taken out of context. Does truth get lost in the process? Editing by computer is seen as unreliable and untrustworthy.

-- "It makes me not want to go onto Google for anything," said one student. (out of fear of what they are doing)

-- In discussion, students were deeply ambivalent about personalized news. They like to read the same paper everyone else reads -- gives them a sense of community. Even thought they may read arts and not sports, they like that they have the option to read sports if they want to. They are concerned this might be lost, or made difficult.

-- Posted by Bill Densmore

Sunday, September 25, 2005

ISSUE: How should media judge the size of a crowd? Does it matter?

AferDowningStreet.ORG is an anti-war coalition blog. On Sunday it carries a post claiming "The Associated Press lied" in reporting that "tens of thousands" of people marched in Washington on Saturday. The DC police chief estimated that at least 100,000 had marched, but gave no precise estimate. The U.S. National Park Service police, who control public parks around the Capitol and White House, declined to give an estimate. Organizers, and some participants, said they believe the number to have been more than 100,000.

QUESTIONS: What is the significance of the size of the crowd? How does it compare to other protests in Washington, D.C., in an historical context? Is the decision of the park police to give no estimates a political decision? In the absence of an official estimate, should the news media attempt by some valid means to estimate the crowd size? Should the play (air time, page placement) given the story vary on the basis of the size of the crowd? Why or why not?

At, commentator Richard J. Schaedler said he thought CSPAN reported the crowed at 600,000 people.

ROUNDUP: Reviewing major-media coverage on size of DC rally

The text of anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan's speech is at

The San Francisco Chronicle website said, without attribution, in the
second paragraph of its story: " . . . as many as 500,000 protesters
rallied outside the Capitol . . . .


There was no crowd estimate in the NYTimes story. The Times account noted
that the U.S. National Park Service no longer gives crowd estimates on


The Washington Post relied upon The AP's "tens of thousands" estimate
(without attribution) for its lead, and in the fourth paragraph relied
upon an estimate from DC's police chief: "Protest organizers estimated
that 300,000 people participated, triple their original target. D.C.
Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, who walked the march route, said the
protesters achieved the goal of 100,000 and probably exceeded it. Asked
whether at least 150,000 showed up, the chief said, 'That's as good a
guess as any. It's their protest, not mine. It was peaceful -- that's all
I care about,' Ramsey said."


At 12:15 p.m. EDT on Sunday, nothing could be found on the CNN.COM website
other than search links to other media stories. On Saturday, CNN had used
the AP dispatch, saying that "tens of thousands" had rallied in DC.


The Boston Globe appeared to have nothing in its early Sunday print
edition. The Globe's website carried a staff-written story which described
protests by "more than 100,000 anti-war protestors" across the globe and
carried this in the fourth paragraph: "National Park Service officials
said they were not tallying the crowd size, but authorities with the
Washington police said the organizers may have reached their predicted
turnout of 100,000 protesters."


The Los Angeles Times had nothing on its web home page but in the National
sub page there was a story about three items down by staff writers which
began: "Capping a summer of rising discontent with the war in Iraq, tens
of thousands of protesters marched through cities across the nation
Saturday . . . ." The fourth paragraph said: "Organizers said more than
200,000 people turned out in Washington for the peaceful event, calling it
the largest protest in the capital since the war began in March 2003. D.C.
Police Chief Charles Ramsey said the group had probably reached its goal
of 100,000.",1,3098940.story?coll=la-headlines-nation&ctrack=1&cset=true


AT the USAToday website, there was a link to the AP's video report on the
protest. The audio of the video states "it was the largest antiwar protest
in the U.S. capital .... local authories even believe organizers probably
hit their mark of drawing out 100,000 people . . . . " The correspondent
was Ross Simpson. The USA Today website also carried, off its front page,
as of 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, an updated AP story that reflected a new lead
which deleted the "tens of thousands" unattributed estimate and simply
said, "Crowds opposed to the war" without a number estimate. In the fifth
paragraph, the AP story said: "Police Chief Charles Ramsey, noting that
organizers had hoped to draw 100,000 people, said, 'I think they probably
hit that.' "


The Chicago Tribune carried the protest story on its "Nation" subpage,
where it was the 44th story in a list of national stories. The story
itself, by Washington bureau staffer Steve Ivey, and wire services,
leading with "war protesters clogged several blocks surrounding the
whitehouse on Saturday . . . . " The second graf quoted organizers as
saying it was the "largest peace rally since the war began" and said: "A
turnout of 100,000 had been the organizers' goal for the event and, said
Police Chief Charles Ramsey, 'I think they probably it it.' ",1,3751608.story


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