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   Fox Hunting Trumps Peace Activism and Washington Post & New York Times

MEDIA CRITICISM:

Fox Hunting Trumps Peace Activism at Washington Post & New York Times

Source: Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR)

An estimated 350,000 Britons gathered to protest British participation in a war against Iraq, but the New York Times and the Washington Post barely took note of this momentous event.

September 30, 2002--On Saturday, September 28, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of London to protest military action against Iraq, rallying in what the London Independent called "one of the biggest peace demonstrations seen in a generation" (9/29/02). Yet neither the Washington Post nor the New York Times saw fit to run a full article about the protests, instead burying passing mentions of the story in articles about other subjects.

In contrast, both papers showed real interest in another recent London march of comparable size—last week's protest against a proposed ban on fox-hunting. The Washington Post ran a 1,331-word story about the fox-hunting protest on the front page of its Style section (9/23/02), while the New York Times ran a short Reuters piece on page A4 (9/23/02), which it followed up with an op-ed exploring the class politics of the hunt (9/24/02).

A Times story on Prince Charles' involvement in politics (9/26/02) also made reference to the pro-fox-hunting protest. Estimates of the crowd size at the peace march vary. The Independent (9/29/02) reported both the police estimate of 150,000 protesters and the organizers' early estimate of 350,000; similarly, the London Times cited the police estimate alongside a later organizers' estimate of 400,000 (9/30/02).

A London Observer columnist (9/29/02) who attended the march dismissed the police figures as politically motivated, writing: "The Stop the War coalition last night claimed the total was more than 350,000; the police reluctantly moved up from 'four men with beards and a small dog' to 150,000, and the truth was, if anything, even higher than either."

According to British press reports, the peace march was notable not just for its size, but for how broad-based it was. Organized by the Stop the War coalition and the Muslim Association of Britain, the demonstration was focused on two main slogans, "Don't Attack Iraq" and "Freedom for Palestine" (Guardian, 9/30/02). The Observer (9/29/02) reported solidarity between the causes, describing an "an undeniable unity of purpose" in a diverse crowd that included everyone from Muslim activists in keffiyah to "Hampstead ladies with their granddaughters in prams."

According to the Independent (9/29/02), "the sheer numbers who turned out to express vociferous opposition to military action in Iraq meant there was no way they could be dismissed as 'the usual suspects' of the hard left."

Despite all that, the entirety of the New York Times' coverage of the peace march was nestled at the end of one sentence in an article titled "Blair Is Confident of Tough U.N. Line on Iraqi Weapons" (9/30/02). Many Labour Party MPs, said the Times, "were encouraged by the turnout of 150,000 protesters who staged an antiwar march in London on Saturday". The Washington Post managed one reference more, but seemed to have seriously under-counted the crowd. The Post article "Iraq Rejects Inspection Revisions" (9/29/02) mentioned "thousands" of protesters in London, and an article the next day about European opposition to U.S. unilateralism referred to "tens of thousands" of demonstrators.

Britain is the only European country backing the Bush administration's war plans, so the size and composition of the London peace march—not to mention the arguments articulated there—have particular relevance to the international debate over Iraq. The pro-fox-hunting march, which also addressed broader issues of urban/rural tension in England, was newsworthy enough, but much more local in focus. Given the looming prospect of a war that could kill thousands of people and throw an entire region into turmoil, it's disturbing that the New York Times and the Washington Post gave the two events such disparate treatment.


FAIR suggests that readers contact the two newspapers and ask them why they did not devote more attention to the September 28 peace march in London. Also, it is suggested that readers “encourage them to give serious, thorough coverage to peace activism in the future.”

CONTACT:

Washington Post
Michael Getler, Ombudsman
ombudsman@washpost.com
(202) 334-7582

New York Times
nytnews@nytimes.com
Toll free comment line: 1-888-NYT-NEWS

For more information about FAIR vist their website at fair.org


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This story was published on October 2, 2002.
  
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