Reasons not to Trust The Buffalo News
by Michael I. Niman,
Things looked good at the outset.
The Buffalo News had finally
covered a major anti-war rally above the fold on page one (
). The reporting, by The News’ Jerry Zremski, initially seemed thorough and respectful,
giving voice to the protestors while applauding their diversity and dedication.
The problem lies with what both demonstrators and
politicians often identify as the most important aspect of any demonstration –
the number of people who attended. Was
it a success or a failure? This is
where The News was suspiciously off by
a factor of 10.
Their January 19th headline, referring to the
demonstration against the Bush Administration’s
war, read: “30,000 in D.C. protest war plans.” They compared this turnout
to what they described as 100,000 anti-war protestors who turned out for a
similar demonstration in October (a number The
News did not report at the time), giving the misleading impression that the
anti-war movement is waning. The
opposite is true, with most reporters on the scene describing a rally many times
the size of the October rally. The
math seems simple: If 100,000 people marched against the war in October, as The
News now reports, and almost every witness on the ground at the January
rally describes a rally that is clearly bigger than the previous one, isn’t it
safe to say, conservatively, that there are more than 100,000 people there?
And since it is clearly visibly larger, with radio reporters describing a
mass of people four miles long, then isn’t it safe to say there were many more
than 100,000 people there? Perhaps,
conservatively, 150,000 people? All
of these numbers were reported on the radio a day before The News ran their incorrect numbers.
But it gets funkier. The
rally was only one of dozens of demonstrations protesting Bush’s war
simultaneously taking place in 38 countries, as well as American cities such as
, where 20,000 people rallied. From
a historical perspective, this bottom up form of globalization is the real story
of a day, with activists succeeding in creating a global grassroots movement
that can potentially counteract the forces of corporate globalization.
There has never before been a unified global anti-war movement crossing
so many political and cultural boundaries – and all of this before the war even officially begins.
But The News glossed over this
movement, dispensing with it in one neat line, writing, “Protests stretched
, but the
march was by far the largest, though it was much smaller than a similar event
in October.” Here’s where the math gets real fuzzy.
The San Francisco Chronicle
reports that police in that city estimated the attendance at their “smaller”
anti-war rally to be approximately 150,000 people, while conceding that
organizers’ estimates of 200,000 attendees could in fact be correct.
Estimates of the “smaller” rally being 200,000 people were already
circulating when The News reported
that the “larger” rally drew only 30,000 people.
The News claims
to have gotten their number from the D.C. police, who have come under repeated
attack from many quarters for habitually undercounting attendance at rallies
protesting government policies. Even
so, The Washington Post reports that
D.C. police officials estimated the crowd at 200,000 people, with Police Chief
Charles H. Ramsey quoted as saying, “It’s one of the biggest ones [rallies]
we’ve had, certainly in recent times.” For
their part, The Post describes the
event as “the largest anti-war demonstration here since the
era.” One can assume that means
it was bigger than last month’s rally. The
San Francisco Chronicle reports that “as many as 500,000 protestors
rallied outside the capitol,” using an attendance figure also embraced by
rally organizers who factored in inflow and outflow to calculate attendance for
the whole day’s events.
To accurately cover this story, The News should have reported all of the available numbers as well
as qualitative descriptions of the crowd. If
they insisted on having a number for their headlines, 300,000 would have been a
safe bet, conservatively skewed to the lower end of the crowd estimates.
More accurate would be headlines reading “at least 200,000” or “As
many as 500,000.”
We now know that The
News’ absurd estimate of 30,000 people represents a gross undercount, with
the end product being front page misinformation, leaving Buffalonians in the
dark about the powerful momentum of the anti-war movement.
At first glance, it seemed like a misplaced zero – 30 instead of 300.
The lack of a correction, however, undermines the innocent mistake theory,
leaving local media watchers to wonder, what the hell is going on at The
News. Though The
News has a policy of not responding to ArtVoice
columns, they owe it to their readership to explain themselves, either here,
where we would gladly print their response, or in their own paper, where we
eagerly await it.
The News also
missed the boat by failing to cover the January 18th
anti-war rally, which drew over 5,000 people.
Another 20,000 Canadians rallied in
, joined by 15,000 more in
and 7,000 in
. In all, Canadians rallied against
Bush’s war in 30 cities, creating a major story impacting Canadian-American
relations that the border-conscious Buffalo
News should have picked up. The
problem is that they are still in their tired old ignore the peace movement mode
and are showing no signs of living up to their responsibilities as a newspaper.
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