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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

IMPEACHMENT: Media Accountability: San Francisco Chronicle, Plus a Graphics Extravaganza


A.N.S.W.E.R_Answers The San Francisco Chronicle

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War protest crowd count too low
Richard Becker
Monday, March 26, 2007

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WHILE TENS of thousands of spirited anti-war marchers were still entering the San Francisco Civic Center on Sunday, March 18, ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism) Coalition organizers got word that a Chronicle reporter covering the event had already determined that only 3,000 people were present. The San Francisco march was part of a worldwide day of protest against on the fourth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Mainstream media undercounting of progressive demonstrations is nothing new, but this one had a magician's touch.

With just a few keystrokes, a reporter made 90 percent of Sunday's crowd disappear, hundreds of whom have since expressed their outrage. Typical was the comment by one angry participant: "The Chron's numbers were only off by about 1,000 percent."

We don't know why The Chronicle published such a shocking undercount, but we do know that the first line of the Monday Chronicle's report stated that just 3,000 people marched in San Francisco on Sunday -- fewer, oddly enough, than took to the streets in many U.S. cities.

It wasn't just people in the Bay Area who were misinformed by The Chronicle's article; the Associated Press spread The Chronicle's ludicrous number across the country.

A Chronicle reporter claims to have counted 3,000 people in the march. He agrees that it took 50 minutes for the entire march to pass a fixed point as it made its way along Market and McAllister streets. This does not make sense.

If people are walking at a moderate pace in pairs, 60 people will pass a fixed point in roughly one minute. That would translate into 3,000 people in 50 minutes. But the march wasn't made up of people marching in pairs.

Many photos and video footage show the marchers were 20 to 30 across, filling wide streets. If The Chronicle maintains that just 3,000 people joined the march, and the march took 50 minutes to pass a stationary point, then only two or three rows of marchers would have passed a fixed point in a minute, making the average pace of the march about one step every 20 to 30 seconds. That is impossible.

As TV news reports showed, it was a very dense, fast-moving crowd. ANSWER organizers counted an average of 600 to 650 people passing per minute on McAllister St. between Hyde and Leavenworth, from 1:42 p.m. to 2:32 p.m. Many people also attended the opening or closing rallies without participating in the march. At the peak of the rally, the Civic Center was about two-thirds full. According to a 2003 Chronicle article, police estimate that the Civic Center holds 42,000 people. As in every similar demonstration, thousands of people who marched didn't join the closing rally.

A Chronicle photo in the March 19 edition belied its own crowd estimate. It shows just part of the packed center section of the Civic Center early in the rally. When the photo was taken, the march was still entering the plaza.

There are other factual inaccuracies in the article. Most notable is the assertion of a stage speaker "telling the crowd it was 3,000 strong." As program manager, I can state definitively that that is not true.

This is what actually happened: When informed of The Chronicle's gross undercount, I took the microphone to say that there were tens of thousands participating, and that The Chronicle estimate was both ridiculous and demeaning. Those gathered expressed thunderous agreement. This was the only mention of "3,000 people" from the stage. The reporter, in a serious journalistic error, turned its meaning upside down.

Once again, The Chronicle failed to quote organizers on our crowd estimate -- or anything else. In fact, no mention was made of the sponsoring organization, the ANSWER Coalition. Perhaps some reporters believe that stages and sound systems spring out of the ground for anti-war rallies, and that thousands of hours of volunteer labor doing logistical work and political organizing are irrelevant to a growing movement.

Unlike corporate events, where official spokespersons are invariably quoted, reporters covering progressive events frequently ignore representatives of sponsoring organizations.

This practice continues despite a pledge made by Chronicle editors to do otherwise after last May's huge immigrant rights march sparked a similar controversy. When tens of thousands of people come together to engage in collective free-speech actions, they have the right to expect that their message and very presence will be reported on in a fair and objective manner.

Richard Becker is the Western Regional Coordinator of the ANSWER -- Act Now to Stop War & End Racism Coalition.

For more information and photos of the march,

This article appeared on page B - 7 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Antiwar movement sets the record straightRead ANSWER's Op-Ed in the SF Chronicle below

*Please forward widely to your email lists, friends and family*

San Francisco front banner, March 18(Photo: Bill Hackwell)

After a week of pressure exerted by angry people in Northern California, the San Francisco Chronicle agreed to publish an Op-Ed by the ANSWER Coalition that tells the truth about the March 18th demonstration in San Francisco. The demonstration, like others around the country, was a sign of a growing antiwar movement. You would never have known it from reading the San Francisco Chronicle report.

Background information

On the fourth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, people took to the streets in more than 1,000 U.S. cities and towns.

The largest demonstrations took place in Washington, DC at the March on the Pentagon, in San Francisco, and in Los Angeles, all initiated by the ANSWER Coalition and co-sponsored by a wide array of progressive organizations.

These demonstrations reached people in the U.S. who had never participated in a protest before and also included many Iraq war veterans, active-duty service members, family members, and veterans of other wars.

This resurgence of the anti-war movement, and the breadth of its makeup, signifies a sharp turn by the public against the war. But just as tens of thousands were marching in these major city demonstrations, the corporate mass media were fine-tuning their atrocious coverage and providing huge undercounts.

As we all know, mass demonstrations have a major ripple effect. Many who are not there learn about the actions and seeing a vibrant anti-war movement feel that they too can be a part of it. A number of major media outlets across the country made tens of thousands of people disappear from the demonstrations and provided often hostile, misleading and false coverage.

San Francisco crowd shot, March 18(Photo: Peter Maiden)

This isn’t the first time the media has attempted to rewrite the reality of a major political protest.

As many will remember, when the ANSWER Coalition organized the first major national demonstration against a looming war in Iraq on October 26, 2002 that brought 200,000 people into Washington, D.C., NPR announced the number to be in the hundreds.

Deluged with phone calls and letters, NPR was forced to issue a correction.

The New York Times said the demonstration was in the “thousands.” Only after it received thousands of angry faxes, phone calls and emails, did the New York Times write a second article a few days later stating that the anti-war movement had been “invigorated” by a massive turnout.

On the weekend of March 17-18, among the most egregious coverage was the “crowd count” put out by the San Francisco Chronicle for the March 18 rally. The Chronicle article on the march, which was picked up the Associated Press and distributed worldwide, reported that just 3,000 people participated -- less than 10% of the number who actually marched.

The reporters claimed to have “counted” the march, and to back up their ludicrous number, falsely asserted that the march organizers had “announced” the same number from the stage. The Chronicle report provoked hundreds of angry emails, calls and letters to the editor in the next 48 hours.

Under growing pressure, the Chronicle agreed to publish an Op-Ed written by the ANSWER Coalition in yesterday's newspaper (Monday, March 26).

This is an important victory, one that was only achieved because of many people taking action to express their outrage. It must also be said that publishing the Op-Ed is a step, but it does not mitigate the damage done by the wide distribution of the Chronicle false report.

Our movement must create and strengthen our own media, while continuing to pressure the corporate media to tell the truth about the growing antiwar struggle in the United States.

Please read ANSWER's Op-Ed, which is available by clicking this link. Please send this Op-Ed to every one in your email address book, and forward it to other email lists.

Please take a moment to donate to support the important work of the ANSWER Coalition. You can make a much-needed donation right now by clicking on this link.

A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition National Office in Washington DC: 202-544-3389

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