To the media, not all protests are equal

Yesterday, at a swim meet, I chanced upon a copy of the San Francisco Chronicle which is, of course, the major regional paper here in the Bay Area.  On the front page was a close-up picture of some angry protesters, and this caption:  Health care activists lament single-payer snub.  Beyond mumbling to myself that I wished that the protesters had as much in the way of brains as they do in fervor, I ignored the article.  I should have read it.

I received today an email from a conservative friend pointing out something I’d missed about the Chron’s coverage.  This lone “single-payer” protest managed to muster about 200 people and made the front page.  It stands in stark contract to the Chron’s coverage of the April 15 Tax Day Tea Party protest in San Francisco.

By the Chron’s own admission, the Tea Party protest gathering was at least 2.5 times bigger than the single-payer protest (“about 500” showed up at the Tea Party, and more honest reporters estimated between 700 and 1000 showed up).  Further, unlike the single-payer protest, the tax protest wasn’t even a stand alone event.  Instead, as the Chron admitted, it was one of a chain of “Anti-tax, anti-bailout ‘Tea Party’ rallies held around the nation Wednesday.”  (And no wonder, as AJ Strata explains.)  Page one stuff, right?  Wrong.

According to the Chron’s own records, it put its report on the  Tea Party on page A12.  The Chron is not a big paper.  Page 12 is the equivalent of buried.  (The only other nod the Chron gave to this nationwide event was a snarky cartoon showing Romney and Rush delighting in the way they’d made stupid Americans dance to their rich white men’s tune.)

Apparently in Chronicle-land, not all protests are created equal.  A small, isolated protest on a subject near and dear to the editors’ liberal hearts lands on page one.  A large protest that is linked to similar protests all over the nation, but that just doesn’t resonate with the editors, gets buried.

All of this ties in with a thought I had after reading Leo Rennert’s prediction that Obama, like Reagan, will have to pay a price for making a rather crude political visit to a Nazi concentration camp.  I don’t think he’ll have to pay the price, and the difference is the media.

In the 1980s, the media did everything it could to destroy Reagan, including putting on page 1 every fuss any group had with Reagan.  That gave stories legs.  It’s different now.  To the extent people find offensive Obama’s coldly-calculating trip to Buchenwald, the American media is burying the story.  Even if they report on it, it will be buried so deeply within the paper’s pages, or at its website, that only those looking for it will find it.  End of story.

It’s not a surprise to any of us that he who writes the story gets to designate the villians and the good guys.  We also sometimes enjoy seeing a little revisionism that turns things on their heads.  Witness the huge success of Gergory Maguire’s Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. That book paints the pretty Glinda as the evil, totalitarian dictator, and the green Wicked Witch of the West as the misunderstood freedom fighter.

What people forget too often is that what makes for good art often makes for lousy reality.  It’s an awfully bad idea when our press takes upon itself the role of casting director, assigning preferred parties preferential treatment in the papers, thereby perverting the facts on the ground, and wrongly shaping people’s perceptions of those facts.