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—– 0,7792,857271,00.html Los Angeles dispatch When doves cry

Want to find out about the anti-war movement in America? Forget network news and tune in to Jerry Springer, says Duncan Campbell

Tuesday December 10, 2002

Tom Hayden was one of the main figures in the anti-Vietnam movement in the Sixties, arrested in 1968 during the anti-war demonstrations in Chicago and charged as a member of the Chicago Eight.

So it was interesting to see him addressing a gathering at the Westwood United Methodist Church in Los Angeles last weekend, called “Beyond the Battlefield – the Real Costs of War” and comparing the national mood then and now.

Opposition to the war on Iraq was far greater, he said, than the opposition to the war in Vietnam at a similar stage. But he did not feel that this was reflected by the media. “The anti-war movement does not have a voice in the national debate equal to our numbers,” he told 1,400-strong gathering at the church. “The corporate media has ignored or trivialised the movement … the talk shows are filled with right-wing pundits or failed military officials.”

He criticised both the New York Times and the public television network PBS for underestimating the numbers at the recent anti-war demonstrations in Washington.

So does the media deliberately ignore the opponents of a war in Iraq? Two journalists, one from the New York Times and one from the LA Times, addressed this issue in a lunchtime meeting at the day-long conference.

The NY Times journalist, Bernie Weinraub, acknowledged – as did the paper itself at the time – that a mistake had been made in under-reporting the demonstration. A long article covering the anti-war movement appeared shortly afterwards. But he said that people could not expect that every small demonstration was worthy of a new story.

The LA Times journalist, Robin Abearian, said her paper had already set up a war desk and she had asked them who had been assigned to cover the peace movement, which had now been taken on board. Regarding the lack of coverage of 80,000 people marching against the war in San Francisco that same weekend, she said, “sometimes bad calls are made”.

Many in a sometimes hostile audience clearly believed that the mainstream media has been deliberately under-reporting the extent of the anti-war movement. This is delicate territory for the media. The Guardian has often been criticised over the years for not covering marches and demonstrations or for not giving them the weight they deserve. The issue has been the subject of more than one article by our readers’ editor.

But what is noticeable about the television news in the US at the moment is a lack of any of the voices to which Tom Hayden referred. The war is now covered almost as a given with whole segments devoted to scaring everyone to death with talk of smallpox or anthrax and retired military and diplomatic gents speculating endlessly at third or fourth hand.

It took Jerry Springer, of all people, to say the unsayable – that most ordinary Americans are very keen on tackling Osama bin Laden and al Qaida, but have no great interest in extending the war to Iraq. All a war would achieve, he said, would be to create a whole new generation of people who hated Americans and it was thus patriotic to oppose the war.

This week, dozens of well-known actors will sign a letter to President Bush expressing their opposition to the war. Last week, hundreds of clerics of all faiths did the same in a full page advertisement in the New York Times. It will be interesting to see whether all this now starts to get as much coverage as all the military hardware and smallpox.

Email duncan.campbell [at] [dot] uk