When the Missoulian reported that “more than 500 people” took part in an Oct. 26 Missoula march to protest the prospect of war with Iraq, the paper was correct, but it wasn’t accurate says Anita Doyle, executive director of The Jeannette Rankin Peace Center.
“That number was then repeated by the Kaimin,” says Doyle who helped organize the march. “They said that crowd stretched from the Ox to the Wilma and they were seven people abreast filling all the intersections along the way.”
Marchers who later emailed the Indy with “correct” headcounts offered estimates ranging from 800 to 3000.
“We do know that we had 800 people in the Wilma and that many, many people did not go to that event,” says Doyle.
The issue of under-reporting protesters isn’t a new one. A few weeks ago, the Missoulian ran a story about an anti-war rally that organizers felt misrepresented the number of people involved.
“When 200 people gathered outside Max Baucus’ office to read a statement just prior to the vote on the Iraq resolution, it was reported that about a hundred people were there,” says Doyle. “Then it said that organizers handed Baucus’ aides a petition signed by 180 people.”
But local media isn’t solely to blame for the problem. The New York Times and NPR’s “All Things Considered” both flubbed the turnout at an anti-war march in Washington, D.C two weeks ago.
NPR’s Nancy Marshall reported the event “was not as large as the organizers of the protest had predicted…I’d say there are fewer than 10,000.” Both the Los Angles Times and the Washington Post put the number at 100,000. Later NPR changed its number to the now-commonly accepted 100,000.
In the case of The New York Times, the paper ran a short piece noting that the number of protesters in Washington was “fewer” than organizers anticipated. Three days later, the paper of record ran a second story saying that organizers considered the anti-war protest the biggest since the ’60s.
“It is a nationwide phenomenon,” says Doyle. “The fact that this amazing thing is happening in the United States right now, that people are rising up and saying no and that the media isn’t reporting it is shocking.”
Doyle adds that she was pleased that the Missoulian wrote a “pretty good article,” even with the miscalculation and the lack of a photo.
“I don’t want to turn this into a Missoulian bashing,” says Doyle. “Because the Indy didn’t even report on this at all and that’s a disgrace. We should be able to count on the Indy for a story.”