Thursday, September 29, 2005

Nothing Funny About Peace, Love and Misunderstanding

I was out of town and away from the media late last week, so I missed two big stories — that Kenny Chesney and Renee Zellweger have already split, and that the largest antiwar march since the Vietnam era brought at least 100,000 demonstrators to Washington, D.C.

On my flight back to civilization, I was quickly straightened out on the first item by several magazine covers. As for the second, all I saw to confirm the news was an email from a friend with some photos attached and the plea: “I hope you will write about the march in your blog. The anti-war movement is newly invigorated and powerful. It was amazing being here. Lots of people — including me — who were first-timers or hadn't been here doing this for many years.”

The invisible march did receive some news coverage, of course. But as Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting documents, "According to the Nexis news database, the only mention on the network newscasts that Saturday came on the NBC Nightly News, where the massive march received all of 87 words. (ABC World News Tonight transcripts were not available for September 24, possibly due to pre-emption by college football.)

"Cable coverage wasn't much better. CNN, for example, made only passing references to the weekend protests."

Newspapers seemed to dodge the protest, too. The September 26 USA Today was typical of print coverage, giving nearly equal space to the 200 to 400 pro-war counter-rally. Across all media, we had surreal spin going on — that the crowd of 100,000 to 400,000 (wide estimates as always) represented the country's anti-war minority, while the counter-demonstrators stood up for most Americans — that is, the Americans who weren't currently standing in the vicinity of the Mall.

(To hear some of the voices of those who were there, read Tom's Dispatch.)

The march coverage shows the difficulty with fighting government policy via peaceful protest, and specifically, relying on a one-time event to demonstrate support for a particular, but necessarily broadly expressed, position. One march, with its cacophony of messages, can be easily diluted by the forces that command the cameras and the microphones daily. To be successful, we need to continue our solitary, individual marches, too, giving peace a personal face with well-grounded moral convictions — and not simply rely on pointing fingers and pointed slogans that delight our partisans and piss off the other side.

One sticking point for many is the argument that we can't "cut and run" now, even if getting into Iraq was a mistake, because we'd undermine our moral authority to step into other, more worthy circumstances that may arise later. Establishing that we were wrong about Iraq in the first place doesn't necessarily refute the belief that we should stay and fix the mess we created. That's a fine moral position, worthy of respect. But not every mistake can be corrected, and refusing to recognize that variety of blunder has contributed to a great deal of extra misery in the world.

And maybe that's the message from last week's seemingly trivial lead story. You can choose to laugh at shallow celebs who just can't learn that control freakishness is not the path to marital bliss, no matter how hot they both might be. Or you can give them credit for facing facts. Renee made a sad mistake, and — instead of compounding her misjudgment, despite all the humiliation and likely derision — she moved quickly to get out and get on with life.

But what does Hollywood know about foreign policy?

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