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Deceptions and Illusions

How the Press Downplayed the Anti-War Protests

by WAYNE MADSEN

A large banner hanging on the side of the East Building of the National Gallery of Art could not have been more appropriate for the January 18 anti-war protest on the Mall in Washington, DC. Promoting an art display inside the museum, the banner read: “Deceptions and Illusions.” It could have easily applied to the deception foisted on the public by the Washington Metropolitan Police Department and the corporate news media.

The Park Police cleverly fenced off a large portion of the Mall closest to the Washington Monument, forcing large numbers of protestors on to Jefferson and Madison Drives. If one were to count the numbers solely on the grassy area of the Mall it would appear that 30,000 or, as the news media is now reporting, “tens of thousands,” were present. However, if the count were to include those forced on to the periphery of the Mall, the number was well over 100,000.

The police, now armed with a phalanx of surveillance cameras on the Mall, claim the panning electronic eyes are used for crowd control. They are correct. When crowds begin to swell in a vast area like the Mall, the police can block streets, cordon off areas, and force people out of camera range. This is exactly what occurred on January 18.

The New York Times has become the chief perpetrator of low balling anti-Bush protestor numbers. A photo caption on its web site stated, “thousands of protestors” took part in the January 18 protest. A similar anti-war protest held in Washington last October 26 was estimated at between 100,000 and 200,000. It was the largest anti-war protest since the Vietnam War, but the Times reported the number of protestors as being in the “thousands.” However, an April 15, 2002 pro-Israel rally at the US Capitol, was reported by the Times to be 100,000. In reality, the numbers were merely in the low thousands. The “Old Grey Lady” later admitted it had erroneously reported the inflated number due to a “coordination” problem with one of its desks. Five days later, a pro-Palestinian rally was held on the White House Ellipse. Organizers claim the crowd was 100,000 but Washington police chief Charles Ramsey put the numbers at between 35,000 and 50,000. Once again, the Times reported the numbers to be in the “tens of thousands.”

This is not just shoddy journalism but willful disinformation being perpetrated by corporate newspapers that want to curry favor with the White House, Congress, and the Pentagon.

In fact, the January 18 protest was larger than those held in October and April last year. That would obviously put the January 18 numbers well over 100,000. But the failure to accurately report the numbers is not entirely the fault of the news media. In the past, the media was permitted to use their news and traffic helicopters to more accurately gauge crowd numbers. But in the wake of September 11, the only helicopters now permitted over Washington are those belonging to the police. They count the numbers, divide and subtract, and then feed the phony figures to a sycophantic media.

The media, police, and the Bush administration want to marginalize the protestors who came to Washington. In fact, a sign displayed by a GOP office along the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route said it all: “Hippies Go Home!” Even though the Republican Party is reintroducing the terms “segregation,” “cross burning,” and “abortion ban” to the American body politic, using “hippies” to describe the protestors goes far beyond the use of an antiquated term. The GOP wants to convince everyone that the January 18 protestors were cut from the same mold as the anti-globalization protestors and their myriad causes. That canard was echoed on the shameful Fox News Sunday program by Tony Snow, who labeled the protestors “socialists.” The other corporate media broadcasters featured Bush administration senior officials pushing their war agenda. Protest leaders and featured speakers were ignored. Joseph Goebbels could not have asked for greater cooperation from his own media.

When crowds of people streaming from Union Station began to swell on to the grounds of the Capitol, the Capitol Hill police, showing their usual harassing behavior, sent speeding police cars into the crowd. They did not seem to care that the streets were icy. One police car began to dangerously fishtail near a group of protestors that included young children. Capitol Hill Police Chief Terence Gainer, whose history as Washington, DC deputy police chief, Illinois State Police director, Chicago cop, and Republican loyalist highlights a checkered career of police misconduct, arrived on the scene like a Brown Shirt block commander. One protestor was arrested for allegedly shoving a cop.

Gainer has his own history of shoving and head clubbing. He was rookie cop at the 1968 Democratic Convention, an event that earned the Chicago police the moniker of “thugs” by CBS News anchorman Walter Cronkite. In addition, a number of the forced confession cases that influenced Illinois Governor George Ryan’s decision to commute to life imprisonment the sentences of his state’s death row inmates, occurred on Gainer’s watch.

The 1-18 protestors who came from all parts of the country represented a cross section of America. There were church, synagogue, mosque, and Buddhist temple groups. Grandmothers and grandfathers gathered with their sons, daughters, and grandchildren. There were veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and Gulf War I. College, high school, and grade school students participated. And although the protestors were white, African American, Hispanics, Asian American, and Arab American, the dirty little secret that the Bush administration, the Congress, and the media want to keep from the American people is that the vast majority of protestors were white middle class suburbanites. And in another close presidential election, 100,000 politically active voting Americans could make the difference.

But the vast numbers of protestors can have a more immediate effect on their shameful members of Congress, who, save for Representative John Conyers and former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, failed to show up at the protest in the very shadow of the Capitol dome. Even the progressive caucus was absent. The protestors, who drove in their cars, busses, and vans from Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, should remember that their members of Congress were AWOL on January 18. It is obvious that the limousine liberals preferred sitting by their warm and cozy fireplaces as their constituents stood and marched in 25-degree weather.

WAYNE MADSEN is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and columnist. He wrote the introduction to Forbidden Truth.

Madsen can be reached at: WMadsen777@aol.com

Click here to see CounterPuncher Kurt Nimmo’s photos of Saturday’s peace vigil in Las Cruces, New Mexico.