When cataclysmic events like Hurricane Rita capture the nation's attention, other significant news stories are pushed down, or off, the news agenda, particularly on television. One potentially big story was the most recent left-wing march on Washington to protest the Iraq war, which was reduced to snippets on some network shows. But the nation's biggest newspapers, with ample space to fill, were there. And based on their stories, it was hard to tell whether they were covering it -- or sponsoring it.
The Washington Post won for the best biggest puff piece, a front-page story hyping how "Antiwar Fervor Fills the Streets." Reporter Petula Dvorak began: "Tens of thousands of people packed downtown Washington yesterday and marched past the White House in the largest show of antiwar sentiment in the nation's capital since the conflict in Iraq began."
"Tens of thousands" also marched in the last pro-life march in January, but that story landed on page A-3, which is better than most years. Reporter David Snyder noted "tens of thousands of antiabortion advocates marched on the Mall yesterday as part of an annual protest of the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision guaranteeing women the right to abortion." That's an interesting difference in terms. Pro-lifers were advocates marching against a landmark guarantee for women, not people "packing the streets" to show growing "antiwar sentiment."
The Post's Sunday paper on Sept. 25 gave two whole inside pages to the "antiwar" rally. Inside, the reader was greeted with big colorful pictures of smiling protesters with headlines like "War Protesters Jam Washington Streets" and "For Many, Anger Has Grown Since Start of War."
Dvorak's story didn't get to the unifying message of the rally -- pure Bush hatred -- until paragraph 23, and she only managed to relate that "Bush and Cheney were depicted on posters, T-shirts and makeshift costumes. Several demonstrators wore masks of Bush's likeness and prison jumpsuits. They were often asked to pose for photographs."
There was one story on counter-protesters at the bottom of this big spread. But on the next page, there was another story on grumpy peaceniks who were stranded at a New York train station over an electrical outage. "This has Rove's fingerprints all over it," said one protester, and the Post considered that credible enough to use.