Local News Coverage of Antiwar March in Grand Rapids

Despite several hundred protestors attending an antiwar demonstration over the weekend in downtown Grand Rapids, the media largely downplayed the protest and either actively tried to debunk protestors’ claims or gave equal air time to critics of the protest.

On Saturday, March 15 about 400 people came to an antiwar march organized by the group ACTIVATE (Grand Rapids SDS). The march began at Heartside Park but wove through the downtown area of Grand Rapids for over an hour. The march attempted to draw attention to three main points; 1) the need for an immediate withdrawal of all US troops, bases and private security forces; 2) the human cost of 1.2 million Iraqi deaths and nearly 4,000 US soldier deaths; and 3) the economic cost of the war, particularly how much money has left Grand Rapids to fund the US Occupation of Iraq.

Numerous local media outlets came to report on the march. None of the major daily news agencies stayed for the whole march, thus their reporting was somewhat limited. The Grand Rapids Press ran a story on the front page of the region section entitled “2 arrested at downtown Grand Rapids war protest,” which clearly puts the focus on those arrested and not the intent of the march. None of the march organizers are cited in the story, although it does say that protesters “bemoaned what they estimated were 4,000 Americans and 1.2 million Iraqis killed since the war began.” These numbers were not estimates but based on data from sources such as Iraq Coalition Casualty Count and the group Just Foreign Policy. There was a GVSU student and a woman identified as a baby boomer there in opposition to the war who were cited, as well as Denny Gillem, who was with a “dozen veterans and supporters of George Bush.” It is interesting to note that this person was given more print space than any of the ACTIVATE organizers. Even though the headline focuses on the two arrests that were made, the article only devoted one sentence to the arrests.

The WZZM 13 story began by mentioning a new United Nations report that claims, “the violence in the country has declined.” The story goes on to say that there has been increased violence in some parts of Iraq and that, “The report does not call the surge a success yet because it’s unclear whether the decrease in violence will last.” The story then mentions that an anti-war march was organized by ACTIVATE and cites the group’s spokesperson at length who says, “The Iraqis don’t want us to be in Iraq and most Americans don’t want us to be in Iraq and the problems the United States government uses to justify our being there at this point are problems that we created, that are a result of our occupation of Iraq.” WZZM 13 also mentions that two arrests were made. The channel 13 story had very little footage of the march itself, since their reporter only showed up at Heartside Park after the march was over.

Finally, WXMI 17 ran a 2 minute and 34 second story, the longest of all the local TV stations. This story began by mentioning that two people were arrested during the antiwar march and then says, “It is still a heated issue for those on both sides of the argument.” By framing the story this way, it leaves TV viewers with the impression that there were two equally opposing viewpoints. Just because a dozen people decided to show up to stand in opposition to the 400 antiwar marchers doesn’t mean that they deserve equal airtime. However, WXMI 17 does give a pro-war person nearly equal airtime to the ACTIVATE spokesperson. Not only does the pro-war person get equal airtime, the reporter doesn’t seem to question any of the claims he makes. The reporter does question a claim that ACTIVATE makes about most Americans wanting the US out of Iraq, by citing a new Wall Street Journal Poll. However, Denny Gillem can say, “I am here to make sure that these protestors don’t deface our war monuments,” even though there is no evidence to suggest that ACTIVATE has ever defaced war monuments. The pro-war spokesperson also says of the protest, “It discourages our troops, it lowers to moral of our troops in Iraq, who do know they are here and my years in combat, low morale in troops means more troops casualties.” Again, the reporter doesn’t verify such claims.

The WXMI 17 story also says that ACTIVATE “held a protest to draw attention to the war’s death toll, nearly 4,000, 148 from Michigan and the economic costs, analysts predict almost $ 2.4 trillion over a decade.” The story omitted the number of Iraqi dead the organizers mentioned in their literature and on a large banner. The reporter also added the number of US troops from Michigan that have died in Iraq, even though ACTIVATE never cited that number.

The story ends by mentioning that ACTIVATE last year went to the home of Congressman Vern Ehlers, that two people were arrested at this year’s march, and that there is a candlelight vigil “calling for an end to the war” which is planned by the group MoveOn. However, when looking at the MoveOn website, there is no mention of calling for an end of the war. It says, “We’ll commemorate the sacrifices too many families have made, and the billions of dollars wasted in Iraq that could have been better invested at home.”

WZZM 13 Story:

WXMI 17 Story:

Author: mediamouse

Grand Rapids independent media // mediamouse.org