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Covering the peace 

The New York Times finally gave in.

When police estimated a crowd of 200,000 at a Jan. 18 peace march in Washington, D.C., the national newspaper giant ran a front-page story about "tens of thousands of protesters" who opposed war in Iraq.

Historically, the Times has joined a phalanx of mainstream dailies across the country in downplaying or completely ignoring protests -- even if the agitators represent people from all walks of life, not just fringe activists.

"This is not the kind of dissent that [large media outlets] take very seriously," said Peter Hart of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). "These aren't political players that they respect in the same way that they respect elected officials."

As detailed in the Jan. 27 issue of the journalism trade magazine Editor & Publisher, until the middle of last month, most national news media had been largely silent about antiwar protests occurring around the country, or downplayed the gatherings.

When George W. Bush flew to Denver last fall, for example, protesters staged the largest anti-war rally held in that city since Vietnam. The Denver Post did report the rally occurred, but overshadowed the event with its page 1 coverage -- complete with a massive photo of Bush -- of the president's visit, which was solely intended as a private political fundraiser. The rally story, meanwhile, was illustrated with a small photo.

More recently, sometimes under continued pressure from peace protesters and media watchdog groups, journalists have begun taking more seriously voices of dissent across the country.

Last fall, Editor & Publisher reported that The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and the LA Times all published cover stories about demonstrations.

Hart says newspapers are beginning to accept the legitimacy of antiwar sentiment, and coverage has been improving recently. But skeptics have continued with their disparaging remarks. Columnist Zev Chafets of the New York Daily News recently described those marching on Washington as a "thin crowd of cold white people cheering on ... America-hating radicals, second-rate demagogues and plain weirdos."

Still, voices of dissent -- often representing people of all color and all walks of life -- have stepped up since the Bush administration announced in recent speeches that the decision on whether or not to go war with Iraq will be made within "a matter of weeks."

Colorado Springs is no exception. This Saturday, Feb. 15, activists will make the trek to Colorado Springs from across the state. Jean Ferguson of the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission said she expects "minimally a thousand" people from around across Colorado, who will gather at Palmer Park in north-central Colorado Springs at 11 a.m. to protest Bush's call for war.

"We are the heartbeat of the military, not only for the state of Colorado, but even for our country," explained Ferguson of the activists' statewide choice of the Springs as a central gathering site. Ferguson noted the numerous area military bases and defense contractors. "Approximately 50 percent of our economy depends on the military," she noted.

The Colorado Springs protesters won't be alone during their agitation this Saturday, which marks the "International Day of Action Against War," in which hundreds of cities and millions of people around the world are expected to participate (see www.unitedforpeace.org for more).

Collectively, these demonstrations may be the largest in history, says Ferguson. "How many things has the whole world come together to protest?"

-- Adam Krefting

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