All protests not equal, time after Times

Time for a trip into the tmatt folder of guilt about a media-criticism issue that, let's face it, could be reviewed year after year, world without end. Amen. So where to start? How about these questions: When is news really news? When is old news still big news?

I think most people who pay close attention to the world of causes and protests would have to admit that the recent demonstrations by a coalition of liberal activists against the activities of two rich GOP big shots -- Charles and David Koch -- was pretty small potatoes.

Nevertheless, it represented something that was new, sort of, since the conservative event had been quiet and relatively secret for some time. Plus, the event took place in a nice, warm location for reporters to visit. Here's the top of the New York Times coverage of the event, which ran about 640 words (a normal wire-service length).

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- So much for a quiet little weekend getaway.

An invitation-only political retreat for rich conservatives, run out of the spotlight for years by a pair of Kansas billionaires, became a public rallying point for liberal outrage on Sunday, as 11 busloads of protesters converged on a resort in the Southern California desert.

An estimated 800 to 1,000 protesters from a spectrum of liberal groups vented their anger chiefly at Charles and David Koch, brothers who have used many millions of dollars from the energy conglomerate they run in Wichita to finance conservative causes. More than two dozen protesters, camera crews swarming around them, were arrested on trespassing charges when they went onto the resort grounds.

So, is 11 busloads a big crowd or not? It's a bit unusual, but it's not major league by any means. Defenders of the significant Times coverage would say -- I think this is valid -- that this was a small liberal red flag waved in front of the still bullish giant that is the Tea Party Movement. It was worth a story.

However, was this event anywhere near as big as the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.? The answer, of course, is no.

But, says the typical journalist, the March for Life is no longer big news in the sense that this giant march takes place every year and has for decades. Right? It's big, but it's not news. So the march tends to get little coverage, which really ticks off the opponents of abortion.

Have many people attend the march, year after year? That's one of the hottest questions in Washington, D.C., political life. The typical story says "thousands" attend, which sounds like five or six or maybe 10 or 15 thousand. If you compare photos of the typical March for Life with other rallies and marchers, the claims made by organizers -- that several hundred thousand people attend -- are plausible. The pre-rally Mass this year drew 27,000.

So should the march be covered? The answer would have to be "yes." Does it deserve big coverage, in terms of being "big" and "new"? That's where the arguments get rolling. (Let's set aside, for a moment, the question of MSM coverage of the other large marches that take place at the same time in many other major cities across the nation.)

Could someone in the mainstream press do a major story on, let's say, some of the more unusual groups that always march, small alliances such as Libertarians for Life, Atheists and Agnostics for Life, the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians, etc.? Yes, and that would be interesting.

Maybe someone could do a story asking why there SEEM to be 10 young Catholics at the march for every one young evangelical, in light of the fact that polls show that evangelicals are just as opposed to abortion these days, or more so, than American Catholics. And where are the Catholic bishops at the march? Why are some Eastern Orthodox bishops present, but not others? Ethnic differences? Theological differences? There are lots of stories at the march.

This year, the Washington Post did a basic story that -- while modest -- actually drew praise from some pro-lifers. That's progress.

However, the question that energizes press critics on the right is always the same: What will the Times do this year? It's been three years, you see, since the newspaper of record covered the event at all.

But this year was different. This year the New York Times ran three sentences about the march, which, after all, is not in New York. However, it is not very far from the newspaper's still formidable DC bureau. On top of that, a Times photographer was present, which led to the production of an eight-photo slide show. Click here to see it.

In keeping with tradition, the photos show Catholics, Catholics and more Catholics -- including a nice photo of the Mass that required several images placed side by side in order to capture the size of the event. This small slide show does not, however, contain an image of the march itself. Perhaps the photographer did not have a lens large enough to do it justice.

I know this post comes long after the fact, in terms of looking for news coverage. However, has anyone seen in major online articles -- left, right or center -- analyzing this year's coverage? Otherwise, see you next year. Same time, same place. Let's hope for some new and insightful coverage of this major, ongoing story.

PHOTO: From Holy Cross Online, the website for my own parish, Holy Cross Orthodox Church in Linthicum, Md. That's Metropolitan Jonah, the leader of the Orthodox Church in America, in the center, to the left of the icon.

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