Let's play the mirror-image news game again, shall we? Click here for previous examples.
As always, the goal is to look at a story that received next to zero attention, or perhaps received waves of attention, and then try to imagine what would have happened if a few details were switched and journalists were dealing with a different issue on the opposite side of America's so-called culture wars.
This time around, let's say that the AIDS memorial quilt was displayed in Dallas in a high-profile location that would be sure to generate lots of attention -- like the center of campus at Southern Methodist University. Then, during the middle of the night, a pack of counter-protesters descended on this display and attacked it, doing major damage.
Would this story have received major coverage in local media, such as The Dallas Morning News? We will take into account the fact that displays of the AIDS quilt have been going on for decades and, thus, the event itself may not have been a major news story. But would an attack on the quilt be news?
It's safe to say that this attack would have drawn coverage. Correct?
Now, let's flip the news mirror around and consider these details from a story published by the alternative -- yes, conservative -- LifeNews.com website. The headline: "Pro-Abortion Students at SMU Vandalize Display of 3,000 Crosses to Remember Aborted Babies."
Here is the key material at the top of this advocacy-publication report, which is packed with slanted language.
It's important to note that this story openly states that protest displays of this kind by the group Mustangs for Life have been staged at this location for years.
The pro-life students spent hours setting up the display and accompanied it with signs explaining what it was all about: “There are 2,904 abortions per day in the USA” and “Memorial of Innocents: 1 Cross = 1 Life Lost to Abortion Today”.
Mustangs for Life jumped through all the hoops at the school to make sure they were allowed to do this and granted proper permission.
The display was set up on Sunday evening about 7:30 pm and done by 9 pm. Only a couple hours later, in the middle of the night, all of the crosses had been vandalized and torn down. All of them.
One of the members got a call from someone who said that she saw all the crosses were kicked down. The members ran over to the display where indeed the display was vandalized. The Mustangs for Life filed a campus police report on Sunday night and decided to press charges, so an investigation has been opened.
That was not the end of the story. The Mustangs for Life activists (SMU's sports mascot is a Mustang) returned at 6 a.m. and repaired their display, cross by cross.
They also took appropriate steps to guard the protest site, which would -- if journalists were responding -- make second-day coverage easier. All of this could be seen in social-media, of course.
The group has since received threats of more violence on the app Yik Yak and one person threatened to burn down the display. They have had their members take shifts at the display, some even staying outside at 2:30am this morning. Campus police have also been stationed near the display to quell any vandalism.
So did this story receive any attention from the city's major newsroom? The answer is "no."
Now, as I have mentioned, it is easy to make a case that this is not news because this protest has been staged in the past. However, if one searches for "Mustangs for Life" at the News website the result is this -- zippo. So there has been no coverage in the past, either. Did I mess up this search somehow?
Search the same site for "AIDS quilt" and one gets lots of information, including five stories from 2015.
The "Memorial of Innocents" display, and the attack on it, did receive coverage at The Daily Campus, the SMU student newspaper. This story included, as it should, the views of students who disagreed with the Mustangs for Life message. They argued -- in language similar to similar campus debates currently in the news -- that the display triggered feelings of guilt and shame and should not have been allowed in the first place, a case that is easier to make on a private campus, such as SMU, with allows limitations on the First Amendment.
There was also this intriguing detail:
Two students vandalized the display after it was set up later that night. Police stopped them and asked if they were supposed to be there, to which the students responded “yes.”
So, here is our mirror-image question: Would an attack on the AIDS quilt have received local news coverage, this year or in the past?
Note that we are dealing with two emotional symbols, each linked to hot-button social issues that have been around for decades.
It's easy, and accurate, to say that LifeNews.com covered this story for ideological reasons. The Daily Campus covered the event because it was news on campus.
So where does this put The Dallas Morning News? The most likely answer is that the editors did not assign coverage since this is "old news," seeing as how this is protest that has been held (and perhaps even attacked) in the past. But look at the mirror image. Would an attack on the AIDS quilt have been news? Why or why not?