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Media Watch: Oregonian's Misleading Protest Coverage

An analysis of how the Oregonian misused the news to avoid the truth and create a false belief among their hundreds of thousands of readers.
Two Protests were held in Washington, DC this week around the issue of war in Iraq.

An anti-war contingent organized the largest public rally in recent memory agains the policies of the Bush Administration. They expected 100,000 people, and all estimates I've seen of actual attendance ranged from 100,000-200,000.

The next day, a counter demonstration was organized by groups that support war and agree with our current President. Organizers said they expected 10,000-20,000 attendees. The actual turnout according to the Associated Press--"as many as 400."

Despite the massive difference in scale between these two demonstrations, the Oregonian gave more space, and better coverage to the pro-war gathering. They ran two stories, a 10 paragraph piece on the anti-war gathering on page A-10, and a 17 paragraph piece on the pro-war gathering on page A-2.

So, the anti-war gathering had at least 250 times as many people, but got 40% less ink, and was buried in the middle of the paper, while the pro-war side gets on the back of the front page--one of the most read areas.

Additionaly, each story got one photo, the anti-war story had a young long-haired guy in a knit cap yelling, in front of a bunch of dancing hippies, while the pro war photo is a well composed shot of the stage that features 3 clean cut men in matching shirts in front of a gorgous american flag backdrop.

Which story do you think the average reader is more likely to stumble accross, and which photo do you think the average reader would identify with?

I personally am sick of going to protests with thousands of normal everyday people and then seeing the one shot on the news of three bald men in white robes with candles and flowers in their hair--or whatever other freaks the media can find to discredit everyone else who attended.

The Oregonian has a Public Editor to deal with these issues, I called him this morning to complain, and he agreed that it seemed biased, but said that the difference was that Saturday was a busy newsday, while Sunday was not. There may be some truth to that, but it's not a good excuse, they did a profound disservice to our community.

The Public Editor is Michael Arietta-Weldon, he can be called at (503)221-8221, or e-mailed at  publiceditor@news.oregonian.com

Please take a few minutes to let him know that their coverage didn't fool you, and that you expect better.
So VERY true 26.Sep.2005 09:50


The NBC news actually did give more credence to "Many thousands" of protestors, and to their credit, added as an aside, that "a couple of hundred pro war demonstrators were kept at bay by the police."
Locally, however, no mention was made of any protests, and absolutely no notice that there is action in the burbs. Estacada-ESTACADA! had a lively anti war rally, as did several other communities. Tonight, there is even one in SCAPOOOSE! Not mentioned on local media, however.

Amerika is waking, without the help of the media. I guess it is the jack booted thugs that get the media's attention, not citizens speaking out against corporate dominance.

Misleading protest coverage 26.Sep.2005 10:49


This is exactly what I had been saying so I am glad to see it in print.

You also might want to write a letter to the editor, It's easy 26.Sep.2005 11:26

anon letters@news.oregonian.com

Let them know they can't get away with marginalizing majority opinion--America is uniting against this war, and this president.

If they get a bunch on this topic, they are more likely to feature it prominantly as a topic of discussion. If you take the time to write a decent letter, they will run it--I've submitted 8 and 6 have been printed, including several criticisms of their content.

I know that in many ways the Oregonian is not worth our time, but it is the loudest media voice in the region and greatly influences public opinion.

Letters can be E-Mailed to  Letters@news.oregonian.com

They must be under 150 words, and include name, address and daytime phone number.

Media Bias a Social Problem 26.Sep.2005 11:46


Those who see through the war become aware, if they aren't already, of how much spectacular society and its media falsify reality. Personal participation makes this awareness more vivid. To take part in a peace march of a hundred thousand people and then see it given equal-time coverage with a prowar demonstration of a few dozen is an illuminating experience — it brings home the bizarre unreality of the spectacle, as well as calling into question the relevance of tactics based on communicating radical viewpoints by way of the mass media. While the war rages on, protesters see that they have to confront these questions, and in discussions and symposiums on "the war and the media" they examine not only the blatant lies and overt blackouts, but the more subtle methods of media distortion — use of emotionally loaded images; isolation of events from their historical context; limitation of debate to "responsible" options; framing of dissident viewpoints in ways that trivialize them; personification of complex realities (Saddam = Iraq); objectification of persons ("collateral damage"); etc. These examinations are continuing and are giving rise to a veritable industry of articles, lectures and books analyzing every aspect of media falsification.

The most naďve see the falsifications as mere mistakes or biases that might be corrected if enough members of the audience call in and complain, or otherwise pressure the mass media into presenting a somewhat wider range of viewpoints. At its most radical this perspective is expressed in the limited but suggestive tactic of picketing particular media. Others, aware that the mass media are owned by the same interests that own the state and the economy and will thus inevitably represent those interests, concentrate on disseminating suppressed information through various alternative media. But the glut of sensational information constantly broadcast in the spectacle is so deadening that the revelation of one more lie or scandal or atrocity seldom leads to anything but increased depression and cynicism. Not to be underestimated, at their best alternative media like Independent Media Centers create a network, mostly online, that can carry important information to those with access to them.

With the exception of open publishing resources like the many Independent Media Centers online, alternative media has generally reproduced the dominant spectacle-spectator relation. The point is to undermine it — to challenge the conditioning that makes people susceptible to media manipulation in the first place. Which ultimately means challenging the social organization that produces that conditioning, that turns people into spectators of prefabricated adventures because they are prevented from creating their own.

Also.... 26.Sep.2005 12:25


NPR did the same shit...gave WAY more time to the pro-war stance....NPR = Not Particularly Relevant

Hey * 26.Sep.2005 12:53


It takes all types, ya know.

Every movement that has actually created social change has involved actors working agains every level of the problem. The civil rights movement had its' black panthers and its' catholic workers, and a bunch of ordinary people writing letters to the editor and calling politicians.

I think you are right on about most of the problem, but all of our time would be better spent if we directed our anger at the problem, not fellow travelers with different tactics.

Just my little rant, sorry to be somewhat of a hypocrite.

When will the media do its job 26.Sep.2005 13:01

weld red

I went up to the demonstration in Seattle on Saturday. It was a great turnout, around 5000 despite some problems I heard about with publicity for it.
On the demonstration, one placard I noticed said, 'When will the media do its job'?
I understand what the person was getting at, but my first instinct was, they are doing their job!
The capitalist media is there to put forward the views and opinions of the ruling class. There may be some good investigative journalists, like John Pilger or Robert Fisk whose work may appear in the capitalist press. But these papers rely on circulation for their advertisers. So even they have to get good stories that expose the worst of society now and again.
But what they (the papers) will not do is to advocate on a continuous basis those at the bottom of society.
You may read stories of people who are battling all kinds of injustice, but what they don't offer is the reason WHY these injustices occur or HOW to organize and fight back against them.
So while the Oregonian may not exactly LIE about events, they just ignore and don't mention them
There are a number of left newspapers and magazines out there and of course Indymedia.
Get your information from them

The Oregonian Fucking Sucks 27.Sep.2005 18:42

Mr. Mister

I can't spend a dime on the Oregonian. If I want something in it, I'd rather dumpster dive for the info than pay $0.35. When I look at who advertises in it, I use that as a means of deciding where NOT to spend my money. This is Portland, Oregon, and 78% Democratic town that is skewed progressive. I know paid, WASP propaganda when I see it. The folks at The Oregonian, by and large, are not journalists, they are paid pundits. Give me the money to take on the Oregonian and I'll put them out of business (or force them to operate in the red) within a year.

what I was thinking about doing today 27.Sep.2005 22:06


I think I (we) might think about spending time making a really big racket outside the corpy news offices and do it for days, weeks, months. And hand out info on alternate to all passersby, send press releases to out-of-country friendly sources and any relevant blog. It may not end their bullshit but it might make them aware that they can't fool everyone.

Light 'em Up 27.Sep.2005 23:38

banderín negro

The ogroanian is being run to front for the criminal regime--it's management are compliant stooges for the imperialist enterprise--it has cast its lot for preservation and enhancement of the racist, classist, national chauvinist status quo. It feigns "balance" by posting a certain diversity of opinion on the OP-ED pages, but its own reporting ensures that the "truth" doesn't fail to maintain the entrenchment of the capitalist establishment.

Can anyone justify this daily dose of corporate, counter-revolution newspeak as deserving press freedom support?

There's little to be practically done about the fascist marionettes from broadcast media (except to trash the TV), but to have the public space, on the ground where we live and work, inhabited by the local rag's corner dispensers is not beyond response.

Farenheit 451!
Hot News!
Hot News!

it's not the hippies 28.Sep.2005 07:49


Remember, it's not the "hippies"/"freaks", it's the selective reporting by corporate media. They will always cover you like that. If it's not hippies, it's the comedic displays, if not that then it's a young person, old person, a person of color, or no photo at all. Anything to alienate the anti-war movement from the average racist ageist white male middle aged reader. So think to yourself, who is more valuable as an aly. The average white male who has absolutely no reason to stand up for anything other than a guilty conscience or hippies, artists, youth, old people, people of color, etc who have every reason and right to stand up and fight back.

Freaks and hippies 28.Sep.2005 08:20


Well, Jason, I think your analysis is generally quite astute and on target. Corporate media continually discredits and marginalizes antiwar and progressive viewpoints.

Still, in response to "which photo and story would the reader identify with?", I've got to say that personally I'd identify with the dancing hippies and the guys in robes with flowers in their hair. I guess that makes me a throwback to the '60's, but that's OK with me. The '60's were a time of hope and revolutionary thinking & action. Looking around at the plastic mainstream society today, I just plain don't want anything to do with it. Guess I'm not the "average reader", then.

I hear you, bear 28.Sep.2005 15:02


I too would identify with the "hippy" over a bunch of homogeneous old white men.

But I think the point remains that the 'typical' reader will see one picture of a bunch of dancing young people with long hair and conclude that the protesters are just partying and don't know what they are talking about--I hear these coments frequently from my conservative family when they see mainstream protest coverage.

On the other hand the picture of the "pro-war" rally looks organized, and run by 'serious' people.

I know that mainstream coverage is inherently biased (as is Indymedia, but I trust the bias of people who are working to improve the world much more than those trying to make a profit off of it) but I believe we need to keep the press on their toes.

By the way, the Oregonaian ran a good letter today criticizing their own coverage.

Here is the text.

(From The Oregonian, Sept. 28, 2005)

Rally Coverage 'Biased'

The Oregonian has sunk to new lows of biased coverage. How can you possibly justify giving the same ammount of coverage to a pro-war demonstration of 400 people as you do to an anti-war demonstration of at least 100,000 people?

Balanced reporting means you give equal weight to things of equal importance, not that you go find a worthless story to balance out a public opinion with which you disagree.

I am not denying that the 400 people had a right to make thier opinion heard; rather, I am objecting to The Oregonian's attempt to magnify thier voices by several orders of magnitude and diminish the voices of the 100,000 by the same degree.

Jeff Zucker
SE Portland

Good letter Jeff, I would only add that the ammont of space was not actually the same. The pro-war article was 17 paragraphs on page A-2, and the anti-war article was 10 paragraphs on page A-10.

The same thing at a national level in DC 28.Sep.2005 15:38

running dog bethemedia@alliedaccess.net

Here's a similar analysis from a national perspective by FAIR called "Disappearing Antiwar Protests:
Media shrug off mass movement against war"