Reporting Protest In the Proper Context

David Kirkpatrick and Sarah Abruzzese added little details that make a protest story fairer: they used liberal labels, explained who the protest organizers were, and quoted rally speakers. The Times was much fairer than The Washington Post.

In their report on Saturday's Pentagon protest, New York Times reporters David D. Kirkpatrick (formerly assigned to cover the conservative movement for the Times) and Sarah Abruzzese offered readers several things the Washington Post did not. Their story used the "liberal" label (twice), explained that the ANSWER Coalition was affiliated with the Workers World Party, noted the ANSWER signs celebrated communist icon Che Guevara, and quoted Cindy Sheehan's speech (typically) calling out President Bush and Vice President Cheney as "war criminals."

Unlike the Post, the Times story was not featured on Sunday's front page (and I can't tell from the website whether it made the print edition at all.) The headline was unremarkable: "In March, Protesters Recall War Anniversaries." The Times duo quickly applied the liberal label to protest groups:

The liberal group has held many small protest vigils around the country. And in Washington on Friday night a coalition of liberal Christian groups, including Sojourners/Call to Renewal, led several thousand people in a march that began with a service at the National Cathedral. More than 200 participants were arrested praying in front of the White House, the police said.

Saturday's march was organized by the Answer Coalition - named for Act Now to Stop War and End Racism - an organization that was initially associated with the Workers World Party and now affiliated with a breakaway faction of that party called the Party for Socialism and Liberation.

That's much more descriptive than liberal-media accounts usually are. They could have explained the party was Maoist, or that speaker Ramsey Clark was a defense lawyer for Saddam Hussein, but it's so much better than other accounts on ANSWER, it's a little hard to complain. Then came the part about Che and Cindy Sheehan:

Judging by the speeches and placards, the marchers on Saturday set their sights on sweeping goals, including not only ending the war but also impeaching President Bush and ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Many carried Answer Coalition signs bearing the image of the Latin American revolutionary Che Guevara.

Brian Becker, the national coordinator of the Answer Coalition and a member of the Party of Socialism and Liberation, said the group held out little hope of influencing either the president or Congress. "It is about radicalizing people," Mr. Becker said in an interview. "You hook into a movement that exists - in this case the antiwar movement - and channel people who care about that movement and bring them into political life, the life of political activism."

In a speech before the march, Cindy Sheehan, who made headlines in 2005 camping outside the Mr. Bush's Texas ranch after her son was killed in Iraq, called the president and his military advisers "war criminals."

"We want the people in the White House out of our house and arrested for crimes against humanity," Ms. Sheehan said.

Kirkpatrick and Abruzzese add a little more color about how some protesters were puzzled by the socialist signs all around them:

Many in the crowd said they were unfamiliar with the Answer Coalition and puzzled by the many signs about socialism. Several said they had come from across the country for a chance to voice their dismay at the war.

Alan Rainey, an adjunct professor and small publisher from West Lafayette, Ind., said he had not attended a protest since 1973, not long after he had returned from military duty in Vietnam. On Saturday, he carried a sign with green clover and a St. Patrick's Day theme. "Help drive the snakes out of the White House," it said, depicting snakes with the faces of Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

"This war is criminal," Mr. Rainey said. "We impeached Clinton for a little indiscretion with an adult."