I decided to attend last Friday’s protest rally and march against indefinite detention and torture at Guantanamo Bay and other U.S. black sites not just because I respected the goals of the protest, but because I thought it might be important to document what was said and done there. I’m very glad I went, because as it turns out the protest was largely ignored outside the circle of 250 or so people who were there on the National Mall that day. As I walked up to the protest fifteen minutes before it began, I identified myself as a blogger and the organizers asked if I would like a press packet. These are handy things, not necessarily because they provide press release talking points but rather because they identify the participants, the speakers and their affiliations, and these are pieces of information which can literally get lost in a crowd. After I received a press packet I was asked to sign in for the organizers’ informational purposes. There were two news organizations that had signed in before me: Agence France Presse and Voice of America. I looked up at the very kind staffer behind the press desk and asked whether press attendance would be light. She looked nervous, paused, then said with a catch in her voice, “Oh, no. We have a lot of the major networks and press groups here today.”
I never saw any major news network press details, or even a major news camera detail. Heck, I never saw a minor one. Outside of a handful of people like me, I only saw the AFP and Voice of America people at the protest, and standing by the stage taking pictures in a protest of just 250 people (about 150 of whom were in orange jumpsuits), trust me, I’d have noticed. And hey, wouldn’t you know that AFP and Voice of America were the two outfits giving any detailed reports.
I know after the fact that this was a small protest, but the networks and newspapers didn’t know that ahead of time. They decided not to show up ahead of time, making a decision in parallel with the American people.