One afternoon last week on the Fox Studios lot, a van pulled up at Stage 5. Tyne Daly and Amy Brenneman, co-stars of the show "Judging Amy," leapt out and were met by a cameraman, a boom operator, a director and a couple of lighting technicians, who pulled the actresses inside and swung into action.
The camera rolled.
"I love my country and I want to keep America safe," read Brenneman. "I believe we can contain Saddam Hussein through inspections."
"Attacking Iraq makes us more vulnerable to terrorist attacks in the future," Daly said. "We do not need to go to war, killing American soldiers and innocent Iraqi people."
Brenneman looked solemnly into the camera. "We can win without war," she said.
In 25 minutes, the pair were back in the van, eating box lunches, zooming back to work. Within days, the footage was to be edited into a 30-second television spot, the latest in a series of antiwar ads filmed by Artists United to Win Without War and paid for by TrueMajority.com, a liberal activist group started by Ben & Jerry's co-founder Ben Cohen. The first spot, featuring Susan Sarandon, aired last week, before and after President Bush's State of the Union speech. CNN rejected the spots, Cohen said. But TrueMajority is spending $200,000 to place the ads on local cable stations.
Activists have run ads in the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers.
The art of the antiwar protest is conventional, crude, creative and continually evolving, varying with the era and the mass medium of the moment. But the point has always been to raise awareness by getting attention. Today, peace and antiwar groups are protesting not only possible war with Iraq, but also the lack of coverage of the nascent movement in the mainstream media by spending scarce funds on newspaper ads and airtime.
From Republicans to Democrats to Hollywood celebrities, from labor unions to church groups, from middle-class suburbanites to college students, concerned citizens have pooled their resources in recent months to take out full page ads in the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and dozens of smaller papers across the country. Some are simply lists of names; others are notices for marches. A group of Republican business executives bought a page in the Wall Street Journal on Jan. 13 for "A Republican Dissent on Iraq." The same week, a group of Democrats calling itself Americans Against War With Iraq ran a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times. "Who's against a U.S. War on Iraq?" it asked. "2 out of 3 Americans. 7 out of 8 Brits. 1 out of 1 Popes." It included 2,000 signatures.
To generate buzz -- essentially free advertising -- for its own antiwar television spot, MoveOn.org hired Fenton Communications, the same company that promoted Arianna Huffington's recent anti-SUV ads.
The Bush administration, of course, doesn't have to resort to advertising to get its message out, says Robert McChesney, a professor of communications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "There is a frustration among peace activists that they feel they have to buy ads to even get news coverage. It ultimately reflects their dissatisfaction and powerlessness, politically and with the press."
John Hanson, 30, is a volunteer organizer for International A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), a group formed three days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as a response to the war on terrorism at home and abroad. It helped organize an antiwar march Jan. 11 in downtown Los Angeles and ran an ad in The Times' California section five days before to promote it. "We have been blasting the media with information about what is going on," Hanson said, "but we have had trouble getting coverage for different events, protests." This approach, he said, was born out of necessity.
Historians and media critics say complaints about a lack of coverage by the mainstream media are nothing new. "Antiwar demonstrations, labor demonstrations, they are the weak spot of traditional journalism," McChesney said. "The problem has only gotten worse in the last 15 to 20 years."
Former newspaper editor Bill Kovach, who heads the Washington-based Project for Excellence in Journalism, said the lack of media coverage is a cause for legitimate concern.
"The most troubling examples I know firsthand are here in Washington," said Kovach, who is also a former curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. "The first antiwar demonstration in Washington last October was abysmally under-covered. The New York Times missed it entirely the first day and had to play catch-up with a story that wasn't good. It was the same with the Washington Post. The coverage was not even pro forma; it was dismissive.
"I went to see the second demonstration for myself a couple of weeks ago, so I could compare what I saw with the coverage.... The thing that disturbed me most, in terms of journalism, was that there were a lot of speakers taking a lot of different positions and perspectives. That wasn't in the coverage. It all was anecdotal, as if they were covering a picnic....
"I can't really figure out why," Kovach said. "Editors with whom I spoke said they'd made a mistake the first time but that they'd catch up. They didn't do that, according to my judgment. It reminded me of when I was growing up in this business in east Tennessee in the late 1950s, and there was some coverage of the behavior of some young blacks at the lunch counters over in Greensboro, N.C. My local newspaper treated it with the same sort of dismissive story they'd given a panty raid at the local college about six months before."
Lila Garrett, founder of Americans Against War With Iraq, said her group was the first to run a national newspaper ad protesting the possible war, back in September 2002. To date, it has spent $90,000 on three full-page ads in major papers, and more are planned. "We felt we were representing the opinion of the majority of Americans and that that opinion was not being represented in the mainstream media," Garrett said.
Other activists say their perspectives are covered by the media, but are often misrepresented, belittled or marginalized. "It's not that there isn't coverage," said Eli Pariser, 22, international campaigns director for MoveOn.org. "It's that the coverage fails to describe the character of the opposition in the terms in which I see it -- as a mainstream and very widespread movement.... If you read the news articles, it still looks like this fringy thing. When you get the Sierra Club and the National Council of Churches and the NAACP and the big unions, when you get them in a room talking and they agree, that is not fringy."
MoveOn.org was formed during President Clinton's impeachment trial as a grass-roots effort to get Congress to "move on" to other issues. It has since reinvented itself as an online civic group that specializes in mobilizing support through the Internet on issues ranging from campaign finance to tax policy and, now, opposition to a war with Iraq.
The group, which claims more than 660,000 members, says it raised $400,000 from 11,000 people, much of it in contributions of $35 or less, to pay for a five-day television campaign in 13 major markets, including Los Angeles.
Its ad, which raises the specter of nuclear war if the U.S. attacks Iraq, is a remake of the classic 1964 Lyndon Johnson campaign ad that suggested electing Barry Goldwater president could lead to a nuclear war. The new ad, which aired last month around the country, shows a little girl counting flower petals in a field of daisies, then cuts to a nuclear explosion. "Let the inspections work," it reads against the background of a mushroom cloud.
Organizers of antiwar protests and grass-roots events say ads are not only a way to be heard, but also a way to reach beyond their core constituency and legitimize their position. "There are a lot of people who are in mainstream, middle-class society," Hanson says, "who think reading the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal brings an air of respectability. They will see that [ad] and feel that it is OK that they have had these feelings.... They are more likely to participate in an event if they read about it in a publication that a lot of people read. They think, 'Maybe I'm not the only one.' "
Other organizers stress that they are not abandoning traditional forms of protest by embracing ads. They are simply adding to the mix.
Wes Boyd, 44, founder and president of MoveOn.org, believes ads allow older, more mainstream Americans who don't want to carry picket signs to express their views. "At $35 a person, for 11,000 people, an ad is a great way for middle-class people to 'march,' to get out and be heard," Boyd said. MoveOn's goal is to show that resistance to war with Iraq is broad, and "nothing is more mainstream than television," he said.
Charles Chatfield, a retired professor at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, who has studied the history of antiwar sentiment, says the repertory of protest remains largely unchanged. But the media -- and particularly television -- tend to focus on the newest and most dramatic forms.
During the Vietnam War, for example, there was education in the newspapers, lobbying in Congress, and Southeast Asian specialists all speaking out, Chatfield said. "But nobody paid attention. That wasn't the peace movement. TV had convinced people that the peace movement was marches, young people and the counterculture."
Today, though, "marches are not so novel anymore," Chatfield said, and for that reason, news of demonstrations is routinely "buried."
Not everyone believes ads are the picket signs of the 21st century, however. "Resources are scarce for peace groups," said media critic McChesney. "If you are running them over and over, they start to have diminishing returns." He said the cost of a few full-page ads in major papers could pay for a full-time organizer for a year.
Director-producer Robert Greenwald, co-founder of Artists United to Win Without War, a group of Hollywood actors, producers and directors who followed a celebrity press conference in December with a full-page ad in the New York Times pleading with President Bush to "Let the Inspections Work," said he can see McChesney's point. "Initially, the ad was important to show there was opposition," Greenwald said. "There is no secret now that there is widespread, deep, diverse opposition. We need to think about other tactics now."
But Norman Solomon, author of "Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn't Tell You" (to be published this month iby Context Books) and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, a nationwide consortium of public policy researchers, said print ads can be a compelling way to air a dissenting perspective.
"There is a difference between being quoted in a news article or being sound-bitten, on TV or radio, and having an unfiltered opportunity to make a case," Solomon said. "One of the things print ads allow is the chance to convey a sense of logic that is usually truncated, if not shredded, by news accounts."
Those who have placed ads -- especially television ads -- say there is no denying their effectiveness. A week after its TV ad first appeared on the news, MoveOn.org reported that its membership had grown by 100,000. The ad was covered on virtually every major network. It was shown and discussed on news programs in Australia, Pakistan, Russia and Japan. The tally is ongoing, but the ad generated at least 110 television news stories and dozens in print, according to an Interim Media Coverage Report by Fenton Communications.
As MoveOn's Boyd says, "Controversial ads get covered."
Times staff writer Tim Rutten contributed to this report.
Copyright 2003 Los Angeles Times