A sparsely attended Tea Party rally in Washington, D.C., on March 31 in support of federal spending cuts received generous media attention. One report (Slate, 3/31/11) suggested there was "at least one reporter for every three or four activists," and a Republican politician joked that there might be more journalists than activists at the event.
An antiwar rally in New York City on April 9 was in some respects very similar. Protesters were speaking out on an equally timely issue (wars in Afghanistan and Libya), and connecting them to the budget and near-government shutdown in Washington.
The difference? The ratio of activists to journalists. The antiwar protest had thousands of attendees--and received almost zero corporate media coverage.
According to the Nexis news database, the rally was apparently deemed not remotely newsworthy. The local New York Times didn't cover it--though it did have time for the D.C. Tea Party rally (4/1/11). NPR's Morning Edition (4/1/11) and the PBS NewsHour (3/31/11) reported on the Tea Party rally, which was also mentioned a few times on CNN and previewed on NBC's Today show (3/31/11).
Who did cover the antiwar rally? You could find reports from local New York outlets like the news site Gothamist (4/10/11), WABC and NY1, the left-wing Socialist Worker (4/11/11) and a handful of other sites.
What explains the wildly different treatment of the events? The organizers of the antiwar rally say they put serious resources into media outreach, and held a press conference the day before the event (which was reportedly attended by one reporter from Russia Today). The rally was framed as a way to talk about war and the budget debate, so it's hard to argue that it wasn't timely or relevant.
This isn't the first time this have focused on Tea Party events while ignoring progressive activism that was comparable or greater in size:
--In September 2009, a Tea Party march in Washington attracted tens of thousands of participants. So did a gay rights march the following month--and it elicited far less media attention (Extra!, 12/09).
--In June 2010, media demonstrated almost no interest in the progressive U.S. Social Forum, which drew thousands to Detroit. A tiny Tea Party convention in Nashville earlier in the year was widely covered (Extra!, 9/10).
--Two thousand protesters marched on the Washington offices of Koch Industries on April 5 to protest Charles and David Koch's funding of an array of right-wing interest groups. Few media were on hand to cover the event (FAIR Blog, 4/5/11)
It's time for to media explain why it seems that any Tea Party event, no matter how small, is considered far more newsworthy than progressive citizen activism.