This past week, our local PBS affiliate (WPBT) ran a series of documentaries on a subject near and dear to my heart: the 1960s. Intently watching "Get Up, Stand Up: The Story of Pop and Protest" and Martin Scorcese's four-hour documentary on Bob Dylan, "No Direction Home," I couldn't help but feel . . . well, aged. I mean, here were the people, the events, the lyrics, the political movements of my college-age salad days, now reduced to grainy black-and-white images. Wait a second: wasn't Woodstock in color? Weren't lightshows at the Fillmore suffused with psychedelic hues of red and purple? Since when did my youth become part of ancient history?
I found myself recalling people places and words that were long ago buried in the inner recesses of my mind:
- James Rector, the sole fatality at People's Park -- He died on May 15, 1969.
- Mark Rudd, the head of S.D.S. at Columbia University.
- The Port Huron Statement.
- "What we've got in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000!"
- The "Chicago Seven [well, eight really]: Bobby Seale, John Froines, Lee Weiner, Rennie Davis, Tom Hayden, David Dellinger, Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman.
- Pigasus, the pig that Jerry Rubin wanted to run for President in 1968
- "You can get anything you want, at Alice's Restaurant ['cepting Alice]"
- "Hey, hey L.B.J., how many kid's you kill today?"
- "Impeach Bonzo and his buddy!"
- "Ho, ho, Ho Chi Minh, N.L.F. is going to win!"
- "Make love, not war!"
- "What if they gave a war and no one came?"
This last slogan was still ringing in my ears as I read an email from a friend who had attended the anti-war rally in D.C. last weekend. "It was really quite an amazing event," she wrote. "There hasn't been a mass protest, of similar scope and size since the 1970s." According to my friend, who, like any good child of the 60s knows how to guesstimate the size of an anti-war rally, last week's D.C. protest march consisted of a minimum of 150,000 people. And, there were similar [though smaller] gatherings in cities across the country. Nonetheless, anyone getting their news from major media outlets would have been totally unaware. ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, FOX, even NPR chose to devote less than 100 words on their nightly broadcasts. Yes indeed: What if they gave an anti-war rally and no one publicized it?
Back in 1965, topical folk singer [and Harvard math professor] Tom Lehr, introducing a song about a then-proposed Multi-Lateral Force ["MLF Lullaby"] chided his San Francisco audience for their ignorance: "Much of the discussion [about the proposed MLF]," he deadpanned, "took place during the baseball season, so the [San Francisco] Chronicle may not have covered it . . ." Well, that's precisely what happened with last weekend's protest: it occurred during the Katrina/Rita cycle, so no one covered it. Or at least that's what C.N.N's Aaron Brown proffered during his news broadcast last Saturday evening. According to the unedited transcript, Brown stated:
There was a huge 100,000 people in Washington protesting the war in Iraq today, and I sometimes today feel like I've heard from all 100,000 upset that they did not get any coverage, and it's true they didn't get any courage. Many of them see conspiracy. I assure you there is none, but it's just the national story today and the national conversation today is the hurricane that put millions and millions of people at risk, and it's just kind of an accident of bad timing, and I know that won't satisfy anyone but that's the truth of it.
Let's see if I've got this straight: C.N.N., a cable network devoted exclusively to providing 24-hour, round the clock news, can't manage to cover more than one major story a day? Are we to believe that C.N.N. merely listens to -- and reports on -- the "national conversation," rather than helping shape it? ABC, CBS and NBC were no better in their coverage.
Leave it to the Fox Network to make a malignant molehill out of a moral mountain. Fox correspondent Jim Angle categorized that mountain of anti-war protesters as "disparate groups united by their hatred of President Bush, in particular, and U.S. policies in general." In just 16 words, Angle [and Fox] managed to revive one of the worst aspects of the 1960s -- slighting and sequestering the apostles of protest. And you thought the Fourth Estate was independent?
On the Fox News Sunday the situation went from bad to worse. Panelist Juan Williams -- one of the media's up-and-coming stars -- was rebuked by his colleagues when he noted that public opinion had turned in favor of pulling out of Iraq. One would think that Williams was on pretty firm ground here; he was merely stating a fact backed up by every recent poll of the American public. That's what a reasonable person would think. But NPR's Mara Liasson, Williams' Fox News Sunday colleague, responded, "Oh, I don't think that's true." Brit Hume, a dyed-in-the-wool Buchanan Republican, echoed Liasson's sentiment. When Williams brought up the Saudi foreign minister's statement that foreign troops were not helping to stabilize Iraq, panelist William Kristol retorted: "So now the American left is with the House of Saud." Excuse me? Bill, its precisely the American "left," as you so blithely call any and everyone who doesn't stand heel-to-toe with the Administration, who has been most outspoken in their opposition to the House of Saud. It's the so-called "left" who have repeatedly sounded the tocsin, attempting to awaken the Administration and the American people to the fact that the House of Saud runs one of the most backward, most repressive regimes on the face of Mother Earth.
Meanwhile, the media treated the 200 or so pro-war hecklers as if they were somehow equivalent to the massive throng who came out to protest the war. In a headline that summed up the absurdity of this type of coverage, the Washington Post reported: "Smaller but Spirited Crowd Protests Antiwar March; More Than 200 Say They Represent Majority." Perhaps this "crowd" felt that way because they've grown accustomed to a media system that so frequently echoes their views, while keeping antiwar voices -- representing the actual majority opinion -- off the radar.
Those of us who spent our college years singing, toking, marching and protesting, always assumed that the likes of George W., Newt G. and Tom D. were swilling brew and trying to keep America safe for Ozzie and Harriet. Perhaps we underestimated them. Perhaps they were studying our techniques, committing them to memory, and awaiting the day when they could turn the tables. In the 60s, it was the anti-war movement that got the media's attention by mouthing such curiosities as "What if they gave a war and no one came?" Perhaps the tables have indeed turned, and it is the straights' revenge, for now they are the ones asking "What if they had a protest and no one reported it?"