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31 octobre 2002 — La manifestation anti-guerre de Washington du 26 octobre fut-elle ou ne fut-elle pas un succès ? On a vu des estimations très différentes, allant, des plus fortes aux plus faibles, de “plus de 200.000” à “ fewer than 10,000 » (voir plus loin). C'est un cas très extrême dans l'habituelle variation dans l'observation de cette sorte d'événement.
FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting Media), que nos lecteurs connaissent puisque nous citons ses interventions quand nous les jugeons intéressantes, est intervenu sur cette question en observant les médias où étaient rapportées ces variations extraordinaires. Fait exceptionnel, FAIR est revenu sur la question après avoir réagi une première fois comme il fait habituellement. Le cas est suffisamment intéressant pour que l'on en consulte les pièces.
FAIR s'est intéressé principalement au New York Times et à la NPR (National Public Radio). On voit ci-dessous le premier message critique de FAIR, datant du lundi 28 octobre.
October 28, 2002
« National Public Radio and the New York Times arrived at the same
conclusion about the anti-war rally in Washington, DC this weekend: The
turnout was disappointing. But neither report matched reality.
» The Times account on October 27 was vague, reporting that “thousands of protesters marched through Washington's streets,” adding that “fewer people attended than organizers had said they hoped for.” The report, which was under 500 words, appeared on page 8 of the paper.
» On the October 26 broadcast of Weekend Edition, NPR's Nancy Marshall went even further to disparage the turnout by offering an estimate on the crowd's size: “It was not as large as the organizers of the protest had predicted. They had said there would be 100,000 people here. I'd say there are fewer than 10,000.”
» While a turnout of less than 10,000 might have been a disappointment, NPR's estimate is greatly at odds with those of other observers. The Los Angeles Times (10/27/02) reported that over 100,000 participated in the march, while the Washington Post's page A1 story (10/27/02) was headlined “100,000 Rally, March Against War in Iraq.” The Post added that Saturday's march was “an antiwar demonstration that organizers and police suggested was likely Washington's largest since the Vietnam era.” While both the Times and NPR reported the apparent disappointment of the organizers, none were named or quoted directly. Those who spoke to other news outlets expressed just the opposite; organizer Mara Verheyden-Hilliard told the Washington Post the march was “just extremely, extremely successful.”
» Perhaps someone at NPR noticed: The next day Weekend Edition anchor Liane Hansen introduced a report about anti-war demonstrations by saying that ''organizers say 100,000 protesters were gathered.'' The New York Times did not run any follow-up article updating its estimate of the crowd size. »
Comme d'habitude, FAIR terminait son message par sa recommandation d'usage : « Action: Contact NPR and the New York Times and ask them why they did not provide more substantive reports about the anti-war demonstrations in Washington, DC on October 26. »
Deux jours plus tard, FAIR intervenait de nouveau, essentiellement à la suite d'un article du New york Times paraissant ce jour. Cette seconde intervention sur un même sujet est rarissime dans les pratiques de FAIR, répétons-le. C'est bien sûr tout le sens de ces remarques que nous faisons ici.
October 30, 2002
« Three days after its first report on the D.C. antiwar protests, readers of the New York Times were treated to a much different account of the same event.On October 30, the Times reported that the October 26 protests “drew 100,000 by police estimates and 200,000 by organizers', forming a two-mile wall of marchers around the White House. The turnout startled even organizers, who had taken out permits for 20,000 marchers.”
» This directly contradicted the Times' October 27 report, which noted that the “thousands” of demonstrators were “fewer people... than organizers had
said they hoped for.” The October 30 Times report also included much more
information about similar protests around the country, and featured quotes
from various antiwar activists.
» The second Times story may have been a reaction to the overwhelming response to FAIR's October 28 Action Alert critical of the paper's
downplaying of the protest. FAIR has received more than 1,100 copies of individual letters sent to the Times or to NPR, whose coverage was also
cited in the action alert — one of the largest volumes of mail ever generated by a FAIR action alert. The newspaper trade magazine Editor and Publisher (10/30/02) suggested that the October 30 piece was a “make-up article” that may have been written ”in response to many organized protest letters sent to the Times since the paper's weak, and inaccurate, initial article about the march on Sunday.”
» The paper has not yet issued an editor's note or correction explaining the different reports, though senior editor Bill Borders sent an apologetic message to many of the people who wrote to the paper.
» “I am sorry we disappointed you,” he said. ”Accurately measuring the size of a crowd of demonstrators is nearly impossible and often, as in this
case, there are no reliable objective estimates.” Borders defended the Times' overall coverage of the Iraq debate, and thanked activists for contacting the paper: “We appreciate your writing us and welcome your careful scrutiny. It helps us to do a better job.”
» National Public Radio, another target of FAIR's action alert, has also
offered a correction of its misleading coverage of the D.C. protest. The
following message is now posted on NPR's website:
» “On Saturday, October 26, in a story on the protest in Washington, D.C. against a U.S. war with Iraq, we erroneously reported on All Things
Considered that the size of the crowd was ''fewer than 10,000.'' While Park
Service employees gave no official estimate, it is clear that the crowd was substantially larger than that. On Sunday, October 27, we reported on Weekend Edition that the crowd estimated by protest organizers was 100,000. We apologize for the error.” »
Et FAIR de terminer par un message exceptionnel : « FAIR thanks all of the activists who wrote to the New York Times and NPR about their coverage of the D.C. protests. Those who did write or call might consider sending a follow-up note to the outlets to encourage serious, ongoing coverage of the growing antiwar movement. »
Il s'agit d'un épisode remarquable à plus d'un égard. Nous offrirons donc, ci-dessous, quelques remarques :
• La puissance du conformisme de la ligne officielle et de certaines positions ambiguës est une fois de plus démontrée. Le New York Times est contre la guerre en Irak, de façon claire et parfois stridente. Pourtant, il a cette attitude vis-à-vis de la manif de Washington de chercher à systématiquement en réduire la perception. Cela signifie (1) que le NYT, comme les autres, pratique la manipulation de l'information ; on s'en doutait parce que c'est une pratique très courante dans les médias “sérieux” et disons qu'on s'en doute encore un peu plus ; et (2) que le NYT reste totalement engagé dans un travail répondant aux règles de l'establishment, il est hors de question qu'il se laisse déborder par un mouvement non-contrôlée, hors-establishment, c'est-à-dire hors-système. (Cela signifie encore ceci : que l'establishment est sérieusement divisé sur la guerre contre l'Irak.)
• L'épisode dans son entier a démontré la puissance des réactions individuelles, lorsqu'elles sont coordonnées et prétendent exercer une pression par les voies de la communication. Ce constat vaut notamment pour les réseaux Internet.
• Ces réactions, dont on peut supposer qu'elles sont autant anti-guerre que de mécontentement plus général, augmentent et ont des effets, comme le montrent les réactions des médias concernés. C'est aussi la première fois dans la crise actuelle que de telles réactions des médias, aussi nettes, aussi clairement identifiées comme conséquences des pressions individuelles coordonnées, sont observées.
• D'une façon générale, on avancera la double hypothèse, — d'abord que la manifestation fut sans doute un succès, ensuite que le sentiment de mécontentement (anti-guerre) grandit aux USA.
Après la publication de ce F&C, un article nous est parvenu, qui donne des précisions intéressantes sur la manifestation et son décompte. Il s'agit d'un texte de Chad Nagle, publié sur Antiwar.com ce jour, le 31 octobre, sous le titre de « Day of Preemptive Protest Appeals to Patriotism ». Nagle, qui participait à la manifestation en confirme l'ampleur et, au-delà, il confirme les pires craintes qu'on peut désormais avoir sur la façon, dont la presse américaine rend compte des choses et des événements du monde.
Voici l'extrait de l'article qui concerne le décompte des participants.
« The assortment of political demonstrations I've witnessed over the years has accustomed me to the mainstream press and media's tendency to manipulate the numbers game. Marches of several hundred against Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus or Hugo Chavez in Venezuela get reported by Reuters, AP or CNN as numbering from ten to twenty thousand, while a demonstration in Argentina against the pro-IMF government – which looks to number half a million in photos taken from above – is lucky to be estimated in the six-figures. I've generally chalked these distortions up to the free media's mutation in the post-Cold War era, but it's hard to pinpoint their exact origins.
» The first report I read of the demonstration in Washington, DC on Saturday, October 26th (the first I had ever attended in the United States) came from the Associated Press, estimating the size at 100,000. This number was in line with my own estimates on first arriving at Constitution Gardens, on the grass next to the Vietnam War Memorial, at about 11:30 a.m. But I couldn't form a clear picture from simply traipsing around in the crowd. Placards blocked the view in every direction as far as the eye could see, and heavy rains the night before caused me to sink into the mud in the big empty areas scattered amid the horde of people.
» I heard cries of disbelief from several marchers, evidently from out of town, upon discovering that “marching on the White House” was at best an “abstract” concept because of the barricades Bill Clinton had erected a decade ago. As I walked near the front of a crowd of 7,000 or so that headed off in the direction of the Rose Garden, the hopelessness of proceeding along the street running along the south edge of the lawn (itself almost out of sight of the presidential mansion) was palpable. Adding to the dashed hopes, the Ellipse (the grass area north of Constitution Avenue across from the White House's iron fence) was also off-limits, and there would be no stopping. From our vantage point, government really did feel like it was getting more remote from the people.
» This initial group moved up 15th Street past the Treasury Department and Pennsylvania Avenue, also blocked off by police, until it could turn left on H Street along the north edge of Lafayette Park across from the White House. It soon met the main column, which had marched in a clockwise direction up 17th Street and turned right on H. Anyone who even looked like a protester was barred from entering Lafayette Park. The large crowd circling the White House was so remote from President Bush that he could have been sitting inside drinking tea the entire time without noticing. I stood watching the procession of every imaginable type – from clean-cut, conservative-looking young couples, to Palestinians dressed in traditional Arab garb, to post-modern punk types with peace signs and slogans painted on their faces – lumbering by, banging drums, playing instruments, and chanting. From what I could judge at this time, the crowd numbered no less than 200,000 and may even have been as large as a quarter of a million. When I factored in the possible exaggeration of an activist yelling to the crowd through a megaphone that there were “over 300,000 of you here,” I figured I was probably about right.
» This multitude's mood was so non-violent, I thought to myself, that it wouldn't have caused any trouble if the police had allowed them to get close enough to press their faces between the bars of the White House fence on Pennsylvania. This wasn't because the loud police helicopters hovering overhead or the snipers on the roofs were overly intimidating, however. The police themselves testified to the peaceful nature of the crowd. Suddenly running into DC Police Chief Charles Ramsey in the middle of the street, I overheard him tell a questioner that there was nothing to worry about in terms of arrest because “these are good people.” There wasn't even any of the hooliganism or exhibitionism that accompanied the anti-IMF/World Bank demonstrations the previous month, although a handful of arrests were made. A woman carrying a sign reading “Dykes for Peace” and inviting people through a bullhorn to “take their clothes off” to stop the war received no takers. »