Watchdog Blog

Myra MacPherson: Shedology on the Mall

Posted at 9:29 pm, October 4th, 2010
Myra MacPherson Mug

An interesting Glenn Beckian tidbit from the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank: “One day, he rhetorically asked his Fox News viewers: “Why did we buy Alaska in the 1950s?” As Milbank says, “a good question” seeing as how “we”, the U.S. of A., bought it from the Russians in 1867. It was known as Seward’s Folly because we weren’t chasing commies in Russia yet when Secretary of State William Seward bought that mammoth block of ice.

With an ego far bigger than his brain, the talk show Tea Party darling has created an online “Beck University” where he ties his learned notions together to suggest a relationship between Hitler’s crazed genocidal atrocities and Obama’s “death panels” – to real people, the non-death panels. A couple of placards at Saturday’s rally addressed the situation: “Glenn Beck puts the ‘dumb’ in ‘freedom’” And, “The more you watch Foxx, the less you know.”

But if Fox News is the official organ for Beck, the mainstream media have done a fine job of helping him with countless repeats of the stupidly embarrassing things he says and stories leading up to his summer rally, followed by front page coverage and sidebars of that event. For contrast, take a look at the almost noncoverage of Saturday’s progressive “One Nation” rally, billed as a counter rally by the media, not the organizers, which drew tens of thousands.

The New York Times buried its story on the bottom of page 18, reported none of the substantive speeches, and even gave space to Beck’s rant that Communists and Marxists would be there. Hmmmm…. Is Beck the son of Joe McCarthy? Not to be out done, The Times added the real scary thought that the Communist Party USA – one presumes a handful of doddering last century relics – were among the countless mainstream endorsing groups, from unions to churches.

The Washington Post was better, playing the story at the top of page three, the next best spot to page one — although on the Post’s website the story didn’t make the first tier of top stories, while a story on Civil War photos did. The Post mentioned in passing a host of speakers — out-of-work Americans, immigrants, veterans and Native Americans who focused on jobs, education and human rights issues — but sniped that “the rally lacked central charismatic speakers like Beck” and Palin (adding for balance the yet-to-come Comedy Central duo Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert who are staging a rally the end of October.) Ah yes, show biz.

Interestingly the media did not contrast the predominantly all-white Beck rally with the “One Nation” mix, with its strong presence of middle- and working-class African-Americans — demographics worth noting.

The press focus was on who got more of a crowd, not what was said. Aerial photos were published to allegedly prove that the ever-hyped Beck rally was larger. But the time of day the pictures were taken may have been a factor.

As Mary Bradshaw, a fund raiser for a biomedical research organization, who was there at the peak time Saturday, said, “the Post said the crowd thinned along the length of the reflecting pool. Not true. The crowd was solid to the end of the pool and beyond. I know, I walked the length of it.”

I spoke with Bradshaw, who viewed what the media could have reported: “People were polite and positive. Even as certain speakers called for immigration reform, the people I saw wearing union T shirts cheered in support, not anger. Organizers kept speakers on message. They stuck to their appeal to unity. Emphasis seemed to be on getting out the vote. Lots were there to demonstrate for jobs, lots were there against the war, lots were for better healthcare.” (Note: a woman in a hospital gown that swung open in the back to reveal a huge flesh-colored plastic bottom suggested to even those of us with health insurance, ‘chances are, your butt ain’t covered.’)

However useless, it is doubtful that the media will stop over-using crowd counts as indicators of the importance of every performer from rock stars to presidential wanabees. It’s easier than writing about the issues addressed. Ever since the National Park Service stopped putting out crowd estimates several years back, attempting to get beyond “tens of thousands” or at most “hundreds of thousands” is ludicrously inaccurate, with organizers hyping the count and detractors down-playing them. (In 1999, when the National Park Service official number was 400,000 for the Million Man March, organizers raised such a fuss that the Boston University Center for Remote Sensing was called in and estimated twice that number, edging up to the claimed million. The Park Service count used pictures from videotape; the Sensing Center used more accurate original photo negatives.)

Peter Grier of the Christian Science Monitor noted that the inexact science of crowd counts reminded him of the “practice of ‘shedology’,” when the CIA and others “estimated Soviet weapons numbers by looking at overhead photos of military sheds and calculating how many tanks they might hold.”

Instead of shedology-on-the-mall games, the media might have helped readers by doing a reprise of what was said at both rallies and let them decide which group spoke to them. But that would take reporting.

3 Responses to “Shedology on the Mall”

  1. martha moss says:

    As she always does, Myra hit the nail on the head. The coverage that Beck and company receive is beyond reckoning. And to what purpose does the Post under-report the numbers? No wonder the Tea Party folks are so confident of victory this fall; the media has done nothing but help them.

  2. Richmond Va Carpet Cleaning says:

    The media created that monster. I can assure you of that. Whenever someone acts like an idiot and the media gives him coverage, they just feed the beast.

  3. Myra says:

    thank you “handbag”…appreciate the kind word. and “richmond” so glad you see the monster making of today’s media. ths instance seemed particularly appalling. Myra”

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