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In December, 131 antiwar protesters were arrested in front of the White House.

At least 1,400 arrests for antiwar dissent, but who’s counting? Not the press.

COMMENTARY | July 22, 2011

The national news media almost totally ignore homefront protests of the Afghanistan war, killer drones, torture, and more, regardless of their newsworthiness. By its lack of coverage, isn’t the press thus helping perpetuate an endless war?

Part of a Nieman Watchdog series, 'Reporting the Endgame'

By John Hanrahan

[Also read our follow-up story in which a Washington Post editor tries to explain his paper's lack of coverage of antiwar protest: Coulda, woulda, shoulda coverage of antiwar protests.]

Antiwar activists repeatedly stage dramatic acts of civil disobedience in the United States but are almost entirely ignored by mainstream print and broadcast news organizations. During the Vietnam era, press coverage of the fighting and opposition to it at home helped turn public opinion against the war. This time around lack of homefront coverage may be helping keep military involvement continue on and on.

In the past two years, protests of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, killer drones, torture, nuclear weapons and other war-related issues have been carried out at nuclear weapons silos and production facilities, military bases, unmanned drone facilities, major defense contractors’ headquarters and offices, the Nevada Nuclear Test site, nuclear weapons design laboratories, military recruiting centers, the U.S. Capitol, the White House, federal buildings in various states, the U.S. Strategic Air Command, and numerous other war-oriented sites across the country.

The protests don’t begin to approach the level of those during the Vietnam war or in the early years of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars – but that’s not a reason to ignore them. The fact is, protest is much more widespread than citizens might gauge from coverage in newspapers and television, which seldom report antiwar actions regardless of how significant or newsworthy they may be. As we briefly observed in a previous article: By ignoring antiwar protests almost totally, editors are treating opposition to the ongoing war in Afghanistan much as they handled the run-up to the war in Iraq: They are missing an important story and contributing to the perception that there is no visible opposition to the U.S. wars and ever-growing military budgets, even as polls show overwhelming support for early U.S. military withdrawal.
Although arrests are indicative of only a small portion of antiwar activity, a case-by-case compilation by prominent civil liberties attorney Bill Quigley shows more than 2,600 arrests nationwide for various protests on progressive issues from 2009 until late May of this year, with nearly 1,400 of them coming in antiwar-related actions‚ almost all of which stem from protests involving nonviolent civil disobedience. Quigley derived most of his information from the newsletter The Nuclear Resister , which for several years has tracked arrests of anti-war and anti-nuclear weapons activists nationwide as much as it can, given the lack of press coverage.
In the last seven months alone, there have been more than 550 documented arrests of antiwar protesters and some important court trials which, while often receiving local coverage, seldom find their way into major news organizations' reports.

"Although we haven't recently had the gigantic demonstrations of those Vietnam War years,” Quigley told Nieman Watchdog, “in my experience, what you have today is a lot of smaller, passionate and persistent activities going on all over the country. A lot of peaceful protests and civil disobedience. The mainstream press doesn’t cover that." Quigley is a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans and associate legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Regarding the arrest figures he compiled, Quigley said they “certainly underestimate the number actually arrested” because so many of them go unreported in the press. This, he said, is in contrast to the media standard for covering overseas dissent, which is to “focus so intently on arrests of protestors in other countries.”

Some of the more noteworthy protests in the last two years have been carried out by activists from the religious-based Disarm Now Plowshares movement, which began in 1980 when antiwar priests Daniel and Philip Berrigan and six others were convicted on an array of state felony and misdemeanor charges after they hammered on nuclear warhead nose cones and poured blood onto documents and files at the General Electric Nuclear Missile Re-entry Division facility in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.

The pattern of the national media is to ignore courtroom trials also, regardless of their drama, leaving them to local news reports or websites.

One example: In a Tacoma, Washington federal courtroom in March, an 84-year-old Society of the Sacred Heart nun, Anne Montgomery, 82-year-old Jesuit priest Bill Bichsel, and three other activists over the age of 60 – another Jesuit priest and two women – were sentenced to jail terms. Montgomery, it should be noted, was one of the Plowshares Eight some 30 years earlier. Their sentences ranged from six to fifteen months, plus one-year supervised release. Their crime: attempting to “symbolically disarm” the Trident II missiles stored in the Strategic Weapons Facility-Pacific (SWFPAC) at the U.S. Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, 20 miles from Seattle.

According to their own account, the five defendants, all affiliated with Disarm Now Plowshares, at 2 A.M. on All-Souls Day in November 2009 “used bolt cutters to break through a [perimeter] chain-link fence in an area where Trident submarine nuclear warheads are stored.” They then walked almost four miles into the base and cut through one double-layered chain link fence and then another barbed wire fence and alarm wires, “ignoring a sign warning that deadly force was authorized against intruders.” They had entered a bunker area that protesters said housed “the largest nuclear weapon stockpile in the United States” – reportedly more than 2,300 warheads, or almost one-fourth of the entire U.S. arsenal. They said their action was designed “to call attention to the illegality and immorality of the existence of the first-strike Trident weapons system.” After putting up banners and scattering blood and sunflower seeds, and hammering symbolically on a road and fences, “they prayed until they were arrested,” thrown to the ground, handcuffed and hooded. They said they were then questioned by base security, the FBI and the NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service).

In a joint statement after their arrests, they further explained their motivation: “As U.S. citizens we are responsible under the Nuremberg Principles for this threat of first-strike terrorism hanging over the community of nations, rich and poor.” Before their sentencing on trespassing and property destruction charges, each of the defendants spoke and‚ “focused on the personal responsibility they feel to disarm nuclear weapons, and their desire to prevent pain, suffering, and death‚” for “those deprived by our wars and military budget of a human way of life.” The judge, noting the defendants’ “lack of remorse,” called their protest “a form of anarchy” that could lead to a “breakdown in the social order.” Some 250 supporters of the group had turned out for a pre-sentencing rally featuring song and prayer.

You would think this story‚ with its angle of a nun, priests and lay people of an advanced age penetrating a high-security nuclear weapons installation, is what we used to call news. It is as least as newsworthy for the national media as, say, a congressman texting sexually suggestive pictures of himself to women, Sarah Palin’s latest gaffe, or the Canadian and U.S. travels of the newly-married duke and duchess of Cambridge. But while there were articles about the arrests in the Bremerton and Longview, Washington, newspapers, we have found no national news media coverage of this and similar significant incidents of civil disobedience or of the subsequent trial.

Here is another recent example:
This past April in a Las Vegas, Nevada, courtroom, 13 defendants from across the country – two Jesuit priests, two Franciscan priests, a nun from the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, two Catholic Worker members and six other activists – were convicted on state charges of trespassing at nearby Creech Air Force Base two years earlier. Creech is the headquarters of U.S. drone operations from which Predator and Reaper drone surveillance and attacks on Afghanistan and Pakistan are remotely “piloted.” The defendants, in their own words, were arrested while kneeling in prayer and begging for an end to the drone attacks. The judge rejected their “defense of necessity” – that is, as the defendants argued, “when an inherent danger is present...immediate action must be taken, such as breaking a no-trespassing law to uphold a higher law and save life.”
Judge William Jansen, after delaying a verdict in this non-jury trial for almost eight months to take what he said was time to think about the case, ruled that no inherent danger was present, found them guilty and sentenced them to time already served. One of the defendants was much-arrested, long-time Chicago activist Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

In remarks to the court before sentencing, Kelly told about a recent three-week trip she had taken to Afghanistan where she met with victims of U.S. drone attacks. She spoke in dramatic, graphic details about what she had seen and heard and victims she had met – including a nine-year-old girl “whose arm was amputated” by a drone attack and a man whose wife and five children had been killed by the same attack and “who showed me the photos of his children’s bloodied corpses.” She added: “It’s criminal for the U.S. to spend $2 billion per week for war in Afghanistan that maims, kills and displaces innocent civilians who’ve meant us no harm.”

In what the Las Vegas Sun called “a somewhat unusual trial,” Jansen had allowed the defense to present testimony relating to their “necessity” defense from former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark; Ann Wright, a retired Army colonel and former State Department diplomat; and the aforementioned civil liberties attorney Bill Quigley. In the end, the judge rejected their line of testimony. (In addition to the Las Vegas Sun, Kelly told Nieman Watchdog that local Nevada Public Radio had broadcast stories on the trial but there was no national coverage.) After sentencing the defendants to time served, the judge told them to “go in peace.” Jansen also urged them to use diplomacy, rather than trespassing, in their attempts to get U.S. drone warfare policy changed.

Again, here was a story with several newsworthy elements, including answers to the question of why people such as Kathy Kelly time and again take actions that will surely result in their arrests, that will surely go unpublicized in the national media, that will likely result in jail terms, and yet will not cut one dollar from the Pentagon budgets or stop even one of our country’s growing number of wars and military actions. Publicity is not what motivates these folks, yet the news media’s failure to cover their protests essentially means the press is shielding its readers and viewers from uncomfortable news that raises disturbing and profound questions about our nation’s war-making activities. While the airwaves and print press are full of jingoistic war-makers’ pronouncements, the voices of the peacemakers are shut out.    

As Daniel Berrigan, now 90 and living in a Jesuit friary in New York City, observed in the summer of 2010 in an interview with author Deena Guzder for her recently-published book, Divine Rebels: "There's resistance all the time today, but there's no media. The media is a total sellout. You're not going to know the earth is shaking if nobody reports it, but there are still plenty of people who are trying to read the Gospel and act as if it were true."    

Berrigan, who is also a noted poet, has repeatedly spoken out and protested against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and nuclear weapons. He was arrested – without publicity – for the several-dozenth time on Good Friday 2010. (He told Guzder that he had been arrested more times than he could count but “fewer than I should have been.”) He and a dozen or so other activists were arrested as they were reading out the names of civilians killed in the current U.S. wars as a way of dissuading tourists from going on the aircraft carrier Intrepid, now a floating military museum moored in the Hudson River. Berrigan and his fellow protesters view it as “a symbol of war’s destructiveness.” A Jesuit housemate of Berrigan wrote that the judge hearing the case noted that he himself had opposed the Vietnam War and had been a Berrigan supporter back then – and went on to dismiss charges against all the defendants. A good little story in and of itself.

Next: There’s no good answer to why the press gives such short shrift to antiwar activities.

Posted by Alan McConnell
07/23/2011, 06:46 AM

Hmmm . . . Not only the MSM
suppresses anti-war activities.
RSN here does too. I submitted
an article yesterday(July 22)
about our button-selling and
yard sign distribution project
in the D.C. area. And it was
not accepted!

We live in strange times, when
even so-called liberal media
suppress news.

Alan McConnell, in Silver Spring MD

Protests & Media
Posted by Jose A. Rodriguez
07/23/2011, 08:32 AM

The Liberal media as we all know it, actually backs the GOP Tea party. Yes, you would think the media has something to do with not covering protests. IT DOES! Its the mnedia in conbination with the Israel lobby AIPAC in congress who want the wars in Mid East.
Remember Gen. Franks in Iraq? He told Bush he could withdraw troops because they were not needed. CNN mounted an impeach Bush/Channey campaign for 1 or 2 days, Bush came out blamed Franks and said Petreaus recomended more troops and ALL IMPEACHMENT TALK STOPPED! They retired Franks as they have done Gates.
Their lobby controls how congress votes and they blame Obama, because they want a GOP president who will continued on demilitarising Mid east so Israel can have military control. At our expense of course.
Vietnam was only as to make people think US actually tries to prevent spread of comunism. When through their lobby had been maintaining it with taxpayer money till recently! Follow me on Twitter @changeingyou

BBC Culpability
Posted by Philip Shahak
07/23/2011, 02:50 PM

The BBC have never told us who informed them that WTC building 7 had collapsed before it collapsed. If they had have done at the time we might have known there and then that 9/11 was an inside job. The BBC is therefore complicit in the deaths of around one million people.

Posted by Ray Songtree
07/24/2011, 03:28 AM

I'd like to thank authors for writing this article. It was bothering me that there were no protests, but now I know that there has been and I'm glad for that. with the Murdoch scandals and TSA and on and on, I believe a reservoir of conscience is building. As more mortgages foreclose and more people feel a pinch, I hope we can keep pointing out that 'its the military budget that has to be cut". I'm hoping the 40% of soldiers now with cancer from Depleted Uranium exposure will start demanding some help. Whien everyone is ignored, the truth doesn't go away, it doesn't get repressed, it just gets more potent. A tipping point is coming. All truth movements converge. I feel our job is simply to push for what we know is honest and good. There are so many victims now from so many scandals that our call for honesty and accountability will have a broad audience. By the way, Oslo inside job will be exposed. thank you for writing this.

Posted by Barnaby Camp
07/25/2011, 10:13 AM

I was involved early in the anti war movement but saw it taken over by wackos. While I believe that it is fine to have radical views, I also believe that radical tactics just look silly serving and only alienate the vast majority of people causing them to become more reactionary. Maybe the Veitnam war wouldn't have dragged on so long if Abbie Hoffman hadn't tried to levitate the pentagon.

Communications Executive
Posted by Jay B. Born
07/25/2011, 10:26 AM

The debt ceiling debate has sidetracked Americans - and this is D.C.'s intention - from the real issues in our country. The wars and their costs in NATO and civilian lives, not to speak of trillions of dollars, is a huge story no one covers. The self-serving David Petraeus, who commanded both failed wars, has managed to become CIA director while few citizens or media have paid attention. The Wall Street Journal just ran an article about the $34 BILLION wasted by the Pentagon on contractor fees. These are the contractors Petraeus has been babysitting and, no doubt, he will eventually consult for some of them to the tune of some fat fees. Thanks for this article. Keep covering this srory.

Posted by FaaLaveLave
07/25/2011, 10:32 AM

This article repeatedly says that the antiwar demonstrations do not begin to be of a size similar to those of the Viet Nam War or words to that effect.

I would like to remind you that on Oct. 26, 2002 there was a massive protest of the upcoming Iraq war in Washington, D.C. Buses arrived from all over the country. I, myself, rode a bus for more than 24 hours to attend that demonstration. The television coverage by C-Span & PBS reported that 5000 were there. The newspaper coverage was also dismissive.......but the actual attendance was 200,000 people! The Washington Mall was packed and the march around the White House packed the streets in a 360 circle. GWB left town and the parade route was nicely "covered" by billy club weilding police.

So, I have my doubts that this or any other publication is equipped to measure the import/size of the demonstrations OR the quantity of abuse that protestors are subjected to bear. The media is solidly behind the wars and have staunchly promoted them while belching whatever the latest "new release" is from headquarters (the White House). After all it is so much easier than actually sending reporters into the streets and seeing that true facts are reported!

Tea Party
Posted by A Garcia
07/25/2011, 10:34 AM

But the Tea Party who can sometimes only muster a handful of people at a rally get extensive coverage. Makes you wonder who the press is really working to support.

Posted by Chris Knapp
07/25/2011, 10:42 AM

it's a no brainer. who controls the media?? this is no surprise at all. didn't find this article on any mainstream media outlet either.

Posted by Walter Zimmerman
07/25/2011, 10:48 AM

One huge difference between the protests of the Vietnam Era, and those of today, is the absence of the draft. When such illegal wars are, essentially, someone else's problem, when they don't intrude as obviously into every American home, the media just isn't going to be interested.

Posted by Marco Polo
07/25/2011, 11:13 AM

The reason it isn't covered is because a liberal is the president. These were covered BIG TIME during the Bush administration - even the tiniest demonstrations. The media is protecting President Obama, the commander in chief. There is no other explanation. You know it.

Posted by jim
07/25/2011, 11:28 AM

mainstream Press isn't covering the protests because the protesters, the press and the President are all on left politically.

Given the election next year, that type of coverage would hurt the Democrats next year.

The writer of the aticle knows the facts, he is just engaged in advancing a voice of a sub-democratic group, to empower that group, for the upcomming election.

Posted by NadePaulKuciGravMcKi
07/25/2011, 01:55 PM

Criminals of the Controlled Press.
Criminals of the Controlled Media.

Enforcement of the September 11 Cover Story for ten years.

protests unheard of
Posted by Eric in Chicago
07/25/2011, 04:28 PM

There was an amazingly talented guy who produced an amazing jazz album by a band called Gold Sparkle Band.

In protest of the first gulf war he lit himself on fire vietnam monk style on the main freeway of Chicago, Kennedy Express.

The Chicago Tribune refused to cover it.

Posted by newman3rd
07/25/2011, 04:52 PM

If Bush was the President, the media would have cover every demonstrations.

Posted by Ludwig von Mises
07/25/2011, 05:01 PM

I bet we'd see more coverage if Obama wasn't in the White House. More evidence of media bias in handling this administration with kid gloves.

Precisely Why
Posted by Mark
07/25/2011, 06:33 PM

"During the Vietnam era, press coverage of the fighting and opposition to it at home helped turn public opinion against the war."


Follow the money. Who wins during wars? The military-industrial complex. THEY are the reason why the media (run by the GOP) doesn't cover this issue. As long as there is war, the materiel suppliers win and YOU lose. Coverage of anti-war protests prevent them from making money.

You and I don't live in a representative democracy anymore. And now you have proof.

This is why
Posted by Free Man
07/25/2011, 06:42 PM

Obama in the commander and chief of the military and the media.

Posted by yeah
07/26/2011, 07:24 AM

This was a really interesting article -- keep up the great work!

There is no liberal MSM
Posted by Barney Google
07/28/2011, 04:03 PM

Let's not rewrite history. During the Bush/Cheney years there was very little coverage of ANY anti-war demonstrations and if there was it was focused on a few extremists and served to minimalise the event. That included NPR, PBS as well as the NY Times, WA Post, MSNBC, etc, etc, etc.

MSNBC went so far as to FIRE Donahue just before the invasion of Iraq because, although he was among their top rated shows "THEY DIDN'T WANT ANY ANTI-WAR VIEWS AIRED AT SUCH A CRITICAL TIME".

Posted by D. Richey
08/02/2011, 03:43 AM

The Jews own the media and they want to kill Arabs. They censor our news everyday.

A Few Questions
Posted by DigESource
08/29/2011, 11:55 AM

I need a little help answering a few questions, and I thought this forum might be a good place to start:

If you kill someone on the orders of your country, is it murder?

If someone kills you on the orders of their country, is it murder?

If you kill someone on the orders of your employer, is it murder?

If someone kills you on the orders of their employer, is it murder?

If you kill someone on the orders of a Judge, is it murder?

If someone kills you on the orders of a Judge, is it murder?

If you kill someone because the law says you can, is it murder?

If someone kills you because the law says they can, is it murder?

If you kill someone because God says you can, is it murder?

If someone kills you because God says they can, is it murder?

If you kill someone because it will stop overpopulation, is it murder?

If someone kills you because it will stop overpopulation, is it murder?

If you kill someone on the orders of the most powerful person or group in the world, is it murder?

If someone kills you on the orders of the most powerful person or group in the world, is it murder?

If you kill someone on the orders of the least powerful person or group in the world, is it murder?

If someone kills you on the orders of the least powerful person or group in the world, is it murder?

I know these questions might seem redundant or repetitive, but I assure you they are not because each addresses the justifications I have witnessed in my life that people use for killing people. There may be a few others, but I think these are the big ones.

no hope
Posted by Anders
09/09/2011, 10:31 PM

"I bet we'd see more coverage if Obama wasn't in the White House. More evidence of media bias in handling this administration with kid gloves.

Obama in the commander and chief of the military and the media."

If, one could argue, 40% of the population in intellectually non-functional and 15% is insane, not to comment on the rest; how does that bode for "democracy"? Or species survival?

Where have all the war protesters gone?
Todd Gitlin writes in Salon that the antiwar movement has sputtered to a halt.

The antiwar movement isn't dead
Code Pink's Medea Benjamin responds to Gitlin, writing that the movement isn't dead.

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