While Giving Obsessive Coverage to the Tea Parties, Media Ignored Larger Antiwar Rally

As congressional debate on health care reform comes to a close and the House of Representatives is nearing a vote on the Senate’s health care legislation, one group that has been getting more than its fair share of media attention has been the far-right tea party. As a small number of protesters gathered on Capitol Hill yesterday to demonstrate against the passage of health care legislation, the major media outlets gave obsessive coverage to the group:

– In an article titled “Raucous Tea Partiers Protest Bill,” the Politico reported that “Thousands of Tea Party protesters filled Upper Senate park” to voice their opposition to Democrats’ health care plan. [3/20/10]

– Fox News.com trumpeted the protesters in a piece titled “Tea Party Activists Make Last Stand Against Health Care Vote,” where it even uncritically reported the claim of one activist that 25,000 demonstrators attended the event. [3/20/10]

– In an article titled “GOP Leaders, Tea Party Activists Pledge to Fight On” CQ Politics noted that “House Republican leaders received a rock star’s welcome” from tea partiers. [3/20/10]

While the tea party demonstrations — which were estimated to have been attended by 1,500 – 2,000 people according to Capitol Hill police officers — received an enormous amount of press coverage, a larger demonstration took place. A crowd estimated to be 2,500-strong by Capitol Hill police officers marched through the streets of Washington to mark the seventh anniversary of the war in Iraq and to call on Obama to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and focus all of his efforts on domestic priorities like health care and education.

The news media did not find the second, larger march to be as newsworthy as the tea party demonstration. Using the media data-mining tool Critical Mention, a search by ThinkProgress of the keyword “protest” of the three major cable news networks — CNN, MSNBC, and Fox — found that the tea party protests were covered 31 times between March 19th and March 21st, and the antiwar demonstration was only covered twice.

Unfortunately, the media’s marginalization of war critics is nothing new. The media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) surveyed six major national news shows as well as PBS’s NewsHour during the run-up to the Iraq war. The FAIR study found that during these pre-war months, the major media outlets featured war supporters 24 times as often as it featured war opponents.