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Too Much

The Indy Media Center doth protest -- about protest coverage

Generals, it is said, are always preparing to fight the last war. And so are peace activists, if an August 14 presentation by the Independent Media Center was any indication.

Before a lecture on media consolidation by University of Pittsburgh Professor Jonathan Sterne, IMC activists demonstrated to the audience of 18 why they feel media conglomerates cannot be trusted with the news. Exhibit A was the local coverage given to a March 20 peace protest in Downtown Pittsburgh, which ended with the arrests of more than 120 marchers.

IMC activist Matt Toups played what he called a "little game," showing footage of the protest taken by PCNC without sound first, and then with Emilie Story's reporting dubbed in. The footage shows the rough-and-tumble of numerous arrests, including several protestors being pushed to the ground and complaining about their treatment. But Story's narration referred repeatedly to the violence of the protestors, who she said "threw peace out the window" by vandalizing cars and other acts.

In fact, there were skirmishes involving a small number of protesters and drivers during the march, although these took place long before the arrests began. And Story did speak to protestors about claims that the police acted too zealously; Toups agreed the PCNC report "was the most sympathetic to the protestors" because it did "present the issue of police misconduct." Other stations, he said, treated the whole march as "an absurd event."

But if the goal of the protest was to send a message about Iraq, even the best TV news report may be a bad medium. Any discussion of the war was lost in the hype surrounding the behavior of the police and protestors. As Sterne said in his lecture, "Protests are supposed to get attention drawn to the issue. What was the story about? Was the story about the war in Iraq? No, it was about the protest."

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By Mars Johnson