Missing March for Life photos discovered

On Thursday, we looked at the rather shocking slideshow at the Washington CBS affiliate. It was headlined:

Activists Hold Annual March For Life On Roe v. Wade Anniversary

But it somehow hadn’t shown a single picture of an activist at the March for Life! Instead, it showed multiple pictures of the same handful of pro-choice protesters who protested the massive March for Life.

First, we have an update. Around 7 p.m. on Thursday, three days after the March for Life, the folks at CBS found some pictures of pro-lifers to include, rather after the fact. So now about half of the slides are of the hundreds of thousands of pro-lifers who descended on the mall and about half are of the roughly dozen or so pro-choicers who protested that same march. And for this, which is still a ridiculous use of a slideshow, we are thankful for the improvement.

We didn’t even discuss much of the Washington Post coverage here at GetReligion. I’d pointed out the reporters rather odd crutch on the phrase “antiabortion ideology,” which she repeated throughout her piece, but we didn’t talk about slides. We did have some readers complain and apparently the Washington Post ombudsman got an earful as well. He devoted his column to the matter:

Abortion is an issue that evokes passion on both sides, and journalists have to be deft in covering it lest their in-boxes overflow with angry e-mails.

So it was this week with the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in 1973 and the accompanying March for Life that has taken place here every January since.

The demonstration was a big event, as it always is. As the Associated Press pointed out in one of its stories that ran on The Post’s Web site on Jan. 23, it is “consistently one of the largest protests of the year in Washington.”

He then discusses how absolutely no one knows the size of the crowd as no one does official estimates. The only event with an actual headcount is one of the masses that precedes the march. It had some 17,000 people, he writes, but that’s the only official count that was even mentioned in the story. So how well did the articles and accompanying slideshows explain the size of the crowd? Not so well:

Still, you can find images of the large crowd taken by amateurs on Flickr or Facebook, and I imagine the AP took some, too. Probably Post photographers did as well.

But these shots didn’t find their way into the main Web photo gallery on the march. And I think this is where The Post fell down in its coverage of the march this year. And that’s mostly what antiabortion readers wrote to me about.

The online photo gallery contains 10 photos: seven tight shots of antiabortion demonstrators, two of protesters from the small abortion-rights counter-demonstration on the steps of the Supreme Court and one that showed both sides confronting each other there. In fact, eight of the 10 shots were taken at the high court.

Emotional shots make better photos, yes, but I would have chosen more from the broad expanse of the rally, and at least one photo showing a lot of cheerful, festive people, which is what I see at most demonstrations that I have covered over the years, regardless of the issue at hand.

As anyone who has been at a March for Life can tell you, it is if anything criticized for not being somber enough. It is a festive celebration of life at least as much as it is a somber remembrance of legalized abortion. That photos didn’t capture that is not good.

But what I found interesting about the ombudsman column, which is totally responsible and fair, are this quotes from the editors. The local editor basically apologizes for making it sound like the crowd was only 17,000 or so people. The photo editor? Well:

Said Post Director of Photography Michel du Cille, “We can never please this crowd. We try for fairness to show both sides.”

Are you freaking kidding me? Now, you can peruse the several years of March for Life mentions here on this blog and find that we go overboard trying to praise anything even remotely fine about March for Life coverage over the years. And that goes quadruple for the Post over the years. Considering how low the bar was (some coverage at various papers during the 1980s and 1990s still gets mentioned by media observers), we’ve been downright generous. But I can’t think of an incident where the Post photography department even tried to please “this crowd.” And let’s say they did try to “please” the crowd by accurately portraying the march, that doesn’t justify failing to accurately portray it in subsequent years. If he wanted to defend the coverage this year, he should try to do that. Blaming the victim is just not appropriate. And this appeal to “both sides” is not relevant in this case, obviously. It suggests that some commenters to the previous post were right when they blamed not the photographers but their editors.

The rest of the article looks over other aspects of the coverage and Pexton has some favorable and unfavorable comments.

On the other hand, maybe Post Director of Photography Michel du Cille was merely comparing himself to the West Coast, where things are — somehow — even worse. The California Catholic Daily says the efforts required by San Francisco’s major media outlets to avoid covering the Walk for Life West Coast bordered on obsession:

Any event that would bring 50,000+ persons to a demonstration, any event that would cause the closure of San Francisco’s busiest street for more than a mile, any event that would cause the San Francisco Muni to reroute rail line F, and bus lines 2, 5, 6, 8, 8X, 9, 10, 12, 14, 14L, 19, 21, 27, 30, 31, 38, 38L, 45, and 71, could fairly be classified as “news.”

But when a newspaper’s agenda prevents it from covering news, one is almost forced to sympathize. It’s like watching a recovering alcoholic stalking down the liquor aisle at Safeway — jaw clenched, looking neither to the right nor left, hoping to reach the safe haven of frozen strawberries or Occupy Wall Street. …

The only article the San Francisco Chronicle, the city’s major daily, did on the Walk For Life West Coast was prior to the event — and that C.W. Nevius’ column advising San Franciscans to ignore it! His editors, at least, appear to have taken his advice. The paper did send photographer Michael Macor to cover the event. He took some nice shots. They reproduced one in their newspaper. No article accompanied the photo. The Chronicle did reproduce nine photos on its website, still with no story, only a caption that read: “Thousands protest abortion Saturday at the eighth Walk for Life West Coast on S.F.’s Market Street. The crowd stretched from City Hall to Powell Street. Abortion rights supporters rallied at Justin Herman Plaza.”

Come on people. And it’s not that the Chronicle doesn’t cover ongoing protests. According to the California Catholic Daily, over the past 90 days, the Chronicle has published 415 articles on Occupy Wall Street. That’s a new ongoing protest and certainly we’d expect to see more coverage of it, but given the size of the crowds and the disparity in coverage, that’s just embarrassing.

So there’s certainly room for improvement. I’d advise the Post‘s photo director and all other journalists covering public protests to think far less about “pleasing” people — whether it’s the folks they hang out with in their newsrooms or the masses who are out in the streets protesting — and far more about just reporting the news as quickly and accurately as possible.

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  • Jerry

    Mollie, I’d say the same things you did but in much less restrained language. It’s going to take some time before my blood pressure is back to normal after reading

    We can never please this crowd.

    Sure you can. It’s not even hard:

    1. When there’s a big event, cover it.

    2. When there’s a big difference in numbers, show it.

    3. When you don’t like what people have to say, ignore your prejudice in the interest of journalism.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    What Jerry said.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    To be absolutely fair, I have been looking for numbers for the March and can’t find any that ring true. “Tens of thousands” per The National Catholic Register (the good NCR), and some bloggers claim 400,000, or even half a million but that seems euphoric to me. Solid numbers don’t are not accessible. Note the last link says that the official count at the Basilica was closer to 18,000 (17,851)

    On the pictures: I’m thinking the Post could have persuaded any number of bloggers to allow publication of any number of pics. They are all over the place. Here’s a nice video from the young people. I don’t think it was linked on the other thread, but it was in the comments under the CBS travesty.

  • Tragic Christian

    You can tell where the mainstream press falls by their choice of words they use (and I think “antiabortion ideology” is a new low). They’re always “pro-choice” and “anti-abortion.” Well, who wouldn’t be “pro-choice?” Nice, positive words — who doesn’t want more choice? Whereas pro-lifers are called ‘anti” (boooo!) abortion (BOOO!). It’s amazing that the people who are in favor of abortion don’t get saddled with the A word, and those who oppose it do! My personal favorite is the NPR usage, “opponents of abortion rights.” Opponents of rights, with That Word thrown in. Nope, no bias there.

  • Julia

    It’s amazing that the people who are in favor of abortion don’t get saddled with the A word, and those who oppose it do!

    And nobody remembers anymore what NARAL stands for.

  • Martha

    Nobody does an official estimate? Not even the police, who I would imagine are interested in crowd control? Not the local government departments, who have to issue licences and put diversions in place?


    Over here, you have to get a permit from the Guards (police force) if you want to hold a raffle for the local school. I rather imagine if upwards of 17,000 people are going to hit the streets of a major city, someone is keeping some kind of a count (even if it’s just the beancounters figuring out how much overtime they’ll have to pay the boys and gals in blue).

  • Martha

    I don’t know if this will be any help to the “Washington Post” ombudsman, but according to this helpful site (which I found by typing in “permits for holding marches washington dc” into Google, 2nd result that came up), what you do is thisj(extracts from numbered list):

    “2 Contact the National Parks Permit Office by calling (202) 619-7225. Ask them to fax you a permit application.

    5 Make sure to specify the estimated number of people participating in the protest and the main contact person. That person must sign and date the application.

    7 Mail the original application and highlighted map to: National Parks Permit Office, Room 128, 1100 Ohio Drive Southwest, Washington, District of Colombia 20242.

    8 Wait about a week for a National Parks Agent to call. This agent will be specifically assigned to your organization for the permit application process. Have the agent give you her direct extension for further questions and information.

    10 Start campaigning for participants with your permit in hand. The National Parks Permit Office will take care of notifying the District of Colombia Police and other city organizations that require special events notification. It’s that simple!”

    So perhaps some daring investigative reporter from the “Washington Post” could ring up the National Parks Permit Office and ask them about the march? After all, if all these out-of-towners are turning up without permits, there’s a ready-made news story for you!

  • Martha

    Also, I know times are tough all over, but maybe the “Post” could still spring five bucks (plus whatever postage) for the 2012 Annual Report from the March for Life website?

    If they’re claiming figures like the below, isn’t it time a hard-hitting investigative reporter called them on their inflated figures? (That is, if the figures are inflated).

    The First March 1974 20,000
    March 1975 50,000
    March 1976 65,000
    Marches 1977-1998 Up to 100,000
    The 25th March 1998 225,000
    March 1999 125,000
    March 2000 100,000
    March 2001 225,000
    March 2002 100,000
    Marches 2003 – 2007 200,000

    Who knows, they might even scoop their hated rivals at the “Washington Times” (are they hated rivals?) who get quoted in the Wikipedia article on the March as stating that “Harper, Jennifer (January 22, 2009). “Pro-life marchers lose attention”. The Washington Times. Retrieved 2011-01-27. “[T]he event has consistently drawn about 250,000 participants since 2003.”

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Martha, like I said, I’ve been googling around since the event and haven’t found an official estimate, or even a credible guesstimate, of the 2012 event. The Washington Times article says the permit was for 50,000, but the crowd typically exceeds that number.

  • Martha

    Passing By, even 50,000 (if we take it as a fairly reliable number and err on the low side) is not just a few isolated hardliners turning up every year.

    If the paper really can’t see the difference between 50,000 people marching for position A and 10,000 people marching for position B, then I don’t think they really can be all that surprised when their readers prefer to look up “amateurs on Flickr or Facebook” for the coverage they’re not getting in the mainstream.

    Okay, so it’s “not news” because it happens every year. But this is an election year in America, is it not, and there are several Republican candidates out there trying to appeal to religious values voters, are they not, and all these tens of thousands of marchers are voters, are they not?

    I would have thought that just casting an eye over them and writing up some sort of story – even a scare story about ZOMG, the theocrats are going to take away our rights, look how many of them are being organised by the right-wingers! – might be the kind of thing a newspaper would be interested in covering.

  • Deann

    The Austin American-Statesman is certainly not noted for its conservativism but I was surprised by its efforts in crafting a story that did express both sides, especially in the images it chose to publish. The cutline for the crowd shot noted the size of the crowd by actually citing DPS figures. Witness: <>

    And yes, they PACKED downtown Austin streets.

    Concerning the Stylebook-mandated word choice, what Tragic Christian said, but can’t fault the Statesman for the headline:

    Anti-abortion rally draws thousands to Capitol

    The AP Stylebook entry says this: <>

    The big surprise in Austin American-Statesman coverage was its bold choice [pun intended] to include an image of a woman carrying a big sign reading “I regret my abortion.” Nor were the images that the Statesman published stacked with the pro-choice protesters. The images were solely of the protest. This was, after all, the Texas Rally for Life.


  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Mollie–I really like the fact that you noticed that the march is a “festive celebration of life” and not just an intense political action— and believe there should be some coverage of that fact.
    Virtually all the pro-life people I know are truly joyful people–not the intense, tightly wound people they are sometimes portrayed as.
    Indeed, it is the fact they find life wonderfully joyful most of the time that leads pro-life people to consider denying the joys of life to another a supremely horrible, evil act.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Martha –

    Slow down! I agree with you. :-)

    I’m surprised at the lack of numbers, though. In a sense, it doesn’t matter, but every year it’s a big issue, and this year it seems to be a non-issue.

  • Elaine T

    There was some big protest about ten years (or more) ago, where there were dueling ‘official’ estimates of crowd sizes in DC and it all became a big stink. I think it might have been the Million Man March. Anyway, after the amazing amount of fuss the various official crowd estimates caused, the Powers That Be who used to do such estimates declared No More Crowd Estimates.

    That’s why no one can find any.

    I can’t possibly be the only person who remembers this, surely?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Elaine T,

    Was it the Million Man March in 1995? Or was it something to do with pro-life or pro-choice marches? I can’t remember, although it was a long time ago and yes, that’s why there are no official crowd counts.

    I don’t know how to count crowds. I know enough to say that the “half a million” number I heard struck me as quite an exaggeration but that “thousands” is not the description that conveys how large the crowd is, particularly when the pictures show one individual after another but none of the large parades, etc.

  • Paul Nichols

    I’ve never been to a March for Life, but my daughter goes with her college Students for Life organization.

    But I suspect that the reason so many of us can’t go is because we, unlike “Occupy” or other Left-wing supporters, actually have jobs and work for a living, which often doesn’t afford the luxury of going out and joining protests.

    And yes, the reason the Park Service quit giving estimates is because of the stink from some left-wing protest that went on back in the 90′s.

  • Rachel K

    What I find oddest about the “there’s no story in the March for Life” line is that there IS a story. This year was my first march, and right away I noticed that every single political sign I saw was for either Santorum or Paul. Maybe there were Gingrich or Romney signs that I didn’t see, but the Santorum and Paul signs outnumbered them. Throw in all the Students for Life signs that said “I Vote Pro-Life First,” and you start developing a pretty clear picture of how dissatisfied pro-lifers–a huge subset of values voters–feel about the GOP frontrunners, and exactly how unconvinced people are by Romney’s supposed pro-life conversion. There’s a story there. I wish there had been a journalist there to tell it.

  • John

    I was at the march, there was not “a dozen” pro choice people, there was probably 6 or 7. GO LIFE!!!