A tale of two rallies

Last month, we looked at how the online producers at the Washington CBS station posted a photo slideshow that appeared under the rather literal headline:

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

For several days, the number of pictures of anyone who participated in the massive March For Life on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade was … zero. There were literally no pictures of any pro-life activists. Instead, the gallery featured the handful of pro-choice activists who counter-protested. After quite a bit of outrage and several days, the gallery was updated to include pro-lifers in about half of the pictures. How generous.

Anyway, if you enjoyed following that little brouhaha, you will get a kick out of this. The same local CBS affiliate has a piece headlined:

‘We Are Stronger’: Atheists To Hold Massive Rally On National Mall Next Month

The article begins:

Thousands of atheists are expected to attend the Reason Rally next month in Washington, D.C., an event that organizers hope will unify a large part of the secular community.

On March 24, the National Mall will be populated by those who sympathize with atheist perspectives, generally defined by an absence in belief of deities or other religious icons.

But the best part of the whole thing is the picture and caption that accompanies the piece. I’ve embedded it above. The reader who sent it in noted:

CBS reports a massive rally by atheists will be held on the mall. And there’s a picture of a massive rally to prove that it will. CBS expects thousands to come, certainly a massive number.

Who knows how massive or non-massive this atheist rally will be. It’s just interesting to see how different rallies are covered by the same outlet.

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  • Martha

    So we should expect the CBS photo slideshow, when this massive rally of thousands of atheists, secularists and freethinkers lines up in the Mall, to consist of twelve photos of a handful of six-day creationists counter-marching?

    *removes tongue from cheek*

  • Matt

    For the record, a truncated caption on the CBS page indicates that the photo is of the 2010 Stewart/Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.

  • Martha

    But Mollie, but Mollie! Atheists have been protesting about the lack of representation in American life for a few years now! There are regular reports in the papers of court cases won by atheists to remove religious symbols – why, here’s one just recently!

    So how is this rally news? Why would anyone be interested in thousands of people turning up to make the same old protests about the same old thing? I mean, if they’re going to consider doing it every year, don’t they realise how boring and dull that is for the media and that they need something fresh and exciting other than a huge march with participation from all over the country and placards – who cares about placards anymore?

    *darn, looks like my tongue is stuck cheek-wise*

  • http://catholicecology.blogspot.com/ Bill P.

    Who knows how massive or non-massive this atheist rally will be. It’s just interesting to see how different rallies are covered by the same outlet.

    Interesting? I’d say it’s downright scary.

  • William

    Mollie, it’s probably time for you to drop any pretense whatsoever to objectivity. It’s pretty clear that this site – and you – have a conservative bias. That’s fine – just be honest about it, k?

  • Ryan K.

    Strange observation William.

    First it is off point of the actual post and does not address the facts that Mollie actually produces in her post. Facts that show a discrepancy in how CBS chooses to cover rallies based on their convictions.

    But your comment also assumes that Mollie and others at GR would be fine with media coverage that disparage, distorted, or mis-represented religious issues that where “liberal” in nature…the problem is reality of our current media provides us with a very small sample size to actually find out!

  • William

    Actually, Ryan – you’re making massive assumptions here. All I’m saying is that GR shouldn’t pretend to be objective when it clearly is not. Mollie’s snotty comment regarding the actual numbers of athiests tells the tale.

  • Roger

    Agreed that it will be “interesting to see how different rallies are covered”. I don’t see that the media has taking sides, but its interesting nonetheless. These days its a matter of public relations who gets the media attention, and its all good that the media takes note that folks are rallying in DC.

    Consider that any march in DC is absolutely political, no matter if some talk about religion one way or another. What irony using the picture from the 2010 Stewart/Colbert rally, which was stressing reason in politics – where did they come up with that wicked secular notion that probably matches most closely the philosophies of our founding fathers.

    Fitting that this discussion comes up in the season of the biggest religious rallies worldwide – namely Carnival, Mardi Gras, the celebration of the Epiphany. These get little attention in the US, as they aren’t at all political and they might not fit the tv arm chair religious agenda, but participation in Carnival is growing worldwide.

    Any of these rallies are positive that people are getting involved in civic life, and that media takes note of any kind of rally is a positive thing.

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    William,

    What “snotty comment”? Mollie quoted a reader who said, “CBS reports a massive rally by atheists will be held on the mall. And there’s a picture of a massive rally to prove that it will. CBS expects thousands to come, certainly a massive number.” But Mollie herself said, “Who knows how massive or non-massive this atheist rally will be. It’s just interesting to see how different rallies are covered by the same outlet.” Who’s reading what agenda where?

  • http://catholicecology.blogspot.com/ Bill P.

    What Thomas A. said.

  • William

    Jeff, it’s pretty juvenile to dismiss someone with an opposing view as a troll, especially since I’ve been both courteous and candid. But thanks for caring.

    @Thomas – Mollie’s choice of quote implies agreement. If I’m wrong, she can correct me. You don’t need to do it for her.

  • Passing By

    One of the constants on this site is the complaint of those unable to make a rational argument, that the site is biased, or has abandoned it’s mission, or whatever.

    And never is the point of the post – in this case, the profound dishonesty of CBS news – addressed. In this case, coverage of the atheism rally, which has not occurred, will be easily compared with the coverage (such as it was) of the March for Life.

  • William

    Ok, Passing By, I’ll do it. CBS was NOT dishonest. The photo was clearly and correctly attributed. What’s missing from Mollie’s “story” is the fact that a leading athiest quoted actual numbers – whether or not they are accurate is a question that should be asked, as opposed to making snarky assumptions to the contrary.

    Those snarky assumptions reflect the bias of the poster and the site. And they call into question the site’s mission.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    William,

    First you say “it’s probably time for you to drop any pretense whatsoever to objectivity. It’s pretty clear that this site – and you – have a conservative bias. That’s fine – just be honest about it, k?”

    I have no idea what you’re saying here. What in the world is conservative or liberal about pointing out the disparity in how one CBS affiliate treats different rallies in DC? Seriously? I mean, we do argue for evenhanded journalistic treatment, but that’s not just a conservative or liberal cause. (Or if it is, there’s a serious problem!)

    Then you say, “All I’m saying is that GR shouldn’t pretend to be objective when it clearly is not. Mollie’s snotty comment regarding the actual numbers of athiests tells the tale.”

    Um, what? Here is the sum total of my comments on the “actual” numbers of an event that has not happened yet: “Who knows how massive or non-massive this atheist rally will be.” That is neither snotty nor unobjective. See, the rally has not happened yet, so I can’t comment on the size of the rally. (Until they work out the Time Travel App on my iPhone, at least)

    Finally, you say that CBS was not dishonest (I’m assuming you mean in how it is advancing the atheist rally story). Then you say the photo was clearly attributed (the existence of the photo of a massive rally with a story about a rally that has not happened yet belies any claim of clarity). And no one can quote “actual” numbers, again, from an event that has not occurred so I have no clue what you mean when you write that a leading atheist “quoted actual numbers.” Are you referring to how he claimed the movement has a certain number of people? That wasn’t the point of this post, was it? Did you think he was saying all of the activists in the movement would be attending the rally? That’s not how I read it but, again, has nothing to do with this post.

    Again, you can’t say I’m being snarky when I went out of my way to point out that we won’t know how many people attend this rally until it happens. That’s the opposite of snark. Sort of a straight-down-the-middle approach, actually.

    Just in general, if you want to attack something I’ve written, that’s more than fine, but try to be specific. Remember to quote what you think, for instance, is snarky and then explain why you think it is. To just hurl insults isn’t really productive.

  • William

    So very sorry that you felt insulted, Mollie, but I stand by my courteous and honest comments. I suppose Fisking can be perceived to be unkind, but your site has a stated mission and this post runs directly contra to that, particularly when it comes to tone.

    The leading atheist quoted a number of estimated American atheists. You omitted it from this post, while simultaneously calling into question how many people might show up at this rally. It’s intellectually dishonest to say that you weren’t snarking on the estimated figure of attendees when it’s obvious to anyone that you were.

    Likewise, it’s pretty clear that an honestly captioned picture can be made to seem dishonest if you twist the English language hard enough. The problem with that is that it ignores the fact that people can, you know, READ.

    How generous.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    William, I didn’t feel insulted, I just noted that you were insulting me. I don’t worry about people critiquing me, I just want you to do a better job of it. It’s not that you were unkind, it’s that you didn’t land any of your shots.

    You are correct that our site has a stated mission. Do you know what it is? If so, how could you ever imagine that this post “runs directly contra to that”? I mean, again, you are simply asserting things without actually even trying to make your case. And if you think my tone is a bug rather than a feature of my blogging, well, you’re wrong about that, too.

    I think your confusion might lie in you thinking that I really had anything to say at all about the atheist rally. I don’t and, in fact, to do so would be outside the purpose of this site. I was merely looking at the journalistic coverage of this rally (in advance of it) compared to the journalistic coverage of the pro-life rally (after it happened). Those two rallies could be for any two things and the point would stand — we should call for honest, objective, fair coverage of rallies, no matter if we agree with them or don’t.

    Again, what in the world does the “leading atheist” quoting any number about the movement have to do with anything I wrote? I addressed something about that in my previous comment so I won’t repeat it here (although I encourage you to re-read what I already wrote!).

    And while I find it charming that you think you know my motivations better than I do, I am going to have to disagree.

    And are you quoting my “how generous” comment for a point? Was it to demonstrate that I snark? (You will find no one who denies this.) But the snark is not in defense of atheists or against atheists. It’s against shoddy journalism. You do remember the context, right? That I was critiquing how CBS gave about half of a slideshow to a massive rally while giving the other half to a handful of counter-protesters?

    So, you see, you’re still wrong.

    I get that sometimes when we write about atheists, we get some rather focused people who want to write many comments on that topic. But that is not the purpose of this site.

    When the atheist rally hits town, we’ll be sure to look at coverage of it. If the coverage is bad, we’ll critique it. If it’s good, we’ll praise it. Please help us look for good or bad coverage when it happens.

  • William

    Methinks the lady doth protest too much, and her argument is self-defeating.

    I’m not sure how you find the logic in comparing coverage of a rally which has not yet been held with one that has. But there doesn’t really seem to be a lot of logic here.

    I have a suggestion which -like all suggestions from a stranger- you may take or ignore as you wish. Find an atheist and read your post out loud, then ask him or her if the post can in any way be considered neutral. You won’t like what you hear. And to avoid the obvious ad hom which is sure to follow, I am not an atheist myself.

  • Chris Bolinger

    Mollie, maybe you and TMatt should start a GetGetReligion blog.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    A reminder that everyone is welcome to post, but we do ask that you remain rational, reasonable and on point. Unfounded slurs — particularly slurs that you don’t try to substantiate even after being repeatedly requested to do so — can and will be deleted. Thx, the mgmt.

  • sari

    William–

    To rephrase Mollie’s point: all major rallies should be given equal coverage.

    In this instance she compared the paucity of media coverage for the recent March for Life, which has already occurred, and the upcoming We Are Stronger March, which has not yet happened. In comparing these two events, she noted that the latter rally, still a future event, has already received more coverage than the previous event, which involved a lot of people (a real lot by most accounts). This is bad media coverage, since journalists are supposed to report major news without using their personal views to triage events.

    Mollie also noted that the media chose not to provide a headcount of March For Life attendees (marchers?) but is already stating a “massive” number for the We Are Stronger event, which is still in the future. Again, this suggests sloppy and biased journalism, even to me, an uninvolved bystander.

    Her point, iow, was that members of the press seem to be very selective about what they cover and how.

  • Jeff

    “Jeff, it’s pretty juvenile to dismiss someone with an opposing view as a troll, especially since I’ve been both courteous and candid. But thanks for caring.”

    Don’t flatter yourself, William. I value Mollie’s work and I care about her not you. And because I care about Mollie, I must insist that your dismissing her as “snotty” is what’s juvenile here and that my recognizing you for the troll that you are is entirely adult.

    PS: Your use of the abbreviation “k” is not going to win you any points for gravitas.

  • Beate

    LOL, Mollie, clearly you didn’t see that the reporter has conquered the time space continuum! Okay, that was snarky ;-)

  • Passing By

    To be fair, the March for Life people didn’t claim specific numbers, at least any I could find or believe.

    The real fairness test would be to compare pre-rally coverage of the two events, except that afaik there were no pre-rally puff pieces for the March for Life. I am WWBB (waiting with bated breath) for coverage of the atheist event.

    And I don’t still don’t find attribution, partial or otherwise, of the picture on the CBS website. If it’s not from the March for Life, that’s fine. But then, i’m not that Bright.

  • sari

    To be fair, the March for Life people didn’t claim specific numbers, at least any I could find or believe.

    Different sites provided different numbers. Since the government folks no longer provide guesstimates, a journalist could use familiar landmarks to give an impression to the reader, something like attendees/ralliers/marchers filled several blocks or the entire Mall from X to Y. There are many ways to impart a sense of scale in the absence of numbers.

    Massive elevates the rally’s importance before the fact.

  • Passing By

    What’s interesting, sari, is that I couldn’t find any serious journalists doing that very sensible thing. The only numbers I found were those of pro-life bloggers who seemed rather more euphoric than realistic. I posted some links at the time and can’t find any updates.

  • John Pack Lambert

    Contrary to some claims I do not see Mollie saying anything about the “number of atheists”. Unless, of course, it is somehow an attack on atheists to assume that reporting on the turnout to an event a month before it happens is just not factual.

    How many people have shown up at this event? None. How many will show up at this event? I have no idea, but to claim the rally will be massive at the outset, before it happens, has no basis in fact.