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29.10.02

There have been a lot of complaints circulating about the media's coverage -- or lack thereof -- of recent anti-war protests. Stories are brief, report low estimates of attendance (or none at all), and are buried toward the back of the paper. The explanation is generally based on some sort of "ruling class conspiracy" theory -- that the media, like the government, wants war to seem inevitable.

The media's self-appointed role in a free society is to be a sort of Socratic gadfly -- questioning everything, particularly the doings of those in power. Don't just take anyone's word for it; press for better explanations and more information. The lack of coverage of the protests is seen as an abdiaction of that role. But I think much of the problem can be explained by the media's desire to be the gadfly.

The master-narrative of war coverage so far has been its inevitability. Those in power are moving steadily toward confrontation with Saddam Hussein, and only distant nations like France are raising any questions. But this isn't being told in a "foregone conclusion" sort of way -- it's being told in an alarmist way. The media is setting up the "inevitability" storyline as a backdrop for its own questioning of the war. And the media has questioned the war -- every day, columnists, editorial pages, and investigative reports denounce the administration's course. The effect of all this is to enlarge the media's role, as the seeker of truth exposing the machinations of the powerful. Recognizing a strong anti-war movement would disrupt this storyline.

Of course, the same could be said for the anti-war movement. Recognizing the media's role would disrupt their storyline of a hegemonic powerful class heading for war that's being resisted by "the people" (though most of "the people" are turned off from the antiwar movement by its radical leftist leadership).

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