Whither the Press on May 19?

In December 1996, the Virgin Mary put in an appearance at the Seminole Finance Corporation building in Clearwater, Florida. It was an unusual and timely event, and the Blessed Virgin, usually upstaged by sightings of Jesus and/or Elvis, got more than her fair share of media attention that holiday season. From a simple phone call to a local television station, news of the apparition soon circled the globe, and no lesser entities than the Associated Press, CNN, the Today Show, and ABC news were soon crawling all over one another to promote the miracle. Even after further investigation proved the image to be an accidental, albeit fortuitous, portrait produced by a combination of mineral deposits and shoddy window cleaning, Tampa Bay News continued to air a promotional spot pronouncing it “our own Miracle on 34th Street”.

Given the veritable media feeding frenzy generated by what, in the end, amounted to a three-dimensional yuletide Rorshach test, it is difficult to understand the silence surrounding the May 19 voting reform march in Washington DC. Conservative estimates put the head count at around 1200 in DC alone. This does not include the thousand or so more who showed up for the West Coast event in San Francisco. Yet without exception, the mainstream media covered its collective ears and closed its collective eyes while uttering the age-old mantra, “La, la, la. I can’t hear you.”

A sampling of national news articles from the New York Times on May 20 reveals the following “newsworthy” events:

  • A Utah Man with 5 Wives in Convicted of Bigamy
  • For Hindus and Vegetarians, Surprise in McDonald’s French Fries
  • Bible Belt Couples ‘Put Asunder’ More, Despite Efforts
  • A Farm Town in Nebraska is Lamenting the Loss of its Only Grocery Store

One hardly knows whether to laugh or weep.

What to make, then, of the May 28th Times editorial page? Should we be rejoicing over the fact that Maureen Dowd has finally recovered from her obsession with Bill Clinton’s penis and instead, turned her acid pen upon the witless wonder in the White House? Should we not tingle in our nether regions when we see the Op-Ed section proudly flying the Democratic colors of BOTH Paul Begala and James Carville? Should we see some small sign of hope in the fact that Paul Krugman is allowed to refer to His Residency – in print – as George W. “you-will-be-assimilated” Borg? Reflect upon this. To a person who has lived on freeze-dried cat food for the past six months, a can of Spam looks pretty darned good.

Yes, it is heartening to see the corporate media pounding on the great oaken doors of Castle W. But it is not good enough. And it will not be good enough until every major newspaper and every cable news network stops retreating from the battleground every time the specter of Election 2000 rears its ugly head.

What other reason could there be for ignoring thousands of outraged citizens waving signs and demanding voting reform? The topic was timely and relevant; the event well attended. The speakers were intelligent and articulate; the ideas presented were stimulating. It was not like the protest consisted solely of a nut case with a sandwich board petitioning our legislators to ban elderly women with wiener dogs from public sidewalks after 6 P.M. In every way, the protest was a newsworthy event.

Every way, that is, except one. In order to report anything at all about Votermarch, it would be necessary to admit that there was a need for voting reform. And to admit there is a need for voting reform would be to admit that something went terribly wrong in Election 2000. And to admit that Election 2000 was a real train wreck of an election is to admit that the current occupant of the White House might be an accidental president at best. Then there would be questions, yes, and maybe investigations, and in the end America might finally learn what Dubya’s little brother really meant when he said, “George, don’t worry about Florida.”

It is all well and good for the media to cough up occasional chunks of pre-digested Bush-bashing, but this must not be mistaken for a bright new age of journalistic integrity. When a protest march promoting voting reform receives as much press coverage as a ghostly image etched in mineral deposits on a dirty window in Florida, then maybe I, too, will believe.

By Carol Schiffler
Citizens for Legitimate Government
Tampa, Florida