Shooting the Messenger

Photo byVirginia Lee Hunter

On Saturday, a noisy, mostly young contingent of 3,500 anti-war protesters assembled at Hollywood and Vine, the site of January's impressively larger demonstration, to begin the fourth local march in as many days of war in Iraq. The rally, sponsored by ANSWER, was called not so much to denounce the war as to denounce war coverage — by Cable News Network, whose dispatches from Baghdad in 1991 made cable an essential source of firsthand reportage during the Gulf War. ANSWER accuses CNN and the other mainstream media of "cheerleading" for the Bush administration, ignoring peace demonstrations, refusing dissidents access to the airwaves, and feeding Americans government-sponsored propaganda. With Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins and Eddie Vedder on hand, the marchers headed due south on Vine Street, then two blocks west on Sunset, to CNN's local broadcast facility, at Cahuenga Boulevard. Later that afternoon, many of the marchers returned to Hollywood and Vine, where 40 staged a sit-in. They were arrested and cited by the LAPD for failure to disperse.

The round of worldwide anti-war demonstrations this weekend may prove that it will be easier to win the war in Iraq than it will be to keep the peace at home. An irrepressible surge of distrust in the new New World Order doctrine of pre-emptive attack, and anxiousness over the dangers inherent in trying to impose a global Pax Americana, sent hundreds of thousands into the streets of European capitals and cities across the U.S. The anti-war movement might be losing domestically at the polls 3-to-1, with most Americans saying they back Bush le petit gendarme, yet a stubborn corps continues to resist the hubris and militarism of the world's lone superpower. Whether this resolve will become a potent political force or devolve into pointless manifestations of its own defeats is a question that can be answered only when the bombing stops and retired Army Lieutenant General Jay Garner takes command in his appointed role as interim civil administrator in Iraq. Bush and Blair are likely to be portrayed as heroes — the objective of liberating Iraq having now been fully adopted as the reason for war.

The prospect of a U.S. military incursion actually ripping the lid off an oppressive and brutal regime has got the anti-war movement in something of a pickle. Arguing against military adventurism may be right, but now that it seems clear that Hussein will fall and that an opening will emerge in Iraq, what do the demonstrators who stand for peace and democracy have to offer?

ANSWER, which printed up many of the placards at Saturday's demo, had this to say: "CNN: Children Die, You Profit." And this, "CNN: War Is Not a Video Game." If this seemed a bit less than an essential issue — in truth, a sideshow distraction — ANSWER nevertheless found an audience for the (disgruntled) view that the media are the message. The specific target was CNN, whose red logo identifies its local headquarters as the black glass tower at Sunset and Cahuenga. (Coincidentally, CNN had been silenced by the Iraqi government the night before, its four journalists expelled from Baghdad for being too pro-American.)

After the short, lively march south from Hollywood and Vine, the crowd formed a large semicircle in front of the CNN building facing the loggia, which was festooned with an enormous American flag secured tightly to the building with cables drawn through grommets sewn to the edges of the waterproofed banner. The only other American flag on display, carried by a marcher, had the customary 13 stripes, but instead of 50 stars, had corporate monikers — IBM, Microsoft, Westinghouse, Shell Oil, Bell, et al.

The crowd, following the lead of an MC communicating over a pair of metal cone-shaped loudspeakers, of the kind seen at a Little League baseball diamond, took up the chant: "CNN and NBC/Put the peace march on TV." Sharon Delugach, an aide to state Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, explained why CNN was today's target. "People around the world depend on CNN for their news. [CNN has] the international feed. But all they have is current or retired military experts, and no skeptics. You never hear from anybody opposed to the war. Tens of millions are against the war around the world, and you never hear about it on CNN."

Tim Robbins provided definitive evidence in the brief against the Atlanta-based broadcaster, saying, "When 2 million went into the streets in London, and finally the chief of police told the mayor, 'You can say there were 1 million,' CNN reported '500,000 marched.'" The crowd spontaneously launched into a chant — "Shame!" "Shame!" "Shame!" — each denunciation aimed upward at the windows shielding the network's offices from the cries below.

And if CNN had put this demonstration on TV, what would the audience have thought? Would they have wondered what all the fuss was about? (Oddly, among the marchers themselves there is so little faith in what CNN reports — many insisted that CNN was lying about the accuracy of U.S. bombing and deliberately minimizing civilian casualties — that one wonders why they would even want the network to cover the movement if it will only be wrapped in falsities.)

Asked if the gripe against the network was a diversion, Mark Harris, a USC film school professor, and his wife, Susan Harris, a psychologist, answered, "CNN seems to be completely co-opted by the government. They are embedded physically and conceptually in Bush's political philosophy. This protest is another manifestation of the resistance to George Bush's policy. Overall, it's a march against the war and his policy."

No doubt this was as true for many others who attended Saturday's march as it was for the Harrises. Unfortunately, that opposition was obscured in the flurry of sloganeering against CNN, Fox, NBC, CBS and ABC. Perhaps Haskell Wexler, the Academy Award­winning cinematographer and veteran anti-war activist, pinpointed the political struggle ahead when he said, "I like what Jimmy Carter said: 'Pre-emptive war opens the box for more and more wars, and more and more excuses for war.'" That may not be the kind of cry to bring out thousands to protest, but it might just be the sort of sentiment to push for regime change in Washington.

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