Thursday, January 30, 2003

International A.N.S.W.E.R.: "It's us against them.”

Would an “anti-war” front group for the Stalinist Workers World Party fib about the number of protestors at a demonstration?

Many newspapers have received complaints about under-counting the number of demonstrators at the recent International A.N.S.W.E.R. sponsored demonstrations in Washington and elsewhere. The experience of Minneapolis Star Tribune ombudsman Lou Gelfand appears to be typical of what was happening. Here are samples of the fifty-something “vibrations” he received:

"Your Sunday piece about the protests in Washington mentions that there were only 30,000 people in the march. I attended and there were at least 500,000. C-Span was reporting 700,000." -- Zachary Jorgensen.

"I attended the rally in Washington [and] there were over 700,000…" -- Elizabeth Tellen…

Complainants often said that the Washington Post reported 500,000 rallied.

In fact, as Gelfand notes, The Post reported that:

U.S. Capitol Police suggested the march drew 30,000 to 50,000 people. Protest organizers said that the number was closer to 500,000. The truth might fall somewhere in between the guesses, or it might fall somewhere beyond the edges.

As a rule, the larger the demonstration, the more seriously it is taken. So whose number are we to accept?

I don’t know about the Capitol Police number, but this piece in The Nation, about an experience from an earlier A.N.S.W.E.R. protest, shines some light on the numbers used by the protest organizers:

"I'll make a deal with you," said an ANSWER organizer at the Capitol rally to Terra Lawson-Remer of Students Transforming and Resisting Corporations (STARC), who was coordinating media outreach for the NSYPC event. "We won't play the Mumia tape again"--ANSWER had already broadcast a taped speech by Mumia at the Ellipse--"if you'll tell the press we had 150,000 people here." Lawson-Remer was in a bind; she didn't want them to carry out this threat, but she believed the turnout was in the 50,000 to 75,000 range. The ANSWER organizers pressed the point, arguing that whatever they said, the media would report fewer. This was not a difference of opinion about the truth. "It's not about accuracy. It's about politics. It's not about counting," said ANSWER's Tony Murphy condescendingly. "It's us against them. [The pro-Israel] demonstrators had 100,000 here last week." (Responding to a web version of this article, ANSWER's legal counsel called this account a "disgusting fabrication," but I can attest to its accuracy because I was there.)

ANSWER is notorious for inflating its demonstration numbers…

I certainly know whose numbers I won't be accepting at face value. And if they're willing to lie about basic stuff like this, what else are they willing to lie about?

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