By: Lesley Messer
Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a U.S. soldier who died in Iraq last April, is making headlines this week for camping outside President Bush?s Texas ranch until he meets with her to discuss the ongoing war. The Lone Star Iconoclast, a weekly based in Bush?s hometown of Crawford, Texas — previously best known for endorsing Sen. John Kerry for president last year — has devoted a great deal of time and effort documenting nearly every moment of Sheehan?s protest on its Web site, in story, picture and blog form.
Sheehan supporters, and others, have been flocking to the site for up-to-the-minute reports on everything from invading ants to invading media hounds. Reporters at the small weekly have taken turns blogging and snapping photos, and W. Leon Smith, publisher and editor-in-chief has also visited the site, blogging a lengthy interview today with a Sheehan friend who also lost a son in Iraq.
Although this type of coverage may be typical for larger media outlets, Smith said it?s very unusual, and demanding, for the newspaper with a three-person editorial staff that, under normal circumstances, only updates its Web site weekly. Now it?s server is under constant stress.
?We do what we can. We?re like any other media out there — we try to get the information as soon as we can do it,? he said. ?We?re very limited with what we can do on our Web site, the way it?s established,? he added. ?We?re going beyond what our capabilities are in some way.
?Here we are just an itty-bitty paper and we beat everybody else. We beat all the big guys as far as getting something out there and I guess that?s kind of satisfying. We?re just trying to make a big effort. We?re following a big story.?
He traced the genesis of his commitment to Sheehan supporters who, before arriving, told him they were worried that the protest would draw little coverage. On August 6, the newspaper launched what it calls ?Cindy Watch? — a blog-like series of news updates and interviews with those involved. It?s been maintained and expanded since.
Smith went to the camp last night to see what conditions were like and take a few photographs. He ended up talking briefly to Sheehan and then did an in-depth interview with Bill Mitchell (who was featured in two columns by E&P?s Greg Mitchell last year), father of a soldier who died in Iraq the same day as Sheehan?s son.
Sheehan, meanwhile, ?has done a number of interviews with members of the international and national media,? Smith said today. ?I think there was a newspaper from London there yesterday or the day before. And there was a [documentary maker] from France there. All the major networks, cable, big papers in the United States.? Maureen Dowd wrote a column about Sheehan today, and her paper, The New York Times, carried a lead editorial about her protest yesterday.
And while he said he wouldn’t consider the area around Sheehan to be a media circus, Smith said there there was definitely a lot of energy coming from the various sources trying to get interviews.
?I?ve probably had about 500 e-mails from people thanking us for [the coverage], for having the guts to do this,? he said. ?A lot of responses we?ve had are people supporting Cindy Sheehan and wanting to know how to make contact with her, and we?ve been helping with that, forwarding messages.?
This helps to explain why more of the local response has been negative. There was one, he said, that stuck out in his mind. It accused Sheehan of being a ?sick woman? acting like a martyr and making a spectacle of herself.
Others have been showing disdain for Sheehan because they are afraid her protest will cause a road leading to various farms to be closed.
Nevertheless, Smith plans to continue this type of coverage as long as it stays newsworthy. ?I expect that it will stay that way for awhile but then again it could end tomorrow if she gets arrested. So we really don?t know,? he said. ?We?re just going for the ride, trying to do our job.?
Here is an excerpt from a typical report on the paper’s site late this afternoon, Nathan Diebenow reporting:
Cindy is just going from media to media, one after another…. A ton of flowers are everywhere. Cindy Sheehan is wearing a blue overcoat and carrying two yellow roses.
Her hat has been signed by a bunch of people.
Cindy said she would do anything to keep him [her son] out of war, she would take him to Canada or she would run him over with her car. She noted that Casey said, ?Mom, I want to go to help my buddies.?
It is a little humid. Crickets are chirping. There are about 2 to 3 dozen people consistently. There is a lot of media out here.
Cindy is being transported back to the Peace House and will be back at 4:15. There are no crosses yet. There will be meetings to determine when and where to put them.