By: Greg Mitchell and Dave Astor
Updated at 4:10 p.m. EST
So how did it happen that The New York Times ran two radically different news accounts of the same anti-war demonstration in Washington within four days?
Editors have refused to comment on the turn of events, but on Wednesday, Kathy Park, manager of public relations for the New York Times Co., e-mailed the following statement to E&P: “We were attentive to complaints from a fair number of readers that the number of demonstrations around the country and the number of participants in Washington warranted further coverage. We also looked at what news agencies and other publications had reported, and we felt that there was more we ought to say.”
On Oct. 27, the day after the march, the Times ran a relatively short piece noting that the number of protesters in Washington was “fewer” than organizers had hoped for. Since the organizers had only taken out a permit for 20,000 — and the crowd, by police estimates, totaled 100,000 — this was, of course, quite false. Three days later, as if to make amends, the paper ran a second, longer, “make-up” story noting that the huge turnout “startled event organizers, ” who hailed it as the biggest antiwar rally since the Vietnam war.
Contacted by E&P, the Times‘ Lynette Clemetson, author of the initial Oct. 27 story, seemed to feel something was missing herself. “I advocated for broader coverage of the march,” she said, “and I regret that we didn’t run a more comprehensive story.”
Media analysts have advanced various theories about how and why the paper missed the story the first time, from just lazy or sloppy reporting to preoccupation with other breaking stories to editors “overcompensating” for the paper’s alleged liberal bias by playing down the protest march.
Outraged marchers and other readers flooded the Times with complaints about the Oct. 27 story. Organizers of the march at International ANSWER told E&P they had received “thousands” of e-mail messages and calls from people saying they had contacted, or were going to contact, the Times to complain. The Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) group sent out an alert for people to contact the Times.