Chronicle Herald's demonization of peace demonstrators

"The demonstrators' estimation of Bush was inconsequential to the picture that was painted of the demonstrators"

HALIFAX (5 December 2004) -- THE CANADIAN MEDIA who were so indignant when US President Bush failed to acknowledge Canada as a steadfast partner following 9-11, who dutifully reported the undiplomatic tirades of US Ambassador Paul Cellucci when Canada didn't obey imperial dictates from Washington, were lapping up the scraps of gratitude that Bush tossed Canada's way three years later.

For a military city like Halifax, an antiwar turnout of 4,000 to 5,000 during a chilly weekday morning is exceptional. But the Chronicle Herald trivialized the demonstrators with leading text.

The front page noted a side agenda of Bush to secure Canadian participation in the Ballistic Missile Defense program. But also on the front page was a piece by the editor Bob Howse entitled "Audience laps up Bush's brotherly love." He noted how, among the invitees (the list of which is as yet not completely disclosed), Bush was a "hit."

For the mass of demonstrators Bush was other than a hit. Apparently the demonstrators' estimation of Bush was inconsequential to the picture that was painted of the demonstrators.

Staff reporter Jeffrey Simpson's Notes from the Bush" began: "Through the din of protest chants and the haze of pot smoke in downtown Halifax..." Simpson criticized the vocalizations of the demonstrators and then insinuated that the demonstrators were pot smokers, a group that is demonized in corporate Canadian society.

One wonders about how Simpson became so expert in differentiating marijuana haze from tobacco haze. This writer never noticed (or smelled) any marijuana haze.

Even if some or all demonstrators were pot smokers then so what? The Chronicle Herald had headlined the march on page 5 as "peaceful opposition."

In the next paragraph Simpson described how Halifax Mayor Peter Kelly was walking among "dreadlocked protestors" gathering litter. Beside is a large photo of a forlorn-looking Kelly, but of the eight other people visible in the photo none have dreadlocks. What was the reference to "dreadlocked protestors" supposed to reveal anyway? The online encyclopedia Wikpedia notes the negative connotations stirred up for some by dreadlocks: "They are considered a badge of an 'alternative lifestyle' in Europe and America because they are often perceived as messy and dirty."

I saw Mayor Kelly picking up garbage at 9:15 before any protestors had even arrived.

Is Simpson implying that the demonstrators were responsible for carelessly discarding their garbage? I queried Simpson about these details in his notes and asked if he was insinuating something in his descriptions of the demonstrators.

Simpson refused to have his response be put on the record.

The Chronicle Herald published no photos to convey an impression of the immensity of the antiwar gathering. Although Bush supporters were few, Simpson saw fit to devote an entire piece to those "Supporters [who] bravely buck anti-Bush wave."

Simpson wrote of university students calling pro-war demonstrators names. One Dalhousie University student, Sean Ritchie, called the protests "ridiculous." Ritchie suggested the pro-peace demonstrators "get their minds in check."

Given the scarcity of pro-war demonstrators, the article creates a skewed perspective on the composition of the demonstrators. As such the Herald Chronicle serves as an instrument of disinformation.

* Kim Petersen is a political analyst and school teacher resident in Halifax, and a contributing writer to shunpiking magazine, The Dissident Voce, and Press Action

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