More Messages: Post-rally observations

Mainstream Denver media operations generally gave appropriate play to the May 1 "A Day Without Immigrants" rally -- but several of them had difficulty putting protests of the protesters into context.

A Westword reporter who attended the rally estimated that by mid-afternoon, an assemblage of perhaps a hundred folks in support of criminalizing undocumented workers had gathered at Civic Center Park. Given that approximately 75,000 people on the other side of the issue were in attendance, this total represented a tiny percentage of the whole. Yet because the naysayers were loud and rowdy, and provoked numerous shouting matches with other attendees, stations such as Channel 9 couldn't resist providing them with more airtime than their ranks justified. Indeed, the morning after, 9News.com gave the anti-reformers a home-page plug just below the link to the main rally coverage, as if the two groups were practically equivalent.

The Rocky Mountain News did a better job of contextualizing the send-them-back-to-Mexico crowd. Yes, the tabloid devoted an entire page to this aspect of the story, but the article ran in the middle of the paper, after several comprehensive reports about the rally as a whole. Better yet, the Rocky noted near the top of the piece that only about a hundred dissenters were present, giving math-oriented readers the opportunity to determine that the rally's opponents were outnumbered approximately 7,500 to one.

In contrast, the Denver Post completely overstated the size and impact of the counter-demonstrators, in a misbegotten attempt to achieve balance. A front-page story juxtaposed the groups in a headline, "Marchers, Foes Work Hard to Get Messages Across," and gave far too much prominence to a story labeled "Many at Denver Rally See Illegal Immigrants as Trying to Gain Something They Have Not Earned." The use of the word "many" is extremely dubious, and so were these lead sentences: "As an estimated 75,000 peaceful people marched through Denver on Monday to draw attention to immigration issues, thousands more watched them go by. Not all were sympathetic."

Some readers may have interpreted the lines as implying that a hefty percentage of those "thousands" of bystanders actively opposed the rally. In truth, the majority were simply enjoying the show, not screaming about erecting fences on the border -- and while the article did note that only about a hundred march dissenters were at Civic Center, this factoid was toward the bottom of the account, and could easily have been missed.

In truth, it was the protest protesters who could easily have been missed. Instead, they got far more media attention than they deserved. -- Michael Roberts

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