The Washington Post put the 9-12 conservative rally at the top of the Sunday paper with two color pictures, one of them a wide crowd shot below the Capitol dome. The headline was "Lashing Out at the Capitol: Tens of Thousands Protest Obama Initiatives and Government Spending."
But what stuck out like a sore liberal thumb on Sunday morning was how an Internet browser would need to look hard for it on the Washington Post home page. The top headline was "U.S. to Give More Rights to Afghan Inmates." Below that, an evergreen story on "Wall Street Goes to Washington." Scroll down, and the next headline is "In Minn., Obama Pushes Reform." If you look hard underneath that, in small type: "Lashing Out at the Capitol."
But if you didn’t know that was the 9-12 rally story, you’d think the Post skipped it entirely. (There’s also a camera icon for photos and the word "Protesters," if that’s enough notice.)
Four photos are rotating in the upper left corner of the home page, but none of them are about national politics. Go figure.
Sunday’s front-page story by Emma Brown, James Hohmann and Perry Bacon started with a label again: "Tens of thousands of conservative protesters, many of them complaining that the nation is racing toward socialism, massed outside the U.S. Capitol on Saturday, angrily denouncing President Obama’s health-care plan and other initiatives as threats to the Constitution."
The Post said "Authorities in the District do not give official crowd estimates, but Saturday's throng appeared to number in the many tens of thousands." How many tens? Enough for the Post to say "hundreds of thousands" were present? Their headlines on the front page and inside the paper stuck to "tens of thousands" – not even "many tens of thousands."
The Sunday story was a little slower than Saturday’s in expressing alarm over extremism at the rallies and how it might ruin the Republicans. Paragraph six included this mention: "a growing number of GOP leaders are dropping their wariness and seeing the political possibilities of latching onto this freewheeling coalition. Others are cautious about embracing views that can be seen as extremist." That was still on the front page.
There was also this strange passage, suggesting the protesters were fringy and possibly not very representative of public opinion: "Although it is unclear whether the demonstrators represent a large segment of voters or even of Republicans, Saturday's march illustrated that activists, some of whom are not enthusiastic about the GOP, have been galvanized."
Most of the story was a decent recounting of conservative sentiment at the rally. There were five conservative labels. But in paragraph 17, it was time for the Post to let liberals denounce the protesters as a small minority of voters on the "far right."
"There is a lot of intensity on the far right to defeat the president's agenda, but I am not sure that holding up signs that say we have to bury health reform with Senator Kennedy will go over well with moderates and independent voters," said Doug Thornell, an adviser to Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).
Saturday's demonstrators spanned the spectrum of conservative anger at Obama, including opponents of his tax, spending and health-care plans and protesters who question his U.S. citizenship and compare his administration to the Nazi regime.
Most signs were handmade: "Socialism is UnAmerican," "King George Didn't Listen Either!" "Terrorists Won't Destroy America, Congress Will!" and "The American Dream R.I.P." Many protesters carried the now-familiar poster of Obama made up to look like the Joker, captioned "Socialism."
Inside, there were four large color photos of the rally. Three took up about 75 percent of page A12. The photo on A13 showed a protester yelling at Edward Kimmel of leftish Takoma Park, Maryland and his "Public Option Now!" banner.
So let's compare the 9-12 rally to the way The Post's high-water mark in recent left-wing protest coverage, the April 2006 rally promoting amnesty for illegal aliens.
Number of Post reporters with rally by-lines: three (in 2006, 19)
Number of other Post staff writers credited for contributions from across America: four, all in Washington (in 2006, 20).
Number of Post staff photographers listed in photo credits: two (in 2006, 7).
Number of stories: one (in 2006, 13, including a Rally Voices" feature).
Number of Post pages devoted to the rally, added together, visual estimate: two (in 2006, 8).
Of those, number of full advertising-free Post pages devoted to the rally: zero (in 2006, 4).
Number of photos: five (in 2006, 39, including the "Rally Voices" head shots).
Number of usages of ideological terms: five conservative labels. (in 2006, in 13 stories, zero liberal labels).