Tuesday’s New York Times played up the big Monday rally against America in Najaf. The online headline hyped: “Huge Protest In Iraq Demands America Withdraw.” The front page of Tuesday’s Times was milder: “Protest In Iraq, Called By Cleric, Demands U.S. Go,” and that “Thousands Support Sadr.”
Reporter Edward Wong began: “Tens of thousands of protesters loyal to Moktada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric, took to the streets of the holy city of Najaf on Monday in an extraordinarily disciplined rally to demand an end to the American military presence in Iraq, burning American flags and chanting ‘Death to America!’”
Redstate.com reported the U.S. military estimated a crowd of 5,000 to 7,000, but media accounts routinely stated “tens of thousands” rallied, which would imply at least two tens, or 20,000 protesters. Wong mentioned the various estimates in paragraph 20, but disagreed with the military estimate:
Estimates of the crowd’s size varied wildly. A police commander in Najaf, Brig. Gen. Abdul Karim al-Mayahi, said there were at least half a million people. Colonel Garver said that military reports had estimates of 5,000 to 7,000. Residents and other Iraqi officials said there were tens of thousands, and television images of the rally seemed to support their estimates.
Did Wong check out the aerial photo before laying out such a wild range of estimates? While a subheadline mentioned the protest took place “4 Years After Baghdad’s Fall” and a front-page caption also mentioned it was merely the fourth anniversary of “Baghdad’s fall,” the name of the deposed dictator Saddam Hussein did not emerge until paragraph 19, when his name was invoked against America:
An Interior Ministry employee in a flowing tan robe, Haider Abdul Rahim Mustafa, 23, said that he had come from Basra “to demand the withdrawal of the occupier.”
“The occupier supported Saddam and helped him to become stronger, then removed him because his cards were burned,” he said, using an Arabic expression to note that Saddam Hussein was no longer useful to the United States. “The fall of Saddam means nothing to us as long as the alternative is the American occupation.”
P.S. on the “Huge” headline: When tens of thousands of Americans showed up in Washington in January – the Washington Post reader’s advocate downplayed the crowd as “fewer than 50,000" – the Times dispatch (not on the front page, of course) by Sarah Abruzzese was simply headlined “Thousands of Abortion Opponents Rally on Mall.” No “huge” rally there, despite the fact it was probably larger than the "huge" radical Shi'ite protest against America. Pro-lifers were also not “extraordinarily disciplined.”