03/0504 ACTION ALERT: Hard to Find Women's March on Television News
Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting
Media analysis, critiques and activism

May 3, 2004

On Sunday, April 25, hundreds of thousands of people filled the streets of Washington, D.C. to demonstrate for women's reproductive rights. Crowd estimates ranged from 500,000 to 1.15 million, but it was clear that the March for Women's Lives was one of the largest demonstrations in the capital's history— and perhaps the largest ever. One might have expected, then, to see extensive coverage on national television— but a look at both network and cable news during the days surrounding the march turned up remarkably few reports.

A Nexis search of the week surrounding the women's march found a total of six stories from the broadcast networks (not counting incidental mentions of the march): CBS ran one story the day of the march and two the next morning; NBC ran two stories and ABC only one, all on April 25. CNN, as a 24-hour cable news outlet, gave more extensive coverage to the event, running several reports on Sunday. But even CNN failed to treat the march as the historic occasion that it was, running just a small handful of brief march-related stories on Saturday and Monday.

Other cable news outlets focused not on the march itself but on abortion opponents, a few hundred of whom held a counter-protest at the march. Of three Fox News stories found on Nexis related to the march, two focused on anti-abortion activists (Special Report with Brit Hume, Hannity & Colmes, 4/22/04). Special Report examined anti-abortion opposition to the National Education Association's endorsement of the march— a story that MSNBC also covered in that network's only march report found in the Nexis database. (Fox and MSNBC do not transcribe their news coverage as thoroughly as CNN does, so the amount of coverage on the three cable channels cannot be compared.)

To put the women's march coverage in perspective, FAIR conducted a similar Nexis search of the week surrounding the Promise Keepers march in 1997. The Promise Keepers, an evangelical men's organization that has been widely accused of promoting misogyny and homophobia, drew an estimated 480,000-750,000 demonstrators to Washington— roughly three-quarters the size of the women's march. Despite its somewhat smaller size, the Promise Keepers received much more media attention: Stories began appearing on network news three days before the march and continued for two days afterward, with a total of 19 stories between the three networks— more than three times the coverage the networks devoted to the women's march. Was the Promise Keepers march three times more newsworthy than the March for Women's Lives?

Why such little coverage? Women's issues routinely get short shrift in the media, and during this election year, news outlets found even more reason to discount women's voices. NBC Nightly News reporter Jeannie Ohm asked (4/25/04), “But just how big a factor will abortion rights have in the November election?… Political analysts say it's the economy and jobs, war in Iraq, homeland security and health care that will have more of an impact with undecided voters.” CNN correspondent Elaine Quijano sounded a similar note (4/25/04): “This election year, each group hopes to spark renewed interest, enough to have an impact at the ballot box. But political analysts say more than three decades after Roe v. Wade, most voters have already made up their minds.”

A record-breaking number of people— mostly women— marched on Washington to demonstrate their commitment to women's rights and their dissatisfaction with Bush's record on women's issues. By minimizing coverage of the event and reducing women's rights to a low-ranking concern in the presidential horse race, television news stifled critical public dialogue on women's rights and health, and relegated women and their concerns to the sidelines.

ACTION: Please let the networks know that you were disappointed by the scant coverage given to the historic March for Women's Lives.

ABC World News Tonight
Phone: 212-456-4040

CBS Evening News
Phone: 212-975-3691

NBC Nightly News
Phone: 212-664-4971

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