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Opponents of the war are scarce on television
by Alessandra Stanley

New York Times
November 9, 2001

It is not true that antiwar speakers are unwelcome on television news
and talk shows.

Bill O'Reilly, a talk show host on the Fox News Channel, recently
invited a University of California graduate student, Ibrahim Ramey of
the antiwar group Fellowship of Reconciliation
, to explain why he
thought it would be better to create an international justice system
than bomb Afghanistan.

"Mr. Ramey, with all due respect, that's a pie-in-the-sky Goldilocks
answer that's going to allow terrorism to continue," Mr. O'Reilly

"Am I wrong, doctor?" he said, turning to Larry Wortzel, a scholar at
the conservative Heritage Foundation, who replied, "Well, nonviolence
is a long tradition in the United States, but in this instance, it's
one that will get you killed."

Fox News is known for its conservative bent, so it was not surprising
that it bracketed Mr. Ramey's unpopular views between vehement
disclaimers. In fact, Mr. O'Reilly, who also recently interviewed the
former talk show host Phil Donahue, who opposes the bombing campaign,
has invited more antiwar activists than most other cable news
stations - perhaps because he relishes baiting liberals and leftists.

Other more mainstream news programs seem more squeamish about
broadcasting the dissenting views of Americans who are admittedly on
the margin of mainstream opinion.

Just as television news programs are careful to filter Taliban
propaganda and omit the most wrenching images of bombing victims,
they do not dwell on criticism of the United States' effort; mostly,
the small pools of dissent are absent from American television. Most
viewers, still aching over the attacks of Sept. 11, are in no mood to
listen to views they dismiss as either loopy or treasonous.

And network executives are particularly attentive to the national
mood these days. "In this environment it feels slightly different,"
Walter Isaacson, the president of CNN, said while discussing
reporters working in Taliban-held territory at a dinner for 500
people given by a lawyers' association on Wednesday. "If you get on
the wrong side of public opinion, you are going to get into trouble."

Erik Sorenson, president of MSNBC, argued that there was not enough
dissent to warrant coverage. "There has not been a lot of debate,
period," Mr. Sorenson said. "Most of the dissent we've had on the air
is the opposite - conservatives like John McCain and Bill Bennett
saying we should bomb more or attack Iraq."

One exception was on "Nightline" on ABC, which last Friday devoted a
segment to opponents of the war, which included a taped interview
with Arundhati Roy, an Indian novelist whose essay criticizing
Washington's response to Sept. 11 was reprinted all over the world,
except in the United States.

Before he unleashed his guests, Ted Koppel, the "Nightline" host,
delivered a lengthy preamble preparing viewers: "Some of you, many of
you, are not going to like what you hear tonight. You don't have to
listen. But if you do, you should know that dissent sometimes comes
in strange packages."

A few days later, CNN convened a similar panel for its daily talk
show "America Speaks Out." On CNN, however, each antiwar guest was
paired by split screen with a reproving pro-war guest.

When a CBS spokesman was asked whether the network had done any shows featuring dissenters, the network offered a segment on "The Early
Show" in which a reporter, Lisa Birnbach, who does a regular feature
entitled, "Yikes! I'm a Grown-Up," tracked down former Vietnam war
protesters and 60's radicals who turned hawkish after Sept. 11.

Mr. Sorenson noted that MSNBC had found it difficult to find anyone
credible opposed to the war - let alone willing to go on television.
Yet the actress Susan Sarandon, a longtime antiwar activist, is
scheduled to appear on "Larry King Live" on Saturday. Mr. Donahue,
who appeared on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" yesterday, said such
opportunities were few.

"You cannot say that people willing to speak up are not in existence,"
Mr. Donahue said. "There is just not a lot of enthusiasm for this on the

Representative Barbara Lee, Democrat of California, who infuriated
many by voting against a resolution authorizing Mr. Bush to take
military action after Sept. 11, turned down most television requests.
Instead, Ms. Lee sent a videotape of herself that was shown on "The
Oprah Winfrey Show," in which she explained that she reached her
decision in church praying for the Sept. 11 victims.

Public television has done several segments on dissent, but Richard
Deats, a director of Fellowship of Reconciliation
, said he still
preferred to watch ITN's "World News," a British news program
broadcast on PBS that he called more "thorough and objective" than
any American program.

Even the syndicated show "Access Hollywood" did not show footage of
the actor Richard Gere, who was booed when he proposed nonviolence
during a benefit concert in Madison Square Garden last month.

"It wasn't a conscious decision," Gary Considine, the executive
producer of "Access Hollywood," said. "If 50 celebrities marched on
the Federal Building in Westwood, we'd be there. But it's hard to
find anyone who isn't 100 percent for the war."

Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company


Copyright ©2001 Muslim Peace Fellowship. All rights reserved.
Muslim Peace Fellowship
Rabia Harris, Coordinator,
The Muslim Peace Fellowship is part of the Fellowship of Reconciliation network