The Times Recalls the Good Old Days of SOA Protests

In today’s New York Times (11/22/10), Kim Severson covers the annual protest at the U.S. military training facility formerly known as the School of Americas. The point of the story, though, is that the protests aren’t such a big deal anymore (the headline: “Fort Benning Protest Dwindles, if Not Its Passion.”)

The dismissive tone was evident in the very first sentence:

The annual November protest here at the gates of Fort Benning used to really be something.

The “smallest crowd ever” turned out this weekend for the Fort Benning protests–leading the Times to kid that “the times, they are a changing.”

The bizarre ,repressive police tactics were noted near the end of the article:

A few hours later, as a parade was ending, the police showed up in force, riot helmets stacked on car hoods and plastic handcuffs looped onto uniforms. They funneled the crowd from the legal protest area through a narrow pathway to the street and told anyone who stopped to keep moving.

Protesters, some yelling, “This is what Democracy looks like,” veered from the path. In a quick swirl of activity that took many by surprise, a dozen people were arrested, including news crews from Russian Television and two radio reporters.

They were put in a city bus and taken to the Muscogee County Jail. Bail was set as high $5,500.

Today’s story might lead one to wonder if the Times ever devoted much space to past SOA Watch activism at Fort Benning–you know, back in the good old days.

Searching the Nexis news database, it’s hard to find much. A November 21, 2005 article focused on counter-demonstrators: “Annual Protest Draws Ire of Those Supporting Troops” was the headline. Locals, readers were told, “have endured the annual protest with increasingly clenched teeth,” and “have come to see it as a slap of disrespect to the soldiers from the base who are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.” Odd, then, that today’s article conveys the message that locals are mostly disappointed with the low turnout, since they make money selling water and food to SOA protesters.

In 2000, the Times had a photo of the protest, but it did not seem to be connected to an actual story. A more thorough report the year before spent a lot of time talking about the changes to the school’s curriculum–the message being that whatever abuses may have been linked to the school were a thing of the past.

If the SOA protests were ever “really something,” the Times sure wasn’t telling its readers much about them.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.