The main focus for the activists was the White House's pending decision on the Keystone pipeline, a project that would deliver tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to U.S. refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. The activists argue that the carbon-intensive project would only exacerbate the climate crisis, helping to extract and burn some 170 billion barrels of oil, not to mention threatening other environmental catastrophes in Canada and the United States.
The event brought together religious leaders, climate campaigners and Canadian indigenous rights activists. 350.org's Bill McKibben said they were "the antibodies kicking in as the planet tries to fight its fever."
But television newscasts made just passing references to what the activists were calling the biggest climate change action in many years, perhaps ever. It was not mentioned on any of the Sunday chat shows. ABC World News on February 17 gave the protest all of 43 words and CBS Evening News 49, while NBC Nightly News turned in a more generous 63. The CBS report did find time to assert that "the pipeline would create 20,000 jobs," which is an estimate that pipeline proponents have touted; other estimates, including one by the U.S. State Department, are much lower (FAIR Blog, 1/25/12).
The New York Times (2/18/13) covered the protests as a business section story, under the headline "Obama Faces Risks in Pipeline Decision." As the headline suggests, the story was more concerned with the potential political fallout from the decision, with a few paragraphs on the protests themselves--which were presumably what made the piece newsworthy in the first place. Times readers also got a chance to read about the Keystone debate when columnist Joe Nocera (2/19/13) wrote yet another op-ed promoting Keystone, arguing that "the climate change effects of tar sands oil are, all in all, pretty small."
The hometown Washington Post did better, with a page 5 story headlined "Crowd Marches Against Keystone."
On public broadcasting, the PBS NewsHour turned in a decent summary of the action on its February 18 newscast, followed by a debate between a spokesperson from the Natural Resources Defense Council and an oil company lobbyist. And NPR's Weekend Edition (2/17/13) had a report on the protests. Democracy Now!, which has covered climate activism extensively, featured excerpts from several of the speakers at the event (2/18/13).
During some of CNN's live coverage of the protests (2/17/13), anchor Deborah Feyerick remarked: "History being made in Washington. Thousands marching for more action on climate change."
Indeed, it was a historic action. And when history looks back on how we responded to the climate change crisis, the fact that most of the corporate media missed its importance will be remembered.