As Women’s March protests continued for a second day, much of the news coverage portrayed them positively and suggested they were successful. To determine whether something is successful, one must measure it against a standard, and this is something you won’t necessarily find in the outlets we analyzed. Here are a few techniques four outlets used to portray the events in a positive way.
Vague, emotional languageThe New York Times and The Associated Press (AP) made references to “empowerment.” For instance, a Times subhead reads, “New York marchers said they felt empowered: ‘I feel like the revolution is now.’” Here’s another example from AP:
Demonstrators from Los Angeles to New York marched in support of female empowerment and denounced President Donald Trump’s views on immigration, abortion, LGBT rights and women’s rights on Saturday, the anniversary of his inauguration.It all sounds great, but what does it mean in a practical sense? In other words, how does people feeling “empowered” translate to measurable change in terms of the issues in question? The articles we analyzed didn’t say.
Although attending a rally may provide demonstrators, and society in general, a feeling of success and moving forward, it doesn’t mean this will translate into actual progress if the goals aren’t common or clear.
Implying effectivenessVox included this sentence in its coverage:
The ability to act as a hub for activists with multiple interests has made the Women’s March movement crucial to the anti-Trump resistance.By saying the Women’s March is “crucial,” it implies it’s contributed something important to the “anti-Trump resistance.” The question is, where’s the data to support that? Not in these articles.
Questionable reasoningThe outlets cited different public figures’ statements in support of the protests. At face value, they portray the marches and women’s role in society favorably, but if you examine the reasoning behind some of the statements, you’ll find it’s questionable at best.
Here’s one from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), which the Times included in its coverage: “It’s women who are holding our democracy together in these dangerous times.” How do women (and women alone) “hold” a democracy together? Does this mean men aren’t holding it together? And how are these times “dangerous” compared to other times? It’s anybody’s guess.
Selective informationThere are different ways to slant information, and one of the easiest is to delete any information that could counter the viewpoint you want to promote. NPR’s article, for example, consisted of 38 statements, including the headline. All of them directly or indirectly supported the view that the protests were good and successful — there wasn’t a single statement that suggested otherwise. The same was true for Vox.
While the Times’ coverage was still slanted, it was the outlet that included the most balanced information. For instance, it reported some of the objections people raised about the marches, such as their supposed focus on electing Democrats and non-inclusion of minorities. Information like this would help readers have a more well-rounded understanding of the protests.
Varied, unclear goalsOne of the most unique things about this year’s protests was that the issues cited were numerous and varied. Some protested Trump’s policies on immigration, some demanded equal pay for women, some protested in defense of Planned Parenthood funding, and some called on women to vote in the 2018 midterm elections, to name a few. Last year’s Women’s March reportedly advocated for the same causes, but most of the protests were directed at President Trump following his inauguration.
This year, there didn’t seem to be a clearly-defined and unified goal or purpose, which may make it more difficult to measure the effects the protests could have. So although the march may have drawn strength in numbers, it’s possible the competing agendas may render the movement less effective. This too was something the outlets we looked at didn’t point out.
So were the protests a success? Based on this coverage, it’s really hard to tell.
Jens Erik Gould
Jens is a political, business and entertainment writer and editor who has reported from a dozen countries for media outlets including The New York Times, National Public Radio and Bloomberg News