Organizers of next month's planned antiwar demonstrations yesterday criticized media organizations, including The Washington Post, for co-sponsoring with the Department of Defense an event to remember the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and to support the troops in Iraq.
The Defense Department-sponsored Freedom Walk will proceed from the Pentagon to the Mall near the Reflecting Pool on the morning of Sept. 11. Country music star Clint Black is donating his time to perform a concert after the walk that will be broadcast to troops overseas. The Post, WTOP radio, WJLA-TV and NewsChannel 8 are donating public service announcements in advance of the event. Non-media co-sponsors include Lockheed Martin, Subway and the Washington Convention and Tourism Corp., according to the Defense Department's Web site for the walk.
"The Pentagon has done some kind of event on 9/11 ever since it happened because we came under attack," said Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense for communications. "It's to commemorate the victims of 9/11. It's to honor our veterans past and present."
On Sept. 24, nearly two weeks after the walk, critics of the war will gather in Washington for three days of demonstrations, including a concert, a march and other events.
Yesterday, some of those critics said media support for the Pentagon event undercuts their credibility in covering the controversial war as well as reporting on antiwar efforts.
"No common person will see this as not taking sides in this war," said Adam Eidinger, a promoter of the antiwar concert being called Operation Ceasefire. "This is clearly support for the war because it's being organized by the U.S. military."
"With The Washington Post and other media outlets supporting this, they are in effect putting their opinions behind the Bush administration," said Caneisha Mills, a national organizer with the antiwar group International ANSWER and a student at Howard University.
Representatives of the media organizations drew a distinction between supporting the troops and supporting the war policy. They also said the sponsorships emanated from the corporate sides of their companies, not the newsroom.
"Our interest in the event is consistent with our past support of causes related to the victims of September 11 and the veterans of wars past and present," said Eric Grant, spokesman for The Post. "The event was never presented to The Post as a rally to support the war. We would be disappointed if it took that approach."
"They're supporting American troops worldwide, supporting troops, not the policy, and they're honoring people who died in the Pentagon attack on 9/11," said Jim Farley, vice president for news and programming with WTOP. "As I see it, those are both worthwhile. We're not making a connection between the war and 9/11."
"I don't see a tie between supporting our troops and whether or not you support the war," said Jerald Fritz, senior vice president with Allbritton Communications, parent of WJLA and NewsChannel 8. "You don't lose your patriotism because you become a journalist. . . . You can still support the troops and be an objective reporter."
Participants in the Freedom Walk will have to register with the Pentagon ahead of time via the department's Web site. Barber said that requirement is only to give planners an idea of the crowd size for logistics and security. She said the intent of the Freedom Walk is being miscontrued by skeptics and maintained that the public understands the difference between honoring troops in general and endorsing a particular war.
"The American people are smart," she said. "They get how important it is to support the people who fight the war without having to get into a statement about the policy of the war."
But the peace activists said the Pentagon event can't help but be political. "For the Pentagon to be instigating what is essentially a support-the-troops rally off of September 11 is offensive," Eidinger said. "Because they're promoting a lie, that the war in Iraq had anything to do with September 11."
So far, media outlets are not offering to co-sponsor the demonstrations of Sept. 24, said Mills, with ANSWER.
"Operation Ceasefire is just as much a worthy cause to support the troops as giving money to the U.S. military to put on a pro-war rally at the Lincoln Memorial," said Eidinger.