BROOKE GLADSTONE: Greg Mitchell is the editor of Editor & Publisher. BOB GARFIELD: The rallies seemed to have banished the collective shrug with which much of the media have regarded the peace movement. OTM producer Megan Ryan tackled the question of what makes an anti-war protest coverable and what makes it easy to ignore. MEGAN RYAN: If the rallies were better covered, it's partly because the crowds were bigger and looked a little more like mainstream America. Scott Lynch, communications director for Peace Action, says that was part of the plan. SCOTT LYNCH: Yeah, after 9/11 through I would say October 26th when the, there was the big hundred thousand person demonstration -- it was a carryover of the traditional shall we say cynical coverage of people who work for peace or nuclear disarmament which is -- well, there's the old "lefties" from the '60s and there run a couple of kids with nose rings and purple hair and-- those people - well their intentions are good, but really -- let's be realistic here - let's be adults. It was patronizing, and so we've been working against that sort of perception, and I think we've turned a corner since then. MEGAN RYAN: So have the media. CNN correspondent Maria Hinojosa is covering the anti-war movement. She says that CNN is now treating it like any other emerging beat. MARIA HINOJOSA: At this moment in history, to not look at the anti-war movement as part and parcel of what's happening historically in this country and, and certainly after this past weekend at what's happening in the world, we would just not be doing our job as, as a serious news organization if we weren't looking at it continuously and being ahead of the story instead of behind it. MARCUS MABRY: I think there are a number of factors that determined at what point you kind of reach the critical mass of a mass movement, and you actually garner greater publicity, greater press coverage. MEGAN RYAN: Chief of correspondents for Newsweek magazine, Marcus Mabry. MARCUS MABRY: I, I think most importantly it, it's-- the question of how "mass" is your "mass movement?" How widespread is the movement? How deep and how broad is the movement? MEGAN RYAN: Also, how violent. Professor Stephen Zunes, chair of the Peace and Justice Studies program at the University of San Francisco, says that violence undercut the anti-globalization protests in Seattle in 1999. STEPHEN ZUNES: There were 50,000 people that protested peacefully and legally, and there were about a hundred -- at most 150 -- self-styled anarchists that went around breaking windows and trashing various-- stores in downtown Seattle, but I'd say a good 90 percent of the media coverage was on that tiny group of violent protesters! I think it illustrates what a poor tactic violence is for a opposition movement of any kind because it'll compromise its credibility. MEGAN RYAN: Last October it was easier to question the credibility of the protesters. They waved banners with a multiplicity of messages from Free Tibet to Free Mumia to Keep Your Laws Off My Body. CNN's Maria Hinojosa saw activists this time around reminding one another to stay on message. MARIA HINOJOSA: I went into the crowd, and I said -- you know I was doing a live shot, and I said you know -who are you - what's your name and why are you here -- and somebody from the back said [IMITATING/SHOUTING] "Don't ask her her name! That's the corporate media!! Get out of here!" [LAUGHS] And I thought -- okay-- wait a second! Do they want coverage or do they not want coverage?! The woman, after we did the live shot, she turned back to the guy who was screaming and said "You know what? We're getting covered! Be quiet!" [LAUGHS] MEGAN RYAN: Last week the movement gained even more strength from rallies overseas. The international angle gave papers in towns and cities -- even where there was no rally -- a chance to do a big story. And the political timing was right. The tug of war within NATO and the United Nations provided a hard news peg on which the rallies could ride straight to page one. Newsweek's Marcus Mabry. MARCUS MABRY: If the movement fits into a larger puzzle that's currently in the news that we're examining such as the rift between the United States and France and Germany, then certainly obviously it, it, it affords us an opportunity to marry the movement with the larger issues. [JUDY COLLINS SINGING PROTEST SONG] MEGAN RYAN: Many have compared the latest rallies to the glory days of Vietnam protests. The power of that peace movement has become part of our national lore. But what is recalled by many as a golden age for coverage of anti-war actions may be exaggerated. Senior editor and political writer for the New Yorker Hendrik Hertzberg. HENDRIK HERTZBERG: If you actually look at the coverage of the big peace demonstrations, it tended to be sketchy, and Vietnam war protesters were always complaining about the lack of coverage. The movement against the Vietnam War got all mixed up with all kinds of other movements and urges and cultural developments. A lot of people were put off by the fact that it seemed that you kind of had to embrace pot-smoking and LSD and free love and all that to be part of it. This one doesn't come with all that baggage; this one is really about what it's about. STEPHEN ZUNES: There is more anti-war activity now -- before the war has even started -- than there was at least 3 or 4 years into heavy American involvement in Vietnam, and we're at the equivalent of 1968 or 1969! MEGAN RYAN: Professor Stephen Zunes. STEPHEN ZUNES: So again, the anti-war sentiment here is quite significant, even compared to the days of Vietnam, yet one wouldn't necessarily pick that up from what one picks up from mainstream media. MEGAN RYAN: That is, until last week, when huge numbers and a global argument combined to push the peace movement on to the front page. Why did it take so long? It may have to do with the changing nature of American media. Once there was only a handful of news outlets -- a handful of news anchors -- and they had the power to create a consensus for change. Now there are thousands of outlets, a cacophony of opinions -- all equally credible or not. Hendrik Hertzberg. HENDRIK HERTZBERG: The flip side of that though is that people with strong convictions on one side or the other are in danger of talking only to themselves through these hugely expanded means of communication. If there was no equivalent of C-Span and no equivalent of the internet 30 years ago, there's also no equivalent, really, of Life magazine or of Walter Cronkite -- of media that truly reached everyone. WALTER CRONKITE: Some people feel that my editorial following our documentary on the Tet Offensive which I had gone out to cover -- a lot of people felt that that had some-- major influence on, on our getting out of there. MEGAN RYAN: On February 27th, 1968, CBS News Anchor Walter Cronkite offered his personal opinion that America was mired in stalemate and should pull out of Vietnam. His message went across America and all the way into the White House of Lyndon Johnson. WALTER CRONKITE: My piece came on - it was kind of - kind of a last straw. He, he'd had it out with the Pentagon that very afternoon, and now I came up with this piece, and I was told he switched off the television set. "Well if I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America." And--that was kind of a-- kind of a final blow. MEGAN RYAN: Today, no single voice can speak to or for America, and no credible news outlet would leave itself open to charges of crafting coverage to affect policy. Newsweek's Marcus Mabry. MARCUS MABRY: I think there may be a time in, in that era when many editors and reporters would have been saying "I want to have an activist role here. I want to make a difference with my coverage and affect policy." I don't think we're there now. That's not what we aim to do today in coverage of this anti-war movement. Right or wrong, that's just the way it is. MEGAN RYAN: Since 9/11, the media are even less inclined to take a stand that could be perceived as unpatriotic. So, too, the anti-war movement, as it matures, understands that it must stay in touch with American values, even as it protests a mainly American war. Maria Hinojosa. MARIA HINOJOSA: This post-Vietnam anti-war movement is going to be different also because a lot of people remember the experience of anti-war protesters being seen as -- one, as unpatriotic, or two, as not supporting the young men and - at that time young men - but in this moment young men and women who are in the troops who are serving. So I saw a lot of signs of people saying "Support Our Troops -- Bring Them Home Now." MEGAN RYAN: That's a message even the most timid news outlets can comfortably use as a lead, because it's less likely to cause consumers -- even those who favor the war -- to cancel their subscriptions or reach for the remote. For On the Media, I'm Megan Ryan. [MUSIC] BROOKE GLADSTONE: Coming up, when reporters "embed;" a media walkout in Rome; and a journalist considers changing her story. BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media from NPR.