Pentagon's 9/11 commemoration prompts number of questions

August 17, 2005|By Jules Witcover

WASHINGTON - It may be just a coincidence that the Pentagon is planning a "Freedom Walk" on the fourth anniversary of 9/11 to commemorate the victims - just 13 days before critics of the war in Iraq hold a protest march of their own to the Pentagon.

According to Allison Barber, a Defense Department spokeswoman, the Pentagon has had some sort of commemoration on every anniversary since those attacks and its march is meant "to honor our veterans past and present."

The 9/11 commemoration has stirred criticism not only from protesters who see it as an effort to upstage or neutralize their later march but also within the news media. The reason is that original sponsors of the Pentagon event included The Washington Post, two Washington radio stations and a Washington TV outlet. The Post since has withdrawn from the sponsor list.

The newspaper's publisher, Boisfeuillet Jones Jr., at first said the march "has nothing to do with politics or the war or support of any political position," but "if it turns out to be a political event, we would disassociate ourselves from it." A protesting resolution from the Post unit of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild apparently convinced the paper that the march would be just that.

A Post science reporter, Rick Weiss, made a telling point to the newspaper industry's trade journal, Editor and Publisher magazine, noting that Post policy prohibits employees from taking part in partisan events.

"It is dismaying to say the least," Mr. Weiss wrote, "that I can be fired for participating in a peace march while my employer feels free to co-sponsor an event that so blatantly beats the drum of war." He said in a phone interview he was not involved with any anti-war group.

The 9/11 commemoration is to include a concert featuring country singer Clint Black singing "Iraq and I Roll," whose lyrics include this stanza: "You can wave your signs in protest against America taking stands; the stands America's taken are the reason that you can." Another notes: "It might be a smart bomb, they find stupid people too, and if you stand with the likes of Saddam, one just might find you."

The Pentagon's event could work to the advantage of the war protesters. Until recently, they had achieved relatively little success in drawing news media attention to the anti-war movement. This minor dust-up in the press could oblige the sponsoring news outlets, and the Post, to pay more attention to the Sept. 24 protest march, part of a three-day event.

The two marches will occur as opposition to the war has begun to draw more coverage. The 20 deaths suffered by a single Marine Reserve unit in Ohio in two days earlier this month, and a special election near-upset by a harsh anti-war Democratic candidate in a longtime Republican congressional district in the state, were both widely reported.

Also extensively covered has been the highway sit-in outside Mr. Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch of Cindy Sheehan, whose son, Casey, was killed in Iraq last year. Scores of other Gold Star Mothers and other protesters have joined her, marking the highway with white crosses bearing the names of other war victims.

Mr. Bush's unwillingness to meet with her drew wide editorial criticism, and the sponsors of the Sept. 24 march obviously hope the publicity will swell the ranks of protesters sufficiently on that day to mark a turning point in the anti-war movement.

Jules Witcover writes from The Sun's Washington bureau. His column appears Wednesdays and Fridays.

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