Making the News
Republicans and Democrats often argue over whether the media is conservative or liberal. I've always thought that much of this perceived media bias can be explained by corporate consolidation, shrinking budgets and falling ad revenues leading to shallow and sensationalist coverage. A few days ago some attractive vegans proved my point.
PETA, the animal-rights group with a flair for the dramatic staged hour-long protests at three KFC restaurants in Maine. They employed a tactic they use often - drafting attractive women to strip down to get some attention. In Portland and Augusta the two PETA employees wore revealing, Christmas-themed outfits. In Bangor they wore yellow bikinis.
I won't repeat the women's arguments here, but you can read them in any of the many news stories that the stunts inspired. According to a quick search online, it appears that four of the state's five largest daily newspapers covered one or more of the women's appearances, the Sun Journal being the lone exception. All the papers ran photos and the BDN even posted video of the women on their website. The protesters made a splash on TV as well, with several news programs covering their scantily-clad antics.
For some reason, the women didn't receive much radio attention.
The attention didn't end there. The Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel ran an editorial a few days later faulting the women for overshadowing their message with their actions (as if their own coverage was blameless for this disconnect) and taking the opportunity to once again describe their outfits in detail.
Fox News Channel got in on the story as well, with TV personality Greg Gutfield asserting that the animal rights group's demonstration in Bangor amounted to false advertising. "I guarantee that if you stop by any PETA meeting, you'd be crap out of luck finding anyone remotely like Ashley or Krissy" he wrote on his blog.
The next week, another interest group also held public events in several Maine cities. An alliance of organizations representing the needs of the homeless held candlelight vigils in Portland, Lewiston and Bangor commemorating lives lost over the past year due to homelessness. Hundreds of people turned out to these events, many in the midst of a massive snowstorm, to bring attention to an important and growing issue in Maine.
This cause, and mass vigil, which seems to have a lot more support in Maine than PETA's anti-KFC campaign, received about the same amount of media coverage as the two women in bikinis, maybe a bit less (and no online video from the Bangor Daily News).
What does this have to do with politics? Well, it's an excellent illustration of what people and groups with political messages have to do to get attention from Maine's media.
It's not enough to have a good cause or an important issue that deserves a public hearing, you have to also make your point in an engaging way. That's just the way things work. PETA knows this, and so do the homeless advocates, who found a way to make their message interesting without resorting to titillation.
It's also a warning to those reading the newspaper or watching the news. Equivalent coverage doesn't mean equal importance.