CINCINNATI (TDB) -- This has been gnawing at my conscience since October, 2002, when a huge crowd of well-behaved and earnest anti-war protestors showed up outside Cincinnati's Union Terminal and strongly conveyed an unheeded message to President George W. Bush: Don't invade Iraq.
I was there that night covering the president's speech, saw the opposition crowd, realized instantly that Bush's plans were not universally popular and tried to get something in the newspaper. I don't recall being able to get a word in edgewise. Snip, snip.
It was the night Bush called Iraq a ''grave threat to peace" and said he planned to lead the world in confronting the threat.
"It arises directly from the Iraqi regime's own actions -- the history of aggression, and its drive toward an arsenal of terror," Bush said. "Eleven years ago, as a condition for ending the Persian Gulf War, the Iraqi regime was required to destroy its weapons of mass destruction, to cease all developments of such weapons, and to stop all support for terrorist groups. The Iraqi regime has violated all of those obligations. It possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons. It has given shelter and support to terrorism, and practices terrorism against its own people. The entire world has witnessed Iraq's eleven-year history of defiance, deception and bad faith."
Bush's next line was the clincher -- he brought up 9/11 -- and said the government was ''resolved today to confront every threat, from any source, that could bring sudden terror and suffering to America."
There were more people in the streets outside protesting than the invited crowd inside -- many prominent Ohio Republicans -- listening to the nationally televised speech. As a reporter, I was locked inside the hall and couldn't witness events outside. However, the Cincinnati police filled me in and a lieutenant I spoke with repeatedly gave me a remarkably insightful and accurate running account of the protest. He said the crowd was big and put the number at more than 2,000 people. He said it seemed to show up out of nowhere and contained citizens from all walks of life, not just the usual band of protestors familiar to reporters and cops in Cincinnati. He said there were lots of suburbanites and college kids. Earlier, I had walked with some of the demonstrators and grabbed a few quotes for my notebook, then dashed off to be locked down after being cleared by the presidential security team -- standard pratice at all White House events, Dem or GOP.
Acoustics in the hall were horrible and Ari Fleischer, then the White House press secretary, refused to give reporters from Ohio's newspapers written copies of the speech. Joe Halett from The Dispatch and I both complained vigorously but to no avail. A network TV crew finally loaned us a copy. In Washington, Tom Diemer, now retired from The Plain Dealer, and Steve Koff, filed a story from the TV feed they could hear. They knew nothing about the protests outside because they were not covered by the network cameras. I tried like heck to let people know by cell phone -- but it all fell through the cracks. At most there was a line or two about the protest and how the audience leaving the speech got snarled in traffic because the parking lot exits were blocked. Nothing much that disclosed the extent of a huge anti-war event, or that it had unfolded in SW Ohio, an area that was supposed to be a hotbed of pro-Bush, anti-Iraq sensibilities.
The next day, an old newspaperman friend of mine recounted an adage about journalism and newspapers: ''Look, they'll send you out to cover the crucifixion. They'll miss Christianity."
So today at 2 p.m. I will be on the steps of the Hamilton County Courthouse covering a press conference by a group of anti-war protestors. They have something to say. People need to hear it. They must hear it.
I only wish I could have gotten their message across that night in October, 2002. It was a great failure -- for me and the profession I worked within. Even now, I'm not sure what happened, why the snips came out.