W. Joseph Campbell

Archive for the ‘Bra-burning’ Category

Five years on: The best of Media Myth Alert, Part II

In Anniversaries, Bra-burning, Debunking, Error, Furnish the war, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, New York Times, Newspapers, Photographs, Spanish-American War, Washington Post on October 31, 2014 at 1:56 pm

Media Myth Alert revisits its top-ever posts today in observing its fifth anniversary.

The blog went live October 31, 2009, and its objective was, and remains, twofold: Calling out the appearance and publication of media myths and helping to promote Getting It Wrong, my media mythbusting book that came out in 2010.

This is the second of a two-part review of the 10 top posts published at Media Myth Alert, home over the years to more than 640 essays and commentaries. The top posts shared these elements: All were about prominent topics, all received a fair amount of attention in the blogosphere and beyond, and all represented disclosures exclusive to Media Myth Alert.

■ Bra-burning in Toronto: Confirmed (posted February 19, 2011): It is sometimes said, erroneously, that bra-burning “never happened,”  that such reports were little more than hostile exaggerations by journalists.

Toronto bra burning_1979

Toronto, March 1979

Bra-burning never occurred?

Not quite.

Credible, first-hand accounts are cited in Getting It Wrong that bras and other items were set afire, briefly, at a women’s liberation protest at Atlantic City during the 1968 Miss American pageant. And in Toronto in March 1979, a demonstration was capped by a bra-burning, intended as a way to attract media attention. A photograph of the Toronto bra-burning is at right.

I had not seen the photograph before it appeared in February 2011 with an article at the online site of  London’s Guardian newspaper. I had doubts about its authenticity, given the periodic claims about no bras ever having been burned at a feminist protest.

The Toronto image, I thought at first, might have been faked — or unethically altered somehow.

Turns out that was not the case.

I tracked down one of the participants at the Toronto protest and she confirmed the bra-burning, saying by phone from Vancouver:

“The photo is authentic. Absolutely. It happened.”

The participant was Vicki Trerise, who appears at the far right in the photograph above.

The photograph shows a moment of demonstrative bra-burning, although Trerise said that “wasn’t a focal point” of the protest, which took place not far from Toronto’s City Hall.

The bra-burning came near the end of the demonstration, which was called to protest what the organizers said was an illogical report about rape, prepared by the Ontario Provincial Police. (The report said that of 337 rapes investigated, 140 were “unprovoked.” The report also said “promiscuity” was a factor in many rapes.)

Trerise said the demonstrators in Toronto were media-aware and “knew that if they burned a bra, someone would take their picture.”

Toronto newspapers the next day reported on the protest — but did not mention the bra-burning.

Maddow wrongly declares Pentagon ‘made up’ bogus tale about Jessica Lynch’s battlefield heroics (posted June 4, 2014): In commentary on her MSNBC program in June 2014, Rachel Maddow wrongly accused the Pentagon of having “made up” the bogus account of Jessica Lynch’s battlefield heroics early in the Iraq War.

Maddow offered no sourcing for her claim, made while revisiting at some length the hero-warrior tale about Lynch, an Army supply clerk thrust into international fame on April 3, 2003, in an electrifying, front-page story in the Washington Post.

Private Lynch

PFC Lynch: Fired not a shot

The Post report cited otherwise unidentified “U.S. officials” and declared that Lynch, a 19-year-old Army private, had fought fiercely in the ambush of her unit, the 507th Maintenance Company, in Nasiriyah in southern Iraq on March 23, 2003. Lynch suffered severe injuries in the crash of a Humvee in Nasiriyah. She was taken prisoner by the Iraqis but rescued by U.S. special forces on April 1, 2003.

Vernon Loeb, one of the Post reporters on the hero-warrior story — which was wrong in its important details — later made clear that the Pentagon had not been the newspaper’s source.

As I noted in Getting It Wrong, Loeb went on NPR’s Fresh Air program in December 2003 and declared, unequivocally:

“Our sources for that story were not Pentagon sources.”

None of that vital context was acknowledged by Maddow as she discussed the Lynch case on June 3, 2014.

“If the heroics that the Pentagon made up about her didn’t really happen, and they didn’t, maybe the U.S. special forces who rescued her, maybe they shouldn’t have bothered,” Maddow said about Lynch. (Maddow’s commentary was inspired by controversy surrounding the release a few days before of Bowe Bergdahl, an Army sergeant who apparently had walked away from his post in Afghanistan and was held captive by the Taliban for five years. The administration of President Barack Obama released five senior Taliban figures to gain Bergdahl’s freedom.)

When Maddow was called out on her erroneous claim about the Pentagon, she dodged a correction by cherry-picking  — by referring to an obscure report in the Military Times on April 3, 2003, in which a military spokesman, Frank Thorp, was quoted as saying that Lynch “waged quite a battle prior to her capture.

“We do have very strong indications that Jessica Lynch was not captured very easily,” Thorp was additionally quoted as saying.

Crowed Maddow: “That information straight from a military public affairs official was not true. It was made up. But it landed in press reports anyway.”

What Maddow neglected to mention was that Thorp was recapping for the Military Times what the Washington Post had already published.

Thorp, then a Navy captain assigned to U.S. Central Command headquarters in Doha, Qatar, was not inventing — he was following. He was, unwisely, restating elements of the Post’s story already in circulation and quickly gaining international attention.

I wrote in discussing Maddow’s cherry-picking that “it is impossible to address the hero-warrior tale about Lynch without considering the Washington Post’s central and decisive role in the story.” But Maddow ignored the Post’s exclusive role in pushing the botched Lynch story into the public domain.

The Post did so by relying on sources it has never disclosed.

It ought to.

Digitally scrubbing WaPo’s embarrassment on Jessica Lynch? (posted April 27, 2012): The Washington Post’s Watergate content from the 1970s is freely available and readily accessible online.

But try finding online the Post’s famously wrong reporting about Jessica Lynch’s derring-do in Iraq, notably the electrifying front-page report that appeared April 3, 2003, beneath the headline:

“‘She was fighting to the death.'”

Lynch_headline_PostThat story — which said Lynch had fought fiercely against Iraqi attackers and had suffered gunshot and stab wounds before running out of ammunition and being taken prisoner — was in error in all important details. You won’t find it online at any Washington Post site. (The Post’s story is available in full at the online site of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)

Nor will you find freely available online the scathing reviews of the Lynch story published by the Post’s then-ombudsman, Michael Getler, in April and June 2003.

All of which suggests digital scrubbing of embarrassing content — conduct of the sort the Post criticized in 2012, in noting that Vogue magazine expunged the online version of a fawning profile of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. The Post at that time said Vogue had taken “an almost-unheard-of step for a mainstream media organization” and had committed “a generally acknowledged violation of digital etiquette.”

But had the Post not committed a similar “violation” in excising the digital reminders of the embarrassing Lynch case, a dramatic story that it had thoroughly and exclusively botched?

Rather looks like it.

I asked the newspaper’s then-ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, about the apparent digital scrubbing of the Lynch content.

Pexton took weeks to reply, finally stating in an email that he had found “nothing nefarious about this.” He said the Post since 2003 “has gone through several changes of content management systems,” by which articles are posted online.

He noted that the “fighting to the death” story about Lynch and related content are available in the Post’s fee-based archive.

But why not make the “fighting to the death” story freely available? Why not remove the fee to allow access to a singularly memorable article of the Iraq War, a mistaken report that made Jessica Lynch something of a celebrity and gave rise to persistent and misguided claims and suspicions that the U.S. military concocted the hero-warrior tale and somehow fed it to the Post?

“Restoring the digital version of the article of April 3, 2003, would represent a contribution to the record about the case of Jessica Lynch, which the Post is solely responsible for having placed in the public domain,” I wrote in an email to Pexton.

He never replied before leaving the position in 2013, when his two-year term as ombudsman expired. He was not replaced.

George Romney’s “brainwashing” — and Gene McCarthy’s retort (posted September 4, 2012): Mitt Romney’s ill-fated run for the presidency in 2012 prompted reminders of his father’s failed presidential campaign in 1968 — a campaign memorable for an astonishingly clumsy gaffe.

The gaffe, in turn, is said to have inspired one of the most scathing putdowns in American political history.

But my research found that the context of the supposed putdown is unclear at best.

The gaffe was committed in late August 1967 by George Romney, then governor of Michigan and a presumptive leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968.

In an interview with a Detroit television reporter, Romney referred to a visit he had made to South Vietnam in 1965 and said:

“You know, when I came back from Vietnam, I’d just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody could get. … Well, not only by the generals but by the diplomatic corps over there. They do a very thorough job.”

Romney’s claim that he had been duped into supporting America’s war effort in Vietnam suggested gullibility, muddled thinking, and an uncertain command of foreign policy. His run for the presidency never righted itself; he quit the race at the end of February 1968.

A witty putdown attributed to Democratic Senator Eugene McCarthy ensured that Romney’s gaffe would remain unforgettable. Rather than a “brainwashing,” McCarthy supposedly said, all Romney needed was a “light rinse.”

So incisive was McCarthy’s quip that it is said to have “essentially finished Romney” as a candidate for president.

But unclear is where, when, and even whether McCarthy made the “light rinse” comment.

A search of a full-text database of leading U.S. newspapers — including the New York Times, the Washington PostChicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and Baltimore Sun — turned up no published reference to the “light rinse” quip in 1967 or 1968. Or for years afterward. (The first reference was in 1983, a column in the Baltimore Sun that did not say when, where, or to whom McCarthy uttered the remark.)

It seems improbable that American journalists in 1967 or 1968 would have failed to report a retort as deft and delicious as McCarthy’s.

But that’s what An American Melodrama: The Presidential Campaign of 1968 claims.

American Melodrama, a hefty book published in 1969, described McCarthy’s remark as off-hand and said the senator’s aides persuaded reporters to hush it up.

While intriguing, American Melodrama doesn’t say where McCarthy made the comment, when, or specifically to whom.

Such vagueness invites suspicion about the “light rinse” quip. It also sounds a bit too perfect — not unlike, say, William Randolph Hearst’s purported vow to “furnish the war” with Spain or Lyndon B. Johnson’s supposed epiphany on the Vietnam War: “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”

WaPo refuses to correct clear error on Nixon’s mythical ‘secret plan’ (posted August 13, 2013):  Even in its clear decline, the Washington Post has moments of sheer arrogance.

This was apparent in late summer 2013, when the newspaper refused to acknowledge and correct an inarguably erroneous reference to Richard Nixon’s supposed “secret plan” to end the war in Vietnam.

The wrong-headed reference to Nixon’s “secret plan” was embedded in the Post’s front-page obituary about Helen Thomas, a querulous and overrated Washington journalist who covered the White House for years for United Press International.

WaPo_HThomas obit_2013

The Post’s obit of Thomas

The Post’s obituary was glowing and, as if to suggest Thomas’s impressive assertiveness, claimed that she once “asked President Richard M. Nixon point-blank what his secret plan to end the Vietnam War was.”

Trouble is, there is no evidence that Thomas ever posed such a question, point-blank or otherwise.

The nearest approximation came at a news conference in late January 1969, when Thomas asked Nixon about his “peace plan” for Vietnam. That’s probably what the obituary writer had in mind.

But Thomas had asked about Nixon’s peace plan, not a “secret plan.”

The Post’s error in the obituary had broader dimension, in that it suggested an embrace of the persistent notion that Nixon ran for president in 1968 touting a “secret plan” to end the war in Vietnam.

Which is untrue. Nixon did not campaign for the White House on a “secret plan.” The belief that he did circulates still, as supposedly powerful evidence of Nixon’s devious and conniving ways.

The obituary’s writer, Patricia Sullivan, said as much, telling me in response to an email query:  “I recall the Nixon years and his promise during his candidacy that he had a plan to end the Vietnam War, which he would not explain in detail.”

In fact, Nixon was asked during the 1968 campaign about having a “secret plan” to end the war. And according to a report in the Los Angeles Times on March 28, 1968, he replied that he had “no gimmicks or secret plans.”

He also said: “If I had any way to end the war, I would pass it on to President [Lyndon] Johnson.”

I brought all this to the attention of Douglas Feaver, who had been designated the Post’s reader representative, a sort of ombudsman-lite position set up months after Pexton’s departure.

I noted to Feaver that if the Post could identify an occasion when Thomas asked Nixon about a “secret plan” on Vietnam — if the newspaper could back up the claim in its obituary, in other words — then that would represent an intriguing if modest contribution to the understanding about Nixon’s campaign in 1968. It would indicate that journalists at the time suspected Nixon was less than forthcoming about his intended war policy.

If, on the other hand, the Post could not identify such an occasion, then, I wrote, a correction was in order.

Feaver took more than  two weeks to reply to my query, and when he did, he absolved the Post of error. “I see nothing here that deserves a correction,” he wrote.

How obtuse.

Coincidentally, not long after the Post published its flawed obituary about Thomas, the newspaper was sold for $250 million to Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com.  In an open letter to the newspaper’s employees soon after the sale was announced, Bezos stated:

“We will continue to follow the truth wherever it leads, and we’ll work hard not to make mistakes. When we do, we will own up to them quickly and completely.”

Sure: Quickly and completely. Just as it did in its mistaken reference to Nixon’s “secret plan.”

WJC

Other memorable posts at Media Myth Alert:

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‘Bras were never burned at ’68 Miss America Pageant’? Might want to check that, ‘Time’

In Bra-burning, Debunking, Error, Media myths, Newspapers on June 13, 2014 at 11:47 am

Call it a counter myth. Or a triumph of narrative over evidence.

Or maybe just plain wrong.

bra-burning_freedomtrashcan

At the Freedom Trash Can, 1968

Whatever it is, the common interpretation is that women’s liberation advocates burned no bras at their famous demonstration at Atlantic City in September 1968.

They may have had what Robin Morgan, their organizer, called a “symbolic bra-burning,” as a way to protest that year’s Miss America pageant; but the undergarments themselves were not set afire.

The latest to embrace this narrative is Time magazine, which posted a commentary online yesterday that declared:

“Bras were never burned at the 1968 Miss America protest ….”

The commentary, written by filmmaker Jennifer Lee, further stated:

“Bras were just one of the items protestors were encouraged to bring that day that signified how the male-dominated culture was keeping women locked into rigid ideas of beauty, but they weren’t burned. … Misinformation and myths sometimes serve as placeholders in our memory when facts are not remembered.”

The commentary ignores evidence offered in my media-mythbusting book, Getting It Wrong, that bras were set afire, if briefly, at the Atlantic City demonstration, which was organized to denounce Miss America as a “degrading Mindless-Boob-Girlie symbol” that promoted a “Madonna Whore image of womanhood.”

The evidence presented in Getting It Wrong about bra-burning at Atlantic City is from two witness accounts — one of which was published in the local newspaper, the Press of Atlantic City, on September 8, 1968, the day after the protest.

That story appeared beneath the byline of a veteran reporter named John L. Boucher and carried the headline:

“Bra-burners blitz boardwalk.”

The article referred to a burn barrel that the demonstrators dubbed the “Freedom Trash Can” and stated:

“As the bras, girdles, falsies, curlers, and copies of popular women’s magazines burned in the ‘Freedom Trash Can,’ the demonstration reached the pinnacle of ridicule when the participants paraded a small lamb wearing a gold banner worded ‘Miss America.’”

Boucher’s article, which appeared on page 4 of the Atlantic City newspaper, wasn’t particularly sensational. Its reference to burning “bras, girdles, falsies” appeared in the article’s ninth paragraph.

The article, as I noted in Getting It Wrong, “did not elaborate about the fire and the articles burning in the Freedom Trash Can, nor did it suggest that the fire was all that important. … Nonetheless, the passage stands as a contemporaneous account that there was fire in the Freedom Trash Can that day — a firsthand report” that typically has been overlooked or ignored.

In addition, the article’s description was buttressed by the recollections of the writer Jon Katz, who in 1968 was a young reporter for the Atlantic City Press. Katz was on the Atlantic City boardwalk the day of the protest, gathering material for a sidebar article about reactions to the demonstration.

Katz’s sidebar didn’t mention fire in the Freedom Trash Can.

But in correspondence with me, Katz stated:

“I quite clearly remember the ‘Freedom Trash Can,’ and also remember some protestors putting their bras into it along with other articles of clothing, and some Pageant brochures, and setting the can on fire.

“I am quite certain of this.”

Katz also said:

“I recall and remember noting at the time that the fire was small, and quickly was extinguished, and didn’t pose a credible threat to the Boardwalk. I noted this as a reporter in case a fire did erupt …. It is my recollection that this burning was planned, and that a number of demonstrators brought bras and other articles of clothing to burn, including, I believe some underwear.”

So what’s the upshot?

Quite clearly, as I wrote in Getting It Wrong, Boucher’s article and Katz’s recollections “offer fresh dimension to the bra-burning legend. … There is now evidence that bras and other items were set afire, if briefly, at the 1968 Miss America protest in Atlantic City. This evidence cannot be taken lightly, dismissed or ignored.” As the Time commentary did.

But I also noted that the witness accounts do not “corroborate a widely held image of angry feminists demonstratively setting fire to their bras and tossing the flaming undergarments into a spectacular bonfire.” Spectacular and flamboyant the bra-burning was not.

Toronto bra burning_1979

Toronto, 1979

Another moment of bra-burning took place in Canada in 1979, when members of Women Against Violence Against Women demonstrated outside Toronto’s city hall. Near the end of the demonstration, a protester named Pat Murphy dropped a white bra into the hungry flames of a burn barrel (see photo, right).

That demonstration took place March 8, 1979, and coincided with International Women’s Day. It was aimed at denouncing a controversial report on rape prepared by the Ontario Provincial Police.

“The bra burning,” one participant recalled in a telephone interview with me in 2011, “was a way to entice the media as well as [offer] a critique of the police report.”

Interestingly, the Toronto newspapers covered the demonstration. But they did not mention the bra-burning.

WJC

More from Media Myth Alert:

Ignoring nuance in the bra-burning myth

In Bra-burning, Debunking, Error, Media myths on May 30, 2013 at 9:01 am

“Myths die hard.”

So says the latest issue of the Economist magazine, in an article that addresses the nuanced myth of bra-burning.

bra-burning_freedomtrashcan

At the ‘Freedom Trash Can,’ 1968

Only there’s not much nuance in the Economist’s description.

“When a handful of feminists protested at the 1968 Miss America pageant in Atlantic City,” the Economist says, “they burned no brassières. They did, however, dump a few (and make-up and high-heeled shoes) into a ‘freedom trash can,’ while also crowning a sheep.”

The syntax of that paragraph is certainly awkward. But what most interests Media Myth Alert is the assertion “they burned no brassières.”

And that’s not quite right.

As I discuss in my myth-busting book, Getting It Wrong, there is compelling evidence that bras were indeed set afire, briefly, during a women’s liberation protest on the boardwalk at Atlantic City.

That protest took place September 7, 1968, and denounced the Miss America pageant as a degrading spectacle. Demonstrators carried placards that expressed such unsubtle sentiments as: “Up Against the Wall, Miss America,” “Miss America Sells It,” “Miss America Is a Big Falsie,” and “Miss America Goes Down.”

A centerpiece of the demonstration was what the organizers called the “Freedom Trash Can.” The Economist is correct in noting that high-heel shoes and other items were tossed into that converted burn barrel.

Bras went into the Freedom Trash Can, too. And according to a first-hand account published the following day in the Atlantic City newspaper, the Press, “bras, girdles, falsies, curlers, and copies of popular women’s magazines [were] burned in the ‘Freedom Trash Can.'”

The Press account appeared beneath this headline:

“Bra-burners blitz boardwalk.”

That account was endorsed by Jon Katz, who in 1968 was a young reporter for the Press and who wrote a sidebar article about the women’s liberation demonstration.

“I quite clearly remember the ‘Freedom Trash Can,’ and also remember some protestors putting their bras into it along with other articles of clothing, and some Pageant brochures, and setting the can on fire,” Katz told me in my research for Getting It Wrong.

“I am,” he added, “quite certain of this.”

Katz also said:

“I recall and remember noting at the time that the fire was small, and quickly was extinguished, and didn’t pose a credible threat to the Boardwalk. I noted this as a reporter in case a fire did erupt.”

When the fire flickered out, Katz said, the police dragged the trash bin to the sand.

The reference to bra-burning in the Press article the day afterward as well as Katz’s recollections “offer fresh dimension to the bra-burning legend,” I write in Getting It Wrong, noting:

“They represent two witness accounts that bras and other items were burned, or at least smoldered, in the Freedom Trash Can. There is now evidence that bras and other items were set afire, if briefly, at the 1968 Miss America protest in Atlantic City.

“This evidence cannot be taken lightly, dismissed or ignored.”

However, these accounts do not support the much more vivid and popular notion that bras went up in flames that day, in a flamboyant protest on the boardwalk.

The witness accounts, I write, do not corroborate the “widely held image of angry feminists demonstratively setting fire to their bras and tossing the flaming undergarments into a spectacular bonfire.”

And yet, as the evidence presented in Getting It Wrong makes clear, “bra-burning” is an epithet not entirely misapplied to the women’s liberation demonstration at Atlantic City.

WJC

More from Media Myth Alert:

On bra-burning, Erica Jong is wrong

In Bra-burning, Debunking, Media myths, Photographs on March 28, 2012 at 4:25 pm

Bra-burning in Toronto, 1979 (Bettmann/Corbis)

The writer Erica Jong asserts in a rambling commentary posted yesterday at the Daily Beast that bra-burning “never actually occurred.”

The mischaracterization of bra-burning was an element of Jong’s defense of feminism and the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s.

Jong wrote in the commentary:

“The fact that the so-called mainstream press reduced our valid struggles to sex, drugs, rock and roll, and bra burning (which, btw, never actually occurred) was their attempt to further disempower us. And they surely prevailed.”

It’s not an infrequent claim, that feminist bra-burning was a media trope, a media myth. That it “never actually occurred.”

But there were at least a couple of documented occasions when feminist protesters set fire to bras.

One occasion came 33 years ago this month, when members of Women Against Violence Against Women demonstrated outside Toronto City Hall. As the demonstration neared its end, a protester named Pat Murphy dropped a white bra into the hungry flames of a burn barrel (see photo, above).

The demonstration in Toronto on March 8, 1979, coincided with International Women’s Day and was aimed at denouncing a report on rape prepared by the Ontario Provincial Police.

The police report said “promiscuity” was a factor in many rapes.

The Women Against Violence Against Women group assailed the report as outrageous and “dazzling in its illogic.” Protesters carried signs saying: “Take a Rapist to Lunch — Charcoal Broiled” and “Hookers Who Wink Go to the Clink! Men Who Rape Escape.”

The Globe and Mail newspaper reported that the protesters lighted “a fire in a garbage can, to the obvious annoyance of about a dozen watchful constables, [and] shouted: ‘Burn the rapists, burn the city, burn the OPP,’” acronym for Ontario Provincial Police.

The newspaper’s account did not specifically mention bra-burning which, one participant has told me, “wasn’t a focal point” of the protest.

But bra-burning did happen there.

Another participant has recalled that “weighing in on the stereotype of ‘feminist bra-burners’ was actually an effective way [for protesters] to say: Women will control our own bodies, thank you!

“The bra burning,” she said, “was a way to entice the media as well as [offer] a critique of the police report.”

A little more than 10 years before the demonstration in Toronto, some 100 women gathered on the boardwalk at Atlantic City, New Jersey, to protest the 1968 Miss America pageant. The demonstration was organized by a small group called New York Radical Women and was an early manifestation of the women’s liberation movement.

In Getting It Wrong, my mythbusting book that came out in 2010, I offer evidence that bras were set afire, briefly, during the demonstration at Atlantic City.

The evidence is from two witness accounts, one of which was published in the local newspaper, the Press of Atlantic City, on September 8, 1968, the day after the protest.

Boucher (1949 photo)

That account appeared beneath the byline of a veteran reporter named John L. Boucher and carried the headline:

“Bra-burners blitz boardwalk.”

Boucher’s article referred to the burn barrel that demonstrators dubbed the “Freedom Trash Can” and stated:

“As the bras, girdles, falsies, curlers, and copies of popular women’s magazines burned in the ‘Freedom Trash Can,’ the demonstration reached the pinnacle of ridicule when the participants paraded a small lamb wearing a gold banner worded ‘Miss America.’”

That published account was buttressed by recollections of the writer Jon Katz, who in 1968 was a young reporter for the Atlantic City newspaper. Katz was on the Atlantic City boardwalk the day of the protest, gathering material for a sidebar article about reactions to the demonstration.

Katz’s sidebar didn’t mention the fire in the “Freedom Trash Can.”

But in correspondence with me, Katz stated:

“I quite clearly remember the ‘Freedom Trash Can,’ and also remember some protestors putting their bras into it along with other articles of clothing, and some Pageant brochures, and setting the can on fire.

“I am quite certain of this.”

WJC

Many thanks to Instapundit
Glenn Reynolds for linking to this post.

Recent and related:

The ‘seismic cultural shifts’ of the 1960s: Protests, assassination — and bra-burning?

In Bra-burning, Debunking, Media myths, Washington Post on March 25, 2012 at 9:59 am

Feminist “bra-burning” of the late 1960s was more media myth than sustained reality.

But a commentary in today’s Washington Post places “bra-burning” among the “[s]eismic cultural shifts” of the late 1960s.

A column that promoted a media trope

Yes, “bra burning.”

This bizarre and baseless claim appears in a commentary that ruminates about the Mad Men television series.

The opening paragraph says:

“On ‘Mad Men,’ the AMC television show that returns for its fifth season Sunday night, booze, cigarettes, unprotected sex, cholesterol-rich foods and negligent parenting play starring roles in a surprisingly accurate and yet idealized picture of a New York ad agency in the mid-1960s. Seismic cultural shifts — Vietnam War protests, bra-burning and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. — are just over the horizon.”

The show, the Post’s commentary avers, “gives us a window into the mind-sets of our parents and grandparents.”

Oh, sure it does.

But even frivolous ruminations can bring opportunities for myth-busting, and bra-burning was hardly a “seismic” event of the late 1960s.

It hardly signaled “cultural shift.”

In fact, feminist “bra-burning” was mostly a non-event.

I call it a “nuanced myth” in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, which debunks 10 prominent media-driven myths.

The derivation of the nuanced myth can be traced to September 7, 1968, and the women’s liberation protest against the Miss America pageant at Atlantic City, N.J. The protest was organized by a small group called New York Radical Women.

The demonstrators included about 100 women who traveled to the Atlantic City boardwalk to denounce the pageant as a “degrading Mindless-Boob-Girlie symbol” that placed “women on a pedestal/auction block to compete for male approval” and promoted a “Madonna Whore image of womanhood.”

The harsh rhetoric notwithstanding, the daylong protest on the boardwalk wasn’t very raucous. A centerpiece was what the demonstrators called the “Freedom Trash Can,” into which they tossed “instruments of torture” such as brassieres, girdles, high-heeled shoes, and copies of Playboy and Cosmopolitan.”

One demonstrator held a girdle over the Freedom Trash Can, according to the New York Times, and chanted:

“No more girdles, no more pain. No more trying to hold the fat in vain.”

The protest’s organizers had let it be known in advance of the demonstration that they planned to set fire to bras and other items at Atlantic City. But once there, plans supposedly were abandoned in favor of what of was called a “symbolic bra-burning.”

And through the years, the demonstration’s organizers have been adamant that no bras were burned during the protest.

Nonetheless, newspaper columnists writing in the demonstration’s aftermath offered highly imaginative accounts of “bra-burning” at Atlantic City.

Notably, Harriet Van Horne wrote in the New York Post that a highlight of the demonstration “was a bonfire in a Freedom Trash Can.”

Van Horne, who was not at the Atlantic City protest, also wrote:

“With screams of delight they consigned to the flames such shackling, demeaning items as girdles, bras, high-heeled slippers, hair curlers and false eyelashes.”

Nationally syndicated humor columnist Art Buchwald also picked up on the bra-burning meme, writing with tongue in cheek that he was “flabbergasted to read that about 100 women had picketed the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City against ‘ludicrous beauty standards’ that had enslaved the American woman.’”

Buchwald also wrote: “The final and most tragic part of the protest took place when several of the women publicly burned their brassieres.”

And a media myth took hold.

What nuances the myth are witness accounts, discussed in Getting It Wrong, that bras were set afire, if briefly, during the protest.

Boucher, 1949 photo

One witness account appeared in the Press of Atlantic City the day after the protest. The newspaper’s first-hand report, written by a veteran reporter named John L. Boucher, included this passage:

“As the bras, girdles, falsies, curlers, and copies of popular women’s magazines burned in the ‘Freedom Trash Can,’ the demonstration reached the pinnacle of ridicule when the participants paraded a small lamb wearing a gold banner worded ‘Miss America.’”

Also covering the demonstration was Jon Katz, then a young reporter for the Atlantic City Press. In my research into bra-burning, Katz told me:

“I quite clearly remember the ‘Freedom Trash Can,’ and also remember some protestors putting their bras into it along with other articles of clothing, and some Pageant brochures, and setting the can on fire. I am quite certain of this.”

As I point out in Getting It Wrong, these accounts that bras were burned in the “Freedom Trash Can” cannot be “taken lightly, dismissed or ignored.”

At the same time,  I write, the witness accounts “offer no evidence to corroborate a widely held image of angry feminists demonstratively setting fire to their bras and tossing the flaming undergarments into a spectacular bonfire.”

There was no mass bra-burning at Atlantic City, no feminists twirling flaming bras over the heads. Fire at most was a modest and fleeting aspect of the protest on that long ago September day.

It was, to be sure, no seismic event.

WJC

Recent and related:

How’s that? ‘Bra-burning’ influenced mid-1960s fashion?

In Bra-burning, Debunking, Media myths on March 22, 2012 at 4:50 am

The notion that “bra-burning” was a widespread element of feminist protest is a media myth that’s probably too engrained, and euphonic, ever to be thoroughly debunked.

Fashion statement? (Press of Atlantic City)

It’s a notion that’s given rise to much hyperbole since the late 1960s. An Associated Press report yesterday added to the overstatement reflex with this astounding and wrong-headed passage about “bra-burning“:

“Culturally, beatniks were becoming mods, rock ‘n’ roll was taking hold, and the move from stockings to pantyhose — and eventual bra-burning — all influenced mid-’60s fashion.”

The AP report was about how the Mad Men television series has reflected “the evolution of fashion” during the 1960s.

But it wasn’t such froth that caught the attention of Media Myth Alert: It was the absurd claim that “bra burning … influenced mid-1960s fashion.”

Left unsaid by the AP report was how — how “bra-burning,” even if it were a frequent manifestation (which it wasn’t), could have  influenced fashion of that time.

The AP claim was especially puzzling because the “bra burning” meme did not even emerge until the late 1960s, when it came to be associated with the Miss America protest at Atlantic City on September 7, 1968.

A centerpiece of the 1968 protest was the “Freedom Trash Can,” into which demonstrators deposited so-called “instruments of torture” — including brassieres, girdles, high-heeled shoes, false eyelashes, and copies of magazines such as Playboy and Cosmopolitan.

Organizers of the demonstration have long insisted that no bras were set afire that day — that there was only a “symbolic bra burning” at Atlantic City.

But “bra-burning” is a nuanced media myth — as I describe in my latest book, Getting It Wrong.

I discuss in the book two previously overlooked witness accounts that bras were burned, briefly, during the protest at Atlantic City, which often is credited with marking the rise of the feminist movement of the late 20th century.

One of the witness accounts was published the day after the protest in the Press of Atlantic City, beneath the headline:

Bra-burners Blitz Boardwalk.”

The newspaper report, written by a veteran reporter named John L. Boucher, included this passage:

“As the bras, girdles, falsies, curlers, and copies of popular women’s magazines burned in the ‘Freedom Trash Can,’ the demonstration reached the pinnacle of ridicule when the participants paraded a small lamb wearing a gold banner worded ‘Miss America.’”

The other witness account discussed in Getting It Wrong was that of Jon Katz, a writer who covered the 1968 protest as a young reporter for the Atlantic City newspaper.

“I recall and remember noting at the time that the fire was small, and quickly was extinguished, and didn’t pose a credible threat to the Boardwalk. I noted this as a reporter in case a fire did erupt,” Katz told me, adding:

“It is my recollection that this burning was planned, and that a number of demonstrators brought bras and other articles of clothing to burn, including, I believe some underwear.”

These witness accounts offer fresh dimension to the legend of bra-burning: They represent evidence that bras and other items were set afire, if briefly, at the 1968 protest in Atlantic City.

“This evidence,” I write in Getting It Wrong, “cannot be taken lightly, dismissed or ignored.”

I also point out, though, that neither witness account lends  “support to the far more vivid and popular imagery that many bras went up in flames in flamboyant protest that September day. [The] accounts offer no evidence to corroborate a widely held image of angry feminists demonstratively setting fire to their bras and tossing the flaming undergarments into a spectacular bonfire.”

The reference in the AP report to “bra burning” as a fashion-molder is not only wrong; it suggest the insidious nature of media myths — how they can be invoked so readily and casually, without reference to any supporting evidence or detail.

They’re often treated as if they’re common knowledge, widely accepted.

And “bra-burning” is a media myth with a sting. The term often has been employed casually, as derogatory epithet, to ridicule feminists and dismiss their objectives as trivial and insignificant. As such, “bra-burning” underscores the potential of media myths to feed and promote stereotypes.

Not to mention misleading impressions of fashion history of the 1960s.

WJC

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Taking stock: Top mythbusting posts of 2011

In Anniversaries, Bra-burning, Cronkite Moment, Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Murrow-McCarthy myth, Quotes, Washington Post, Watergate myth on December 31, 2011 at 4:45 am

Reviewing the year in media-mythbusting reveals a number of memorable posts. Here are the Media Myth Alert five top writeups of 2011, with a roster of other mythbusting posts of note:

Krakauer retreats from Lynch-source claim (posted November 11): This post revealed author Jon Krakauer’s quiet retreat from claims in a 2009 book that Jim Wilkinson, a former White House official, was the source for the bogus Washington Post report about Jessica Lynch and her supposed battlefield heroics in the Iraq War in 2003.

The claims in Krakauer’s book were unattributed — and vigorously denied by Wilkinson, who sought a correction.

When it came, the correction was inserted unobtrusively in a new printing of the paperback edition of Krakauer’s book, Where Men Win Glory. It read:

“Earlier editions of this book stated that it was Jim Wilkinson ‘who arranged to give the Washington Post exclusive access’ to this leaked intelligence [about Jessica Lynch]. This is incorrect. Wilkinson had nothing to do with the leak.”

I’ve noted that the Post’s enduring silence about its sources on the Lynch story has allowed for the emergence not only of false allegations such as those about Wilkinson, but of a false narrative that the military concocted the tale about Lynch’s derring-do.

The false narrative  also has deflected attention from the soldier whose heroics apparently were misattributed to Lynch. He was Sgt. Donald Walters, a cook in Lynch’s unit.

‘Deep Throat’ garage marker errs about Watergate source disclosures (posted August 18): A handsome historical marker went up in August outside the parking garage in Arlington, Virginia, where Bob Woodward of the Post conferred occasionally in 1972 and 1973 with his stealthy Watergate source, “Deep Throat.”

The marker, I pointed out, errs in describing the information Woodward received from the “Deep Throat” source, who in 2005 revealed himself as W. Mark Felt, formerly the FBI’s second in command.

The marker says:

“Felt provided Woodward information that exposed the Nixon administration’s obstruction of the FBI’s Watergate investigation.”

Which just isn’t so.

Such evidence, had “Deep Throat” offered it to Woodward, would have been so damaging and so explosive that it surely would have forced Richard Nixon to resign the presidency well before he did, in August 1974.

Felt didn’t have that sort of information — or (less likely) didn’t share it with Woodward.

I noted in my post about the marker that All the President’s Men, the book Woodward wrote with Carl Bernstein about their Watergate reporting, says Woodward’s conversations with “Deep Throat” were intended “only to confirm information that had been gathered elsewhere and to add some perspective.”

Bra-burning in Toronto: Confirmed (posted February 19): I ascertained in this post that an image of a bra-burning protest in Toronto in 1979 was no hoax, that the photograph was authentic.

I had not seen the photograph before it appeared in February with an article at the online site of  London’s Guardian newspaper.

I had doubts about the photo’s authenticity — given the periodic claims that no bras ever were burned at a feminist protest. The Toronto image, I suspected, might have been unethically altered.

Turns out that was not the case.

I tracked down one of the participants at the Toronto protest and she confirmed the bra-burning, saying by phone from Vancouver:

“The photo is authentic. Absolutely. It happened.”

The participant was Vicki Trerise, who appears at the far right in the photograph above.

The photograph shows a moment of demonstrative bra-burning, although Trerise said it “wasn’t a focal point” of the protest, which took place not far from Toronto’s City Hall.

The bra-burning came near the end of the demonstration, which was called to protest what the organizers said was an illogical report about rape, prepared by the Ontario Provincial Police.

Trerise said the demonstrators in Toronto were media-savvy and “knew that if they burned a bra, someone would take their picture.”

Suspect Murrow quote pulled at Murrow school (posted February 17): The online welcome page of the dean of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University contained a quotation attributed to Murrow that’s only half-true.

Murrow

The quote reads:

“We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it.”

As I’ve reported previously, the first portion of the quote was indeed spoken by Murrow, in his mythical 1954 television program that addressed Senator Joseph McCarthy’s red-baiting ways.

The second part of the quote — “When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it” — is apocryphal.

In February, I found that the full quotation — accompanied by a facsimile of Murrow’s signature — was posted at the welcome page of Dean Lawrence Pintak of Murrow College at Washington State, Murrow’s alma mater.

I asked the dean what knew about the quote’s provenance, noting that I had consulted, among other sources, a database of historical newspapers which contained no articles quoting the “loyal opposition” passage.

Pintak referred my inquiry to an instructor on his faculty who, a few hours later, sent an email to the dean and me, stating:

“While [the ‘loyal opposition’ quotation] seems to reflect the Murrow spirit, the lack of evidence that he phrased it that way is indeed suspicious.”

He added: “I feel the evidence says no, Murrow did not say this.”

By day’s end, the suspect quote had been pulled from the welcome page. Just the authentic portion — “We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty” — remained posted there.

Mythmaking in Moscow: Biden says WaPo brought down Nixon (posted March 12): Joe Biden, the hapless U.S. vice president, repeated the dominant but misleading narrative about the Watergate scandal in March by telling an audience in Moscow that the Washington Post had “brought down” Richard Nixon’s corrupt presidency.

The gaffe-prone Biden told his audience:

“In my country it was a newspaper, not the FBI, or the Justice Department, it was a newspaper, the Washington Post that brought down a President for illegal actions.”

It’s a version of scandal that few serious historians accept. Not even the Washington Post buys into such a myth-encrusted interpretation.

Indeed, principals at the Post from time to time have sought to distance the newspaper from that misleading assessment.

For example, Katharine Graham, the newspaper’s publisher during and after the Watergate scandal, said in 1997, at a program marking the 25th anniversary of the scandal:

“Sometimes people accuse us of bringing down a president, which of course we didn’t do. The processes that caused [Nixon’s] resignation were constitutional.”

More recently, Michael Getler, then the newspaper’s ombudsman, wrote in 2005:

“Ultimately, it was not The Post, but the FBI, a Congress acting in bipartisan fashion and the courts that brought down the Nixon administration.”

Such comments are not the expressions of false modesty. Instead, they represent a more accurate reading of the history of Watergate than Biden offered up in Moscow.

Even so, in the run-up to the scandal’s 40th anniversary in 2012, the Watergate myth — the heroic-journalist trope — is sure to emerge often and insistently.

But the Post and its reporting of Watergate assuredly did not bring down Nixon, as I discuss in Getting It Wrong, my latest book which was published in 2010.

WJC

Many thanks to Instapundit
Glenn Reynolds for linking to this post.

Other memorable posts of 2011:

Recalling the 1960s ‘bra-burning days of women’s lib’

In Bra-burning, Debunking, Media myths on September 6, 2011 at 4:33 am

Ah, yes: “the 60s bra-burning days of women’s lib.”

Those “bra-burning days” can be traced to the boardwalk at Atlantic City, NJ, 43 years ago, when about 100 women’s liberation demonstrators protested the Miss America pageant at the city’s Convention Center.

At the 'Freedom Trash Can,' 1968

A centerpiece of the protest was what the demonstrators called the “freedom trash can,” into which they consigned such “instruments of torture” as brassieres, girdles, high-heeled shoes, false eyelashes, copies of  Playboy and Cosmopolitan magazines.

The protesters have long insisted that, contrary to legend, bras and other items were not set afire that long ago September day.

The protest’s principal organizer, Robin Morgan, has asserted:

“There were no bras burned” at Atlantic City. “That’s a media myth.”

But in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, I offer evidence that bras were set afire, briefly, during the protest at Atlantic City. It was perhaps more akin to bra-smoldering.

The evidence is from separate witness accounts — one of them published in the local newspaper, the Press of Atlantic City, on September 8, 1968, the day after the protest.

That account appeared beneath the byline of a veteran reporter named John L. Boucher and carried the headline:

Bra burners blitz Boardwalk.”

The article’s key passage stated:

“As the bras, girdles, falsies, curlers, and copies of popular women’s magazines burned in the ‘Freedom Trash Can,’ the demonstration reached the pinnacle of ridicule when the participants paraded a small lamb wearing a gold banner worded ‘Miss America.’”

Boucher’s account, as I note in Getting It Wrong, “did not elaborate about the fire and the articles burning in the Freedom Trash Can, nor did it suggest the fire was all that important. Rather, the article conveyed a sense of astonishment that an event such as the women’s liberation protest could take place near the venue of the pageant.”

Boucher’s contemporaneous account was buttressed by the recollections of Jon Katz, a prolific writer who in 1968 was a young reporter for the Atlantic City Press.

He was on the boardwalk the day of the protest, gathering material for a sidebar article about reactions to the demonstration.

Katz’s article did not mention the burning bras. But in correspondence with me, Katz stated:

“I quite clearly remember the ‘Freedom Trash Can,’ and also remember some protestors putting their bras into it along with other articles of clothing, and some Pageant brochures, and setting the can on fire. I am quite certain of this.”

He added: “I recall and remember noting at the time that the fire was small, and quickly was extinguished, and didn’t pose a credible threat to the Boardwalk. I noted this as a reporter in case a fire did erupt ….”

Boucher’s long-overlooked article and Katz’s more recent recollections represent strong evidence that bras and other items were burned at the 1968 protest.

As I write in Getting It Wrong,  “This evidence cannot be taken lightly, dismissed or ignored.

“But it must be said as well,” I add, “that the witness accounts of Boucher and Katz lend no support to the far more vivid and popular imagery that many bras went up in flames in flamboyant protest that September day.”

Still, the notion that bra burnings were numerous during the late 1960s and 1970s became well-ingrained in American popular culture — as the recent reference in the Australian newspaper to “the 60s bra-burning days of women’s lib” suggests.

The phrase “bra-burning,” as I note in Getting It Wrong, became a sneering, off-hand way “of ridiculing feminists and mocking their sometimes-militant efforts to confront gender-based discrimination in the home and the work place.”

Bra-burning was hardly a common element of women’s liberation protests of the late 1960s and 1970s. Evidence is scant at best of feminist protesters during those years setting fire to bras and tossing the flaming undergarments into spectacular bonfires.

WJC

Recent and related:

‘What’s a couple of centuries’ when it comes to China and Zhou Enlai?

In Bra-burning, Debunking, Media myths on July 3, 2011 at 5:58 am

When Zhou Enlai observed that it was “too early” to assess the significance of political upheaval in France, he was speaking about the turmoil of 1968, and not, as is often believed, about the French Revolution that began in 1789.

Zhou greets Nixon, 1972

The Independent newspaper in London referred to the Zhou misunderstanding in an editorial posted yesterday, and essentially shrugged it off, stating :

“Revisionists now claim that he was commenting not on the storming of the Bastille in 1789, but on the student riots of 1968. But what’s a couple of centuries to a China still engaged in its own long march to modernity?”

The editorial’s snark and breezy dismissiveness may be because the “revisionists” include the Financial Times, a rival London newspaper.

The Financial Times was first to call attention to the mistaken interpretation of Zhou’s remark.

Zhou, the Chinese premier, said during President Richard Nixon’s trip to China in February 1972 that it was “too early to say” what were the implications of political upheaval in France.

Charles (Chas) Freeman, an American diplomat who was Nixon’s interpreter on the China visit, told a panel discussion in Washington, D.C., last month that Zhou clearly was speaking about the turmoil and student protests in France in 1968 — not the French revolution of nearly 200 years before.

A reporter for the Financial Times moderated the panel discussion and in his article wrote that Freeman said:

“There was a mis­understanding [about Zhou’s remark] that was too delicious to invite correction.”

In a subsequent interview with me, Freeman said:

“I cannot explain the confusion about Zhou’s comment, except in terms of the extent to which it conveniently bolstered a stereotype” about Chinese leaders’ taking an exceptionally long and patient view of history.

Stereotyping helps explain why Zhou’s comment has been so widely quoted — and why debunking its erroneous and more extravagant interpretation really does matter.

Stereotyping, as I discuss in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, can be buoyed by media-driven myths, those dubious media-centric stories that masquerade as factual.

In Getting It Wrong, I note a number of examples of stereotypes that have been bolstered by media myths.

I write: “The misleading if euphonic epithet of ‘bra-burning‘ emerged from a demonstration on the Atlantic City boardwalk in 1968 to become shorthand for denigrating the emergent feminist movement and dismissing it as trivial and even a bit odd. The widely misreported pandemic of ‘crack babies‘ in the late 1980s and early 1990s seemed to confirm the worst pathologies associated with inner-city poor people.”

Rather than reflecting China’s supposedly long and patient view of history, Zhou’s “too early” observation was cautious analysis about events that were fairly recent and still under interpretation.

Zhou’s was a pragmatic observation, hardly sage or long-sighted.

WJC

Recent and related:

No bra-burning at Atlantic City?

In Bra-burning, Debunking, Media myths on June 10, 2011 at 8:19 am

Bra-burning” was a late 20th century phenomenon that’s given rise to considerable and enduring misunderstanding.

Atlantic City, 1968

The notion that feminists in the late 1960s and 1970s frequently and demonstratively set fire to bras is erroneous — as is the view that bra-burning never happened, that it was all a nasty media myth.

In a brief item posted online today, the Irish Independent veers toward the latter interpretation. It cites the women’s liberation protest in September 1968 at Atlantic City, a demonstration against the Miss America Pageant that gave dimension to the epithet “bra-burning.”

The Independent says that “hundreds of women protested the Miss America Pageant by tossing tweezers, high heels and bras — symbols of objectification — into a bin.” It adds, parenthetically:

“Bra burning at this event, however, is a myth.”

Not exactly.

In Getting It Wrong, my media mythbusting book that came out last year, I offer evidence that bras were set afire, if briefly, during the demonstration at the Atlantic City — where about 100 women (certainly not “hundreds of women”) protested the pageant as a demeaning spectacle.

The evidence is in separate witness accounts by journalists, including an article report published in the Press of Atlantic City on September 8, 1968, the day after the protest.

The article appeared on page 4 of the Press, beneath the byline of John L. Boucher, a gruff, locally prominent journalist known to take pains not to embroider or exaggerate his reporting.

Boucher’s article carried the headline:

“Bra-burners blitz boardwalk.”

The article mentioned a burn barrel that demonstrators had dubbed the “Freedom Trash Can,” stating:

“As the bras, girdles, falsies, curlers, and copies of popular women’s magazines burned in the ‘Freedom Trash Can,’ the demonstration reached the pinnacle of ridicule when the participants paraded a small lamb wearing a gold banner worded ‘Miss America.’”

Boucher’s report was buttressed by the separate recollections of Jon Katz, a writer who in 1968 was a young reporter for the Atlantic City Press. Katz was assigned to women’s liberation protest to gather material for a sidebar article about the reactions of passersby.

In correspondence with me as I researched Getting It Wrong, Katz wrote:

“I quite clearly remember the ‘Freedom Trash Can,’ and also remember some protestors putting their bras into it along with other articles of clothing, and some Pageant brochures, and setting the can on fire.

“I am quite certain of this.”

As I point out in Getting It Wrong, these accounts at very least “offer fresh dimension to the bra-burning legend.

“They represent two witness accounts that bras and other items were burned, or at least smoldered, in the Freedom Trash Can.”

This evidence, I write, cannot be taken lightly, dismissed or ignored.

At the same time, I add, the accounts of Boucher and Katz “lend no support to the far more vivid and popular imagery that many bras went up in flames in flamboyant protest that September day.”

Even so, I note that “bra-burning” is an epithet not at all misapplied to the protest at Atlantic City. The evidence is that bras and other items were set afire, briefly, at that long ago demonstration.

WJC

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