PR PLAY OF THE WEEK: Turning back puts Smith in front of press

NEW YORK: Political protests are a daily occurrence in a democracy with as diverse a set of viewpoints as the US. Yet getting one voice heard above the din is never easy. Especially, when the protester never utters a word.

NEW YORK: Political protests are a daily occurrence in a democracy with as diverse a set of viewpoints as the US. Yet getting one voice heard above the din is never easy. Especially, when the protester never utters a word.

While the millions that protested in cities across the globe two weekends ago made a statement that would be hard for any news outlet to ignore, it's difficult to imagine that a lone college student making a statement in a 300-seat gymnasium in suburban New York could grab any media spotlight.

Yet that is exactly what has happened in recent weeks.

Toni Smith, a senior guard with Manhattanville College's women's basketball team, had been quietly turning her back to the American flag during the pre-game playing of The Star-Spangled Banner for a few weeks. It came to light that her about-face was a silent protest against the potential war in Iraq.

According to The New York Times, Smith's protests had been slowly gathering attention until a recent Manhattanville game saw "a handful of national television cameramen who encircled the Manhattanville bench to get a glimpse of Smith as she turned her back and stared at the floor."

Yet this coverage of Smith's 180-degree turn is by no means where the media attention ended. Smith's silent objection was fodder for a litany of print and electronic commentators.

"Player's protest is commendable," read the headline of an op-ed piece in The Oakland Tri- bune, while one in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram blared, "Misguided protest a disgrace to US"

Fox News gab king Bill O'Reilly, CNN's Wolf Blitzer and Connie Chung, and MSNBC's Pat Buchanan and Bill Press all devoted segments to Smith.

According to a Reuters' Factiva database search, at least 88 print articles or electronic news segments had covered Smith's protest as of last Wednesday afternoon. Not bad for a one-woman silent protest in the 300-seat gym of a tiny private college.

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