Do Conservative Town Hall Protests Really "Shut Down Public Discourse"?

Like her colleague Ian Urbina the day before, reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg also rehashed the controversy over Heather Blish, the supposed undercover Republican who challenged a Democratic congressman at a town hall in Wisconsin, in her Sunday Week in Review front-page piece, "Where Have You Gone, Joe the Citizen?"

In a pro-Democratic story waxing nostalgic for the days when you could tell grassroots protestors from the Astroturf variety, Stolberg accused the right of having "shut down public discourse" and also got in a cheap shot at Joe the Plumber.

[Democratic Rep.] Kratovil's experience was part of a phenomenon that swept the country last week, with increasingly ugly scenes of partisan screaming matches, scuffles, threats and even arrests. The traditional town hall meeting, a staple of Congressional constituent relations, had been hijacked, overrun by sophisticated social-networking campaigns - those on the right protesting so loudly as to shut down public discourse and those on the left springing into action to shut down the shutdowns.

The result was a series of made-for-YouTube moments, with video clips played endlessly on the Internet and cable television, the logical extreme, perhaps, of an era whenJoe the Plumberis really named Sam. Along the way, another kind of Joe - Joe Six-Pack, the average Joe - seemed to disappear, pushed into the background by crowds bearing scripted talking points and signs.

The fact that Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher (who caught the ire of the liberal media when he embarrassed Obama on the campaign trail with a tax question) goes by his middle name makes him quite suspicious in the eyes of Times reporters like Stolberg and Larry Rohter.

The article was accompanied by that suddenly ubiquitous Norman Rockwell painting "Freedom of Speech," showing a citizen standing up and saying his piece at a town hall.

As her colleague Ian Urbina did the day before, Stolberg got to the story of Heather Blish, althoughshe leftoff Blish's name:

Now, though, the complaining constituent is not always who he seems to be. In Wisconsin last week, Representative Steve Kagen, a Democrat, was challenged on health care by a woman who declared herself politically unaffiliated; the local television station later discovered that she was a formerRepublican Partyofficial who had worked for Mr. Kagen's opponent in his Congressional race.

Neither Urbina nor Stolberg had a word to say about Tampa Democratic operative Karen Miracle, caught on camera slapping an anti-Obama protestor in a photo run by the Times.

Stolberg at least mentioned that "Community organizing is nothing new; President Obama made an early career of it."