National Media Dismiss, Disparage and Attack Tax Day Tea Parties

Silent no more, by tax day the networks, CNN and the major papers finally acknowledged the story of the Tax Day Tea Party protests. And while they covered them, they found many ways to discredit the movement by repeating the claims of the left.

In CNN’s case, the network also became the story when one of its reporters showed contempt for people at the Chicago Tea Party, calling the protests “anti-government” and “anti-CNN.” One night earlier, Anderson Cooper repeated the offensive sexual term “teabagging,” which had been the favorite anti-tea party slur of “liberal” MSNBC since April 9.

National broadcast or print media used the term “AstroTurf” at least 12 times since April 10 to attack the idea that the protests were a grassroots movement of conservatives. Left-wing bloggers at BuzzFlash used that term to label the tea party movement as early as March 24.

A number of reports also accused Fox News of being too involved in the protests. ABC’s Dan Harris repeated criticism from the left that the tea parties were “a product” of Fox News and lobbyist organizations. All three network newscasts tried to discredit the protests on April 15.

All of those themes – “Teabagging” remarks, “AstroTurf” slams and claims that Fox News was organizing the protest – were popularized on left-wing blogs and MSNBC before resounding in the mainstream media’s echo chamber.

Of course on April 15, some in the media were still doing their best to downplay the thousands of protesters rallying across the country. The New York Times buried its tea party follow up on April 16 at the bottom of page A14. But a protest of Afghan women in Kabul secured the below-the-fold front page spot.

NBC’s Chuck Todd wrote off the protests for “Today” viewers April 15 saying, “There’s been some grassroots conservatives who have organized so called ‘tea parties’” around the country. “But I tell you, the idea hasn’t really caught on.”

Perhaps Todd should have been attending a tea party himself, like the one in Atlanta that was estimated to have 15,000 people. According to the San Francisco Chronicle a Sacramento rally drew about 5,000, and Associated Press reported that 1,000-2,000 attended a D.C. rally. According to “tens of thousands of people spent part of April 15” at tea party demonstrations.


CNN Chooses Sides

Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz told CNN viewers on April 15 that “much of the media seems to have chosen sides for tea day.” Kurtz also admitted it was a “non-story” for “most major newspapers” and that his paper ran its first story on page B4 of the Metro section “today.”

While he was exactly right, Kurtz went easy on CNN and MSNBC.

He criticized Fox News for promoting the tea parties, but chided CNN for ignoring the story before April 14. He also noted MSNBC’s mockery of the protests, but did not condemn the vulgarities used repeatedly by David Shuster, Rachel Maddow and guests of the cable network.

“FOX News sees this tax protest as a big story, CNN as a modest story and MSNBC as a great story - to make fun of.” Kurtz said CNN had done “occasional reports,” but did not question correspondent Susan Roesgen for her disgraceful behavior at the Chicago Tea Party, even though during CNN’s “Situation Room.” he showed  a partial video clip of Roesgen being belligerent with one protester.(Two hours later when CNN ran Kurtz’ package again the video of Roesgen had been switched for a video with a calmer reporter.).

Roesgen argued with another tea party participant in her live shot – interrupting a man as he was explaining why he came to the rally. Roesgen cut him off him, saying, "But sir, what does that have to do with taxes? What does this have to do with your taxes?" She continued asking questions over his answer as he asked her to "let me finish my point." One crowd member was heard to yell "shut up" to Roesgen.

After the disagreement, Roesgen backed away claiming “you get the general tenor of this” tea party. And what tenor was that? “Anti-government, anti-CNN since this is highly promoted by the right-wing conservative network Fox,” Roesgen claimed.

Organizers for the protest at responded on the Web site to the CNN video with the headline “CNN=FAIL.” That blog post from national organizer Eric Odum linked to video of the Roesgen incident with a one sentence reaction: “I guess CNN forgot what real journalism is. Not to CNN… this isn’t it.”


Founding Bloggers caught the aftermath of Roesgen’s report in Chicago on tape as protesters called her out for presenting the story unfairly.

CNN also copied MSNBC’s juvenile behavior on “Anderson Cooper 360” April 14 by resorting to lewd sexual comments.

After CNN’s senior political analyst David Gergen remarked that Republicans were “searching for their voice” after two electoral losses, Cooper quipped, “It’s hard to talk when you’re tea-bagging.” describes the crude term “teabagging” as when a man places his testicles “onto someone’s face, or into their mouth.” The slang term had been used for days on MSNBC before CNN repeated it – in one specific discussion of the tea party protests host Rachel Maddow and guest Ana Marie Cox said it at least 51 times, in 13 minutes.


Too Little, Too Late

The national news media was divided on the tax day tea parties – at least up until April 14. The Big Three networks and The Washington Post chose to effectively ignore the hundreds of planned demonstrations, while The New York Times and MSNBC disparaged the protests.

Since the day Rick Santelli ranted on CNBC calling for a “Chicago Tea Party” to protest the administration’s willingness to bailout homeowners, unintentionally rallying hundreds of thousands of Americans to protest, the three major news networks have only mentioned the tea party protests in passing three times.

Two of those passing references were from ABC’s Jake Tapper on March 23 programming, the other was on NBC’s “Today.”

Three measly mentions since February – as more than 750 events were planned nationally? The network silence constituted egregious censorship of a grassroots anti-tax and pro-free market movement., the Web site devoted to the events, described itself as “a grassroots, collaborative volunteer organization made up of every day American citizens from across the country.”

The Washington Post couldn’t be bothered to give the tea party movement more than a single news brief as a calendar announcement until April 15. The news brief It noted that a “TEA (Taxed Enough Already) party – a grass-roots, peaceful demonstration – is scheduled for noon to 1 p.m. Wednesday …”’

Silence from those news outlets was particularly hypocritical considering the time and newsprint devoted to G20 protests in London, Proposition 8 protests for gay marriage and even an anti-male circumcision protest in Washington, D.C.

The Post did eight stories detailing the Proposition 8 protests (and a Style section front-page story about a circumcision protest of roughly 50 people). The big networks broadcast 19 stories on Prop 8 rallies. Both CBS and NBC covered “about 2,000 people” protesting at the Long Beach, Calif. rally.

‘Astroturf’ and ‘Conservative Teabagging’


Both the Times and MSNBC covered the tea parties with mockery, skepticism and in the case of the cable network – dirty sex jokes.

Between Santelli’s outburst Feb. 19 and April 14, the Times mentioned tea parties six times (several mentions were in columns) and disparaged or undermined the protests in five of those instances.

The Times went after Santelli on March 3 claiming he was “on the defensive.” That article by Brian Stetler described the CNBC’s reporter’s commentary saying it “appeared spontaneous to viewers.”

At least Stetler acknowledged that since the rant “dozens of ‘tea party’ protests have taken place in cities across the country, and some conservative groups are planning a Tax Day Tea Party for April 15.” That was more information than the networks provided.

But it was Times’ columnists Paul Krugman, Frank Rich and Lawrence Downes who provided the main attacks. Downes mocked a Northport, N.Y. tea party on April 7 as “a day for brandishing signs, shouting imprecations, and donning silly clothing.” Rich claimed the Santelli “bonfire fizzled” and Krugman called them “AstroTurf (fake grass roots) events.”

Krugman tied the tea party events directly to the GOP in his April 13 column “Tea Parties Forever.” The tea parties, according to Krugman, “have been the subject of considerable mockery, and rightly so.”

Questioning the motivation and sincerity, Krugman wrote that “it turns out that the tea parties don’t represent a spontaneous outpouring of public sentiment. They’re AstroTurf (fake grass roots) events, manufactured by the usual suspects.”

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and David Shuster stooped even lower than the Times by repeatedly calling tea party protesters the offensive term “teabaggers.” One MSNBC guest cited the definition for viewers unfamiliar with the term.

On April 13, Shuster discussed the tax day protests in a soliloquy that contained about a dozen separate oral sex puns. “But in our fourth story tonight: It’s going to be teabagging day for the right-wing and they’re going nuts for it. Thousands of them whipped out the festivities early this past weekend, and while the parties are officially toothless, the teabaggers are full-throated about their goals,” Shuster said in part.

But even Shuster’s filthy monologue was tame compared to Maddow’s April 9 exchange with Air America radio contributor (and former Wonkette) Ana Marie Cox. The duo used the word “teabag” at least 51 times in a in a 13-minute long segment of bad “teabag” puns.

Both Shuster and Cox were lost in juvenile criticism and ignored the reason there is discontent from the conservative base.

Fox News host Glenn Beck responded to left-wing groups’ criticism of the tea parties on April 9 “Your World with Neil Cavuto.” Beck said “They don’t get it (a bottom-up grassroots movement). They think that these tax rallies – because they are so into their ‘dot orgs’ and their ACORN movements, where you have to have these coordinators. These are regular people and they are regular people that were hacked off at George W. Bush. They were angry at the spending of the Republicans.”

Beck and other Fox News commentators were criticized for being too supportive of the tea party protests by Kurtz on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” April 12.

"The folks at Fox News have found something to be for in this age of Obama," Kurtz said. "They are firmly in favor of tea parties. On Wednesday, that would be April 15th – there will be tax protests around the country on the theme of the original Boston Tea Party. says it was inspired by that rant against President Obama's mortgage aid plan by CNBC's Rick Santelli."

Kurtz focused on Fox News Channel, but did admit that “CNN and MSNBC may have dropped the ball by all but ignoring the protests.”