When seeking political neutrality in a discussion of the Tea Party movement, it's probably best to avoid including - let alone promoting - a reporter who consistently suggests that racism undergirds the movement.
But that is exactly what the State Department did in selecting Times reporter Kate Zernike to brief foreign journalists on the Tea Party last Friday.
This is the same Kate Zernike who claimed that there is "an echo of slavery, Jim Crow and George Wallace" in Tea Party calls for federalism, claimed the animating force of the movement is an "us vs. them" mentality (them being minorities and illegal immigrants). In other words, Zernike is not the most impartial of Tea Party observers.
Though she was less hackish than usual, Zernike still snuck a few cheap shots into her discussion. She avoided racism accusations but incessantly repeated claims that the Tea Party is comprised of "extremists" and is inherently contradictory.
One must wonder why State would choose such an obviously biased reporter to head up a briefing intended to promote "accuracy" and "balance."
Zernike has cried racism again and again and again in her coverage of the Tea Party. Calls for states' rights? Racism. Opposition to the minimum wage? Racism. Objections to federal welfare programs? Also racism.
Discussing the Tea Party's intellectual influences, Zernike dubbed Nobel-winning economist F.A. Hayek an "obscure" writer, and pondered bizarre concepts like the rule of law.
And of course this is the same Kate Zernike who found "racial tones" in now-Human Events editor Jason Mattera's criticism of President Obama. She claimed Mattera was using a "Chris Rock voice," apparently mistaking his Brooklyn accent for an impersonation of an African American.
So the woman clearly has some preconceived notions about the Tea Party. They are reflected in her book, reviewed by Times Watch editor Clay Waters.
Yet despite her apparent biases, the State Department selected Zernike to speak to foreign media at its Foreign Press Center. State describes it thusly:
The Foreign Press Centers support U.S. policies by helping foreign media cover the U.S. Their goal is to promote the depth, accuracy, and balance of foreign reporting from the U.S., by providing direct access to authoritative American information sources.
"Accuracy" and "balance" are not exactly Zernike's M.O. when it comes to covering the Tea Party. Yet there she was, taking questions from the foreign press on a movement she clearly does not like.
Though Zernike's discussion of the movement was considerably less hostile than much of her Times coverage, she managed to fit in a few leftist canards, such as this one:
One of the central contradictions of the movement has been that as much as this is a smaller government movement wanting less spending and less government intervention in our lives, about half the people of the supporters were on Medicare or Social Security or lived with someone who was. Of course these are the biggest government programs in the country. These are the chief areas that are driving up the national debt.
"This is a patently fallacious argument," writes the Washington Examiner's Mark Hemingway, "only adopted by the Tea Party's most partisan opponents." Indeed, Hemingway links to his colleague Tim Carney's assessment of the argument:
Of all the arguments liberals bring up against the Tea Party, this has to be the stupidest. Not only have millions of seniors and their employers paid billions of dollars into the Medicare system - 2.9 percent on every dime they've worked for in their entire life - but the program's very existence has dried up whatever market there once was for old-age medical insurance. Our Medicare system, as President Obama never fails to point out, is unsustainable, and yet thanks to the government, very few senior citizens have any alternative.
Though Zernike laudably dodged a question from a Spanish reporter clearly designed to elicit a racism charge, she did harp on the notion that the movement is comprised of a bunch of "extremists" well outside the mainstream of public opinion. The irony of course is that Zernike is a liberal reporter in a center-right nation proclaiming what is and is not within the mainstream of American political opinion.
It also makes you wonder why State would choose Zernike to brief the foreign press on the movement. She clearly observes it through the lens of political liberalism and as someone who quite clearly does not agree with the Tea Party platform.