Media coverage of the more than 800 Taxed Enough Already (TEA) Party protests, which took place in all fifty states on April 15, 2009 ranged from disdainful dismissal of their nature, significance and import, to outright hostility towards the events and individual participants, to crude sexual innuendo-based ridicule - all capped off by MSNBC bringing aboard actress Janeane Garofalo to scurrilously charge the rallies were only "about hating a black man in the White House." Here's a summary of the most-obnoxious and hostile coverage, illustrated with several videos, on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and MSNBC, as well as in USA Today, the New York Times and the Washington Post.
> Broadcast Network News:
ABC, CBS and NBC (more in the April 16 CyberAlert) downplayed the grassroots and non-partisan nature of the events, their significance and disagreeing with the participants' stated reasons for having them, characterizing the protests as a front for "corporate interests" or a "fistful of rightward leaning Web sites."
ABC's Dan Harris: "Cheered on by Fox News and talk radio, the hundreds of tea parties today were designed to protest the bailouts, the stimulus plan, and President Obama's budget....But critics on the left say this is not a real grassroots phenomenon at all, that it's actually largely orchestrated by people fronting for corporate interests....While the Boston Tea Party in 1773 was about taxation without representation, critics point out that today's protesters did get to vote - they just lost. What's more, polls show most Americans don't feel overtaxed."
CBS's Dean Reynolds noted a tea party organizer "insisted these events were non-partisan," but, Reynolds maintained as if it were an embarrassment, "a fistful of rightward leaning Web sites and commentators embraced the cause." Reynolds stressed how "it's important to keep in mind that fresh polling indicates there is not all that much passion about high taxes in the country at large right now. Gallup this week found 61 percent of Americans see their federal income taxes as fair." (What percent surveyed even pay income taxes?)
NBC's Lee Cowan reported that "organizers insist today's 'tea parties' were organic uprisings of like-minded taxpayers from both parties," but "some observers suggest not all of it was as home-grown as it may seem." Those "some observers" turned out to be one observer, NBC News White House reporter Chuck Todd: "A lot of the sentiment is about organizing anti-Obama rallies, getting conservatives excited about the conservative movement again." Turning to public sentiment, Cowan maintained: "Although today's organizers called this national day of protest a success, polls still show that a slim majority of Americans actually approve of the bailout plan. What they disagree with is where the money should go."
NBC's Chuck Todd wrote off the protests for Today show viewers on April 15: "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." (More on Todd from the Business & Media Institute.)
> Cable News:
CNN provided much hostile and some vile reporting on the events, in addition to questioning their make-up and import as did the Big Three.
The most notorious came courtesy of correspondent Susan Roesgen, who rudely interrupted and argued with two protestors in Chicago as she slammed the event as "anti-government," "anti-CNN" and for being "highly promoted by the right-wing conservative network Fox," as well as "not really family viewing." In an anguished tone," she implored one interviewee: "Why be so hard on the President of the United States?" (For more on her antics, see the April 16 CyberAlert.)
Anchor Anderson Cooper delved into the vile on April 14. Senior political analyst David Gergen commented that Republicans really had nothing to offer, to which Cooper interjected: "Tea-bagging, tea-bagging." When Gergen closed by saying that Republicans were "searching for their voice" after two electoral losses, Cooper quipped: "It's hard to talk when you're tea-bagging." (For more on the exchange, check the April 16 CyberAlert.)
On April 15, Christiane Amanpour and Jeffrey Toobin voiced their skepticism about the Parties, with Toobin stating it was "disturbing" that there was an "edge of anger at the government" at the rallies: "There is a real - a real hostility that is not just politics as usual among some of these people....I think it's indicative of trying to tap into an anger that's beyond rationality on a part of a small group of these people." Amanpour was flummoxed, saying the rallies "come at a time, right now, when President Obama has actually slashed taxes. What are they doing?" (For more on the discussion, see the April 17 CyberAlert.)
MSNBC was, as usual, the worst and most over-the-top network. They reveled in the crude "tea-bagging" and general oral sex references, and gratuitously slammed the events as "racist," mocked the Parties and their participants and tossed in some shots at the Fox News Channel.
Countdown's Keith Olbermann, introducing actress/activist Janeane Garofalo, after video of a man at a tea party blaming Republicans for big deficits:
OLBERMANN: Congratulations, Pensacola tea-baggers. You got spunk. And despite the hatred on display, few of you actually violated the penal code. But tea-bagging has now petered out. It ain't what it used to be. And when you coopt the next holiday, Fourth of July, try to adopt a holiday food that does not invite double entendres, like, you know, franks and beans. On a more serious note, we're now joined by actor and activist Janeane Garofalo. Good to see you.
JANEANE GAROFALO: Thank you. You know, there is nothing more interesting than seeing a bunch of racists become confused and angry at a speech they're not quite sure what he's saying. It sounds right to them, and then it doesn't make sense, which - let's be very honest about what this is about. It's not about bashing Democrats. It's not about taxes. They have no idea what the Boston Tea Party was about.
Garofalo scurrilously charged: "This is about hating a black man in the White House. This is racism, straight up. That is nothing but a bunch of tea-bagging rednecks. And there is no way around that." Denigrating the Fox News Channel, she asserted the right-wing has "no shortage of the natural resources of ignorance, apathy, hate, fear" which FNC has exploited: "Fox News loves to foment this anti-intellectualism because that's their bread and butter. If you have a cerebral electorate, Fox News goes down the toilet, very, very fast." FNC, she stumbled into alleging, has cornered the "Klan with a k demo." (For a full transcript of Garofalo's vitriol, with a matching video, go to the April 20 CyberAlert.)
Keith Olbermann on another night: "And Number One, tea bag-gate. As handfuls of sheep possibly wearing LED vests, as seen earlier in Oddball, are herded into made for TV protests of taxation with representation, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) has now analyzed a Senate report from last year that showed just how much we lose as a nation in tax revenues hidden by corporations in places like the Cayman Islands - the opportunities to do so growing immeasurably under the Bush administration....So where are your damned tea bag protests about that? Where is the Fox 'out of business network' on this corporate piracy? Where is Neil Cavuto explaining to the simpletons in Sacramento that they're getting ripped off by international outfits like News Corp.? " (For more on Olbermann's take, check this Business & Media Institute analysis.)
David Shuster's crude and juvenile sexual innuendo: "For most Americans, Wednesday, April 15th will be Tax Day. But in our fourth story tonight: It's going to be tea-bagging 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 tea-baggers are full-throated about their goals. They want to give President Obama a strong tongue-lashing and lick government spending - spending they did not oppose when they were under Presidents Bush and Reagan. They oppose Mr. Obama's tax rates - which will be lower for most of them - and they oppose the tax increases Mr. Obama is imposing on the rich, whose taxes will skyrocket to a rate about 10 percent less than it was under Reagan. That's tea-bagging in a nut shell."
On the April 13 broadcast of the Rachel Maddow Show, both Maddow and liberal Air America's Anna Marie Cox attempted to match dim-wits with Shuster's "tea-bagging" humor as the two used the term at least 51 times in a 13-minute segment, as detailed in a Business & Media Institute post.
America's major newspapers wrote either very little about and/or used cherry-picked data and poll results chosen to undermine the intent of the events.
USA Today, which touts itself as "The Nation's Newspaper," devoted just nine paragraphs on page 3A of the April 16 paper to the roughly 800 Tea Parties held nationwide yesterday. By contrast, on Tax Day morning, readers of the April 15 USA Today, some of whom were probably reading USA Today over breakfast, were greeted with a front page story that was six times longer and insisted: "Most Americans OK with Big Government, at least for now." (Details on NewsBusters.)
The New York Times finally noticed on April 16 - kind of - the nationwide "tea party" protests against the bailouts, the stimulus plan, and President Obama's budget. Reporter Liz Robbins' story, "Tax Day Is Met With Tea Parties" was the first Times news report to deal with any of the conservative anti-spending protests, and did so in a predictably snide manner in a relatively short article on Page 16. Online, she denigrated the efforts: "All of these tax day parties seemed less about revolution and more about group therapy....People attending the rallies were dressed patriotically and held signs expressing their anger, but offering no solutions." (Check TimesWatch for more on New York Times coverage.)
The Washington Post carried this headline in a text box at the top of Page One: "Tax Burden Near Historic Low: The average family sent about 9 percent of its income to the IRS, with the middle-class faring especially well, according to federal data. A12." (The D.C. tea party was noted at the bottom of the page, and readers were sent to B-1, the front of Metro.) But how do the Post's "tax burden" claims stand up? Inside the paper, there was a chart credited to the "nonpartisan" Congressional Budget Office, now controlled by the Democratic majority. It measured only the "Effective individual income tax rate." The Post thus measured less than half the actual total federal "tax burden." (For more on the Post's article, see NewsBusters.)