TV's Tea Party Travesty

How ABC, CBS and NBC Have Dismissed and Disparaged the Tea Party Movement

"The Idea Really Hasn't Caught On"

The celebratory, promotional tone that the networks employed in reporting on the liberal-themed events was nowhere to be found in their Tea Party coverage. Network stories about the April 15 rally were organized around the idea that the hundreds of thousands of protesters somehow comprised a phony movement, and did not accurately represent a public that was content with current tax policy — a convenient way of framing the issue that glossed over how the Obama administration had already pledged to raise taxes on high earners and was instigating huge spending programs that would inevitably require even greater tax increases.

2009-04-15-ABC-WNCG-Harris13On ABC’s World News, reporter Dan Harris cast the event as a right-wing orchestration: “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.” On the CBS Evening News, correspondent Dean Reynolds noted how 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.”

On the NBC Nightly News, Lee Cowan reported how “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 correspondent Chuck Todd: “A lot of the sentiment is about organizing anti-Obama rallies, getting conservatives excited about the conservative movement again.”

Earlier that morning on Today, Todd had insisted that there was little of importance going on anyway: “There’s been some grassroots conservatives who have organized so-called Tea Parties around the country, hoping the historical reference will help galvanize Americans against the President’s economic ideas. But, I tell you, the idea hasn’t really caught on.”

In their evening reports, both ABC and CBS also tried to dispute the premise of the protest: “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,” ABC’s Harris argued. CBS’s Reynolds agreed: “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.”

As noted earlier, only the CBS Evening News even bothered to mention the July 4 protests. Covering that event, reporter Terrell Brown largely stuck to the same script that the networks had used in April, casting the Tea Parties as a life preserver for “desperate” Republicans: “Similar so-called Tea Parties sprung up around the country last April to blast the economic stimulus package, a movement championed by high-profile conservatives [video of Fox News host Glenn Beck]....Political analysts say conservative Republicans are hoping these rallies give them the united front they desperately need.”