TV's Tea Party Travesty
Table of Contents:
- Executive Summary
- Giving Short Shrift to the Tea Party Rallies
- "The Idea Really Hasn't Caught On"
- Scorning the Tea Parties as Wacky, Extremist and Racist
- The Tea Party: Liberals' Secret Weapon?
- More Tea Party Trashing
- Smearing With a Broad Brush
- Conclusion: Ignoring and Deploring the Tea Party
More Tea Party Trashing
In February, the networks were drawn to the “Tea Party Convention,” a gathering in Nashville organized by the group Tea Party Nation. While the event generated 36 total mentions on ABC, CBS and NBC, most were either brief items or incidental mentions in stories focusing on the keynote speaker, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Twelve of those stories delighted in pointing out that Palin had written notes on her hand, while other stories focused on the former Alaska governor’s career prospects.
Just 13 of the Tea Party Convention stories were in-depth discussions of the movement itself. Ten of those were on ABC, which sent reporter John Berman to the scene, and three on NBC. (There were no full reports about the Tea Party Convention on CBS.) ABC’s Berman was antagonistic in an item he filed for the February 5 World News: “The business of this first ever national Tea Party convention is the nuts and bolts of politics, like voter registration....But barely scratch the surface, and there’s a tone of anger and confrontation.”
Specifically, Berman deplored how, as he put it, “the convention’s first speaker, former Congressman Tom Tancredo, said that people who voted for Barack Obama could not pass a basic civics literacy test.” The ABC correspondent suggested that the Tea Party was a “fringe” element: “One of the goals of this convention is to turn this movement into a political force. The question is, does the harsh rhetoric keep them on the fringe?”
The next morning, Good Morning America hosted an interview segment about the Tea Party convention, but the guest was not a convention organizer or Tea Party attendee. Instead, co-host Kate Snow talked to Daily Beast columnist John Avlon, whose media shtick is denouncing “wingnuts,” what he calls the “lunatic fringe” of either the Left or the Right. (Avlon was in Nashville that day, which meant anyone from the convention site could easily have appeared on the program.)
The spin was obvious from Snow’s first question: “Let’s be clear, John, right off the bat here. You don’t think that every Tea Party follower is a wingnut?”
“Absolutely not,” Avlon insisted, before painting the overall movement as fringe: “One of the things that’s happened over the last year in politics is we’re seeing the fringe start to blur with the base....Their [the Tea Party’s] real strength is the people who shout the loudest tend to have the most influence in American politics right now.”
Overall, 44 percent of network stories on the Tea Party (27 out of 61) included suggestions that the movement reflected a fringe or extremist nature. While this line of attack was championed on the liberal cable news networks as early as April 2009, it only became a prominent aspect of the broadcast networks’ coverage after the September 12 rally and complaints about a racial animus motivating the anti-Obama demonstrators. The spin was revived for the February Tea Party convention, and appeared with even more force during the final days of the ObamaCare debate in March.