Can (does) the Tea Party exist without Fox News?

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

Glenn Beck and his supporters are no doubt happy with the turn-out for Saturday's rally in Washington, D.C. Whether the actual crowd number was 100,000 or three or four times that, there's no question that a lot of people showed up to hear Beck speak.

So that means the Tea Party is alive and well, right. (And make no mistake, Saturday's "Honor" rally was Tea Party through-and-though.) That means that the Tea Party is able to draw impressive crowds and remains a growing force in American politics, right?

Not quite.

What the weekend rally proved (once again), is that when Fox News gets behind a "grassroots" Tea Party event, it's a success. (Think 2009 rallies.) And when Fox News, for whatever reason, decides to sit out "grassroots" events, the attendance is always a disappointment.

For instance, earlier this month Andrew Breitbart headlined a Tea Party rally in Philadelphia; a rally Fox News did not hype on the air. Organizers expected 3,000-4,000 people to attend. But just 300 showed up.

Also, from earlier this month:

"An Evening of Hope with Sarah Palin," an event featuring the former Alaska Governor, was supposed to be a minor blockbuster in Jacksonville, Florida, next week, but not everything has gone as planned.

Slow ticket sales have forced event organizers to move the function from the 2,936-seat Moran Theatre to the significantly smaller 609-seat Terry Theatre.

And of course, back in April, Palin headlined an anti-tax Tea Party event on April 15, in Boston, but just 5,000 showed up.

This weekend that losing streak came to end, thanks to Fox News, whose involvement all but guaranteed a big turnout for the Lincoln Memorial event.

And yes, I understand that Fox News executives made a point of announcing they were only going to cover the Beck rally as a news event and that it wasn't going to go 24/7 on the coverage. But the day-of coverage was almost irrelevant. The point is Beck used Fox News air time for weeks (months?) promoting and marketing his rally. Beck used his Fox News platform incessantly to pitch the rally and at times to practically beg people to attend.

So in that sense, the 8/28 rally was co-sponsored by Fox News thanks to the invaluable air time Beck set aside on his cable show to hype the event.

That was good news for the Tea Party. But what the Tea Party has yet to demonstrate is that its rallies can succeed on their own. What the Tea party has not shown is that it can draw big crowds without the help of Fox News artificially boosting the numbers.

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