With declarations of a conservative civil war being proclaimed this week, political combatants on the right are picking sides between Tea Party activists hungry for radical change within the GOP, and the Republican Establishment, which seeks to regain control of the party's message and improve upon 2012's election setbacks.
This week Karl Rove and his allies at the American Crossroads super PAC launched the "Conservative Victory Project," a group that plans to support more traditional Republican candidates in an effort to end the streak of undisciplined Tea Party hopefuls who blew Republican-leaning races with controversial campaign comments. (Think: Todd Akin.)
Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Eric Canton (R-Va) just launched an effort to rebrand brand the Republican Party and broaden its appeal by softening the harsh rhetoric and, theoretically, seeking common ground. That kind of bipartisan, bridge-building rhetoric is precisely what the Tea Party labels as conservative heresy.
The right-wing blowback, especially to the fight Rove so publicly picked, was immediate and unfiltered: Rush Limbaugh complained two mighty forces were now targeting the Tea Party: Democrats and Republicans, led by elites like Rove.
With shots now being fired, guess who's stuck in the middle of the GOP's fight? Fox News.
As the TV home base for Rove (or the GOP "demolition man" as he was dubbed online) and one of the earliest supporters of the Tea Party's crusade against Obama's alleged socialism, Fox News has one foot planted in each of the two warring camps and finds itself in the awkward position of having to navigate the name calling. (Note that Fox recently parted ways with Tea Party cheerleaders Sarah Palin and Dick Morris, but it also signed up Tea Party fan Erick Erickson as a contributor.)
Will Fox try to remain a neutral player and split the difference between the warring factions? That kind of play-nice approach runs counter to the Fox News playbook, which is defined by finding a common enemy (i.e. someone with a D-for-Democrat in front of their name) and smacking them relentlessly. But in this battle, that's not an option.
From the October 19 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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News coverage of Occupy Wall Street is starting to pick up.
Although the media attention, and specifically the television interest, lags far behind what the emerging Tea Party enjoyed during its early days, the ongoing protests entrenched in New York City's Financial District show new signs of growth as they enter their third week. Mass arrests over the weekend, along with the fact the protests have entered a semi-permanent stage in lower Manhattan, has likely prompted reporters and producers to give the progressive event a second look, after mostly dismissing the happening last month.
However, when covering Occupy Wall Street, the press still refuses to accurately label the protests as what they are: a distinctly populist uprising.
Condemning criminal behavior and the sweeping destruction Wall Street's big banks and their executives have caused the U.S. economy in recent years, Occupy Wall Street's message is without question a populist one. (i.e. "Populism: A political philosophy supporting the rights and power of the people in their struggle against the privileged elite.") And it's an agenda that strikes an anti-Wall Street chord with the American people.
So why don't the dispatches from Zuccotti Park, home base for the growing anti-Wall Street movement, include that alluring, on-the-side-of-the-people phrase that so many politicians covet? And more importantly, why isn't the press heralding Occupy Wall Street as a populist movement when reporters and pundits have spent the last three years declaring, in unison, that the right-wing, Obama-hating Tea Party movement is a "populist" one, when it most certainly is not.
The press has been profoundly wrong about the Tea Party since the very beginning. Far from being a populist surge, the partisan-to-the-core movement remains completely divorced from the traditional sense of what "populism" has stood for in American politics. (Reactionary? Yes. Populist? No way.)
The Tea Party practically worships at the alter of big business and millionaires, whom the movement seems willing to sacrifice its political life for in order to protect them from paying higher taxes. That's not populism. But trying hold Wall Street accountable most definitely is.
From the September 7 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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Addressing a rally in April 2011, white nationalist lawyer William Johnson lamented the media scrutiny he drew with his recent failed campaign for a judgeship in California.
|White nationalist lawyer William Johnson at San Juan Capistrano rally
"Ron Paul endorsed me for Superior Court judge, and I was on my way," Johnson said. "No sooner than I'd put my hat in the ring than ... it came out that Johnson is a white nationalist, that Johnson wants to create a separate white ethno-state, that Johnson supports the 14 words of [white power domestic terrorist] David Lane, that 'We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children,' and the media went wild with all of that, and Ron Paul withdrew his endorsement of me...because he did not believe in a separate white ethno-state and he didn't know that I did."
A white ethno-state? The 14 words?
Johnson sounded like he was at a neo-Nazi conference, as in 1986 when he addressed the Aryan Nations World Congress. But the banner hanging over the stage was not a Swastika flag. It read: "Tax Day Tea Party."
The April 16 rally in San Juan Capistrano, California, corresponded with more than 100 Tea Party rallies scheduled across the country for that Saturday. It was promoted on the website of Tea Party.org, also known as 1776 Tea Party, one of six well-established Tea Party umbrella groups. Its true organizers, however, were from American Third Position, or A3P, a white nationalist political party founded by racist skinheads. A3P did not respond to repeated inquiries for this article. Neither did 1776 Tea Party.
Since April 2010, A3P members have organized, co-sponsored or freely distributed literature at no fewer than 10 Tea Party rallies in six states, including Augusta, Georgia; Harrison, Arkansas; Baton Rogue, Louisiana and throughout California, where A3P was founded in May 2009 by Freedom 14, a racist skinhead crew seeking to establish a more respectable-seeming political front group.
Although it would be unfair to characterize the Tea Party movement on the whole as white nationalist, it's clear that large gatherings of angry, conservative, predominately white Americans are viewed with relish by groups like A3P.
"The Tea Parties are fertile ground for our activists," said A3P Pennsylvania Chairman Steve Smith. "Tea Party supporters and the A3P share much common ground with regard to our political agendas."
From the August 1 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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From the August 1 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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Bill O'Reilly made the argument to Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham that there are no "shadowy figures ... behind the tea party," unlike with progressive movements, which have "guy[s] like Soros and these MoveOn people" with "so much power behind the scenes." In fact, the tea party movement has been heavily funded by rich individuals such as the oil magnate Koch brothers.
Union members and their progressive supporters staged rallies and events across the country on Monday to commemorate the 43rd anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination in Memphis, where the civil rights leader was helping local union workers organize.
There was no one, single huge rally Monday that featured tens of thousands of supporters. Instead, the events were spread out from coast to coast and drew crowds in the hundreds and low thousands. But that kind of grassroots turnout shouldn't have precluded coverage, considering the Beltway press showered attention on last week's Tea Party event that drew "dozens" of supporters to Washington, D.C.
In terms of the news pages for national newspapers, USA Today and the Washington Post ignored the King-inspired rallies, according to a Nexis search. The Wall Street Journal's print edition today also contained no mention, while the New York Times devoted 400 words to the union story.
On television, it was difficult to find many mentions of the pro-union events that commemorated the death of King, let alone catch any live reports. Glenn Beck did mention the rallies, but only to deride them as hot beds of socialist/communist activity.
Where the national press dropped the ball yesterday, the local press did a better job reporting on events in their community, as reports came in from all over the country yesterday.
Thousands of Union Workers Protest Labor Backlash
Several thousand turn out for Capitol rally commemorating MLK assassination
Duluth rally held to support workers' rights
Saginaw unions send a message at Monday's rally: 'We Are One'
Utah rally advances 'We Are One' events supporting labor and civil rights on Monday
To recap: When "dozens" of Tea Party supporters meet for a single protest, it's very big news. But when thousands of union members and their supporters stage hundreds of events nationwide, it's not much of a news story at all.
Given the fact that the Beltway press last week showered news coverage on a Washington, D.C. Tea party rally that attracted "dozens" of supporters, the same laundry list of news organizations will devote just as much time and energy covering Monday's much larger pro-labor rallies, right?
Labor groups, in collaboration with MoveOn.org, are sponsoring pro-union rallies across the country today. These events commemorate the 43rd anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in Memphis, where the civil rights leader was rallying union workers, but they are also an attempt to further fuel the pro-union movement begun in Wisconsin.
Dubbed "We Are One," the events are expected to draw thousands of supporters to hundreds of rallies.
But if tradition holds, these rallies will receive a fraction of the media coverage that the mainstream press routinely doles out for the Tea Party (whose events are notoriously under-attended) as well as other right-wing groups.
I'm convinced that if the Tea Party had brought a state capital to a month-long standstill the way union supporters did in Wisconsin, CNN, for instance, would have built an on-site studio and provided constant, around-the-clock coverage of the political drama. By comparison, CNN's Wisconsin coverage was often perfunctory and the cable news channel too often ignored the grassroots nature of that political uprising.
Here's a perfect example of the media double standard regarding political protests. Last month, union forces organized a rally in St. Louis drawing 4,500 people who spoke out against the anti-union initiatives being launched by various Republican governors. But as blogger Andrew Shriver noted, the local newspaper, The St. Post Dispatch, completely ignored the event even though same daily has routinely covered nearby Tea Party events that drew a fraction of the pro-union rally's turnout.
Last week, the press may have hit a new low with its out-sized coverage of the Tea Party's D.C, rally and its "dozens" of attendees. Monday's union rallies across the country provide the media with a chance to show that it treats grassroots movements on the left just as seriously as those on the right.
Or put another way, is there any limit to how small or poorly attended a Tea Party rally can be before the press finally stops showering the right-wing movement with coverage? Based on the avalanche of reporting that yesterday's minuscule Tea Party rally in Washington, D.C., generated, the answer appears to be, no.
Just how sparse was the Tea Party crowd? A Bloomberg dispatch tactfully noted the rally attracted "dozens" of supporters.
I realize the fact that many high-profile members of Congress were scheduled speak at the Thursday rally meant it was going to be covered regardless, that there was an automatic news hook in place regardless of the Tea Party turnout.
But still, it's long past time that reporters and pundits started telling the truth about the incredibly shrinking Tea Party movement in America. And it's time members of the press corps asked themselves why they continue to cover Tea Party events that draw "dozens." (I guarantee you that if Media Matters promoted a rally in the nation's capital and invited members of Congress to speak, there would be a hell of a lot more than "dozens" of supporters. I can also guarantee you most news organizations would not cover the event.)
Remember, this is supposed to be a grassroots movement, which means one of the newsworthy angles is that so many Americans are supposedly getting involved in the Tea Party initiative. But if the party calls for a major Washington, D.C., rally and promises to have members of Congress addressing the crowd, but only "dozens" show up? That in and of itself is news. (i.e. What's become of the Tea Party?)
Of course, the wheels actually came off the Tea Party's grassroots movement a long time ago. Flashback: Activists predicted 3-4,000 Tea Party faithful would flock to Philadelphia last summer to hear Andrew Breitbart address the masses. Except only one-tenth of that bothered to show up.
How many disappointing rallies with crowds numbering in the low hundreds does the Tea Party have to suffer through before the press acknowledges there's no there there?
In terms of yesterday's coverage, I thought The Atlantic and Slate got it about right with their headlines, "Some, But Not Many, Tea Partiers Rally on Capitol Hill" and "The Tea Party Comes to D.C., in Small Numbers, On Message," respectively. And other news outlets, such as CBSNews.com, at least made it plain in their articles that the rally turnout was surprisingly (shockingly?) small.
Others, though, camouflaged that fact. The Los Angeles Times, for instance, politely made no references to miniature Tea Party crowd size in its report. And of course, neither did Fox News. Its online dispatch mentioned the "energized" and "boisterous" crowd. Missing from the report? The fact that the rally attracted dozens of supporters.
As the controversy surrounding the undercover sting videos of NPR executives shifts focus to allegations of deceptive editing by filmmaker James O'Keefe, more conservative media figures and Tea Party activists are acknowledging the fairness of NPR's news coverage.
Last week I reported that a member of the Dallas Tea Party, which was profiled by All Things Considered in 2009, considered NPR's treatment of her group to be "fair," even though she believed the network as a whole to be biased. I've since reached out to another Tea Party official who has appeared on NPR, and she offered a similar reaction, asserting that the network demonstrates bias but their treatment of her and other "individuals in the movement" has been "fair."
In a March 11 statement to Media Matters, Waco Tea Party president and co-founder Toby Marie Walker wrote: "NPR is not unbiased, nor are they non-partisans, which is fine, but they seem to have a different set of rules for Conservatives or Moderates than they do the more progressive commentators (Juan Williams)." Regarding her own appearances on the network, Walker wrote: "NPR also ran a series of stories about the tea party movement after the elections, and ... the two interviews I've done with them were both fairly reported. NPR staff treated me kindly; I wasn't treated any different by them than I would have been by a local radio station. I can only speak to how they have treated me, not others or other groups or individuals."
Walker added: "Overall, I would say that when working with individuals in the movement they have been fair, but they have overall treated the tea party movement unfairly (would they post a sexual slur about [Organizing for America] on their website?)." She was referring to a 2009 cartoon satirizing the Tea Party hosted on NPR.org titled "Learn To Speak Tea Bag." In response to the uproar among tea partiers, NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard wrote that the cartoon was "not that funny" and was not in line "with NPR values, one of which is a belief in civility and civil discourse."
Walker's full statement below the jump:
Honestly, is there anything more amusing than watching conservative bloggers try their hand at media criticism?
For the latest round of chuckles, read William Jacobson at Legal Insurrection as he valiantly tries to knock down reporting that a "brigade" of tractors was featured at the pro-union rally in Madison, WI., over the weekend.
See, apparently the liberal mainstream media (i.e. New York Times) referred to the "brigade," which Jacobson announced was highly misleading. Why? Because a "brigade" could only mean there were a thousand or more tractors on parade in Madison.
I'm not making this up:
A brigade of tractors? I realize The Times probably was using the term figuratively, but even so, since a brigade typically is 3,000-5,000 soldiers in number, certainly The Times was talking big numbers of tractors in Madison, right?
If not several thousand tractors, certainly the 1000 or more which were driven through Paris, France last spring in protest over food prices, right?
According to Jacobson, "brigade" has to mean "1000 or more" to be accurate. Except that Jacobson doesn't know what "brigade" means.
a group of people organized for special activity
From the Free Dictionary:
A group of persons organized for a specific purpose
Any body of persons organized for acting or marching together under authority; as, a fire brigade.
Meanwhile, the larger point Jacobson was trying to make was that the pro-union protest in Wisconsin wasn't that big of a deal and that didn't reflect popular sentiment.
Fact: The Madison rally was bigger than any event the Tea Party has ever sponsored.
A couple of days ago I wrote about James O'Keefe's undercover video sting of NPR fundraising executives and argued that instead of simply accepting O'Keefe's premise that the video demonstrates anti-Tea party bias at NPR, we should look at NPR's coverage of the Tea Party. Since then I've spoken with a prominent Tea Party activist, and while she supported O'Keefe's sting and believes NPR is a biased organization, she nonetheless described NPR's reporting about her Tea Party group was "fair."
As noted in my previous piece, in 2009 conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds wrote that he'd received a note from Dallas Tea Party official Lisa Davis, who wrote that she was "very pleased" with All Things Considered host Robert Siegel's reporting on her group. Reynolds observed: "People on the right don't like NPR, but as I've noted before, their reporting is generally pretty good."
I contacted Dallas Tea Party steering committee member Katrina Pierson, who largely agreed with Davis' assessment. Responding via email, Pierson wrote that "it was about time that the organization as whole was exposed," and that the video "speaks volumes discrediting [NPR's] nonpartisan liberal bias and exposes who the drivers of the organization are." However, Pierson said the NPR reporters who profiled the Dallas Tea Party were "very cordial to our group. They actually came to TX and spent a few days with us visiting our homes, and our work places."
Regarding NPR's reporting on the Dallas Tea Party, Pierson offered praise and criticism: "I think the reporting that they ended up using for All Things Considered, it was fair. It could have been more inclusive of the actual diversity of our group. [...] [W]ith race having been an important issue with regards to Tea Parties, I was shocked that they didn't [do] much reporting on that topic. The story that they did, however, we believe was as fair as we would get from such a liberal organization."
I also spoke with Pierson over the phone, and she reiterated her assessment that NPR's report was "very fair," saying that Siegel and his colleagues were "accommodating, attentive, and supportive." She also said that of all the programs on NPR, All Things Considered was the only one "at least attempting to understand" the Tea Party movement. At the same time, she said, the O'Keefe video offered "validation" of the Tea Party's view on the media, and NPR as an organization is "biased," even if individual reporters are not.
NPR responded to the controversy by placing the executives in question, Ron Schiller and Besty Liley, on administrative leave and disavowing their statements as not reflective of NPR's reporting. The Associated Press reported that NPR said Schiller "was not involved in newsgathering," and obtained a statement from interim CEO Joyce Slocum defending NPR's news coverage:
"I think if anyone believes that NPR's coverage is biased in one direction or another, all they need to do to correct that misperception is turn on their radio or log onto their computer and listen or read for an hour or two," Slocum told AP. "What they will find is balanced journalism that brings all relevant points of view to an issue and covers it in depth so that people understand the subtlety and the nuance."
O'Keefe has released additional video showing, he claims, that NPR intended to accept a donation from his bogus Middle Eastern education non-profit. As Media Matters has detailed, the evidence in the video does not support that accusation, and NPR released emails showing that they were unwilling to accept a donation without more information from the group.
Pierson's email response to Media Matters' questions is below the jump.
From C-SPAN's February 11 coverage of CPAC 2011:
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