Apr
15
2009

Tea Parties and False Balance

With Fox News Channel relentlessly promoting–and MSNBC mostly mocking– the right-wing "tea party" demonstrations around the country today, middle-of-the-road media critics are making a typically middle-of-the-road complaint: Yes, Fox shouldn't be sponsoring such events, but the rest of the corporate media shouldn't just ignore these allegedly newsworthy events.

As Howard Kurtz put it in the Washington Post today:

Some Fox News hosts have been pushing the tea party protests slated for hundreds of cities today, almost to the point that they seem to be the ringmasters of the event. "It's now my great duty to promote the tea parties. Here we go!" Fox Business anchor Stuart Varney said the other day.

But there's another side to this saga. Most of the mainstream media fell down on the job, ignoring the growing movement or mocking it as a bunch of wingnuts.

The New York Times has run zero stories. (The only mention was Times columnist Paul Krugman taking a brief swipe at the parties.) The Washington Post has done zip until today, with a story on two planned D.C. parties on Page B-4. The Chicago Tribune ran a 300-word story and an item on postal workers mistaking tea for a hazardous substance. The Los Angeles Times did a 500-word piece on a small protest in Hermosa Beach and has a media piece today. The Boston Globe, published in the city famed for the original tea party, nothing. CNN ran its first news story on the protests Monday (followed by a piece by me on the coverage). MSNBC's coverage had consisted of Rachel Maddow and Ana Marie Cox mocking the "teabagging" until Chris Matthews held a more serious debate on Monday.

I must say I'm struck by this new standard for coverage of citizen activism–papers should cover small protests, some of which haven't happened? Was this the standard for, say, anti-war protests in 2002 and early 2003?

The pressure to treat these events seriously seems to be having some effect. Moments ago CNN had a long introduction to its live report from the Boston tea party, explaining that the protests have spread across the country, stoked by plain old citizen passion. The correspondent on the scene in Boston then explained that there were perhaps a few dozen attendees on hand. I guess Howard Kurtz will be pleased.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.