The New York Times reported today (9/13/11) on the controversy, citing FAIR:
But the CNN debate on Monday was the first event hosted jointly by a major news organization and a Tea Party group. And their partnership left some questioning whether the network had gone too far in reaching for centrist credibility.
"Is there really a need for another national cable news channel devoted to promoting far-right elements within the Republican Party?" the liberal media watchdog group FAIR said Monday in an e-mail alert to its members in which it labeled the Tea Party "a controversial political group."
Jeremy Peters and Brian Stelter also picked up on CNN's weak attempts to spin their Tea Party connection–despite the fact that questions were being piped in from Tea Party events, and the Tea Party Express picked the audience members inside the auditorium:
Here in Tampa, there were signs the network was sensitive to perceptions that it was being too cozy with Tea Party activists. During a tour of the debate hall, Mr. Feist referred to the gatherings in Arizona, Virginia and Ohio, saying, "We'll have watch parties." He was swiftly corrected by CNN's special events producer, Kate Lunger, who interjected, 'Well, we won't have watch parties."
That distinction–whatever it might be–was probably lost on most viewers.
Veteran journalist Bob Parry wrote a great piece about "the hidden political reality behind 'centrist' journalism–a never-ending pandering to the right." Parry added that he's seen this kind of thing first-hand:
it's useful to have some specific right-tilted story–or event–to point to, just in case a right-wing critic decides to target you as a "liberal." CNN, which the right has sometimes smeared as the "Communist News Network," can now cite its collaboration with the Tea Party as valuable right-wing "cred."
When I was working at PBS Frontline in the early 1990s, senior producers would sometimes order up pre-ordained right-wing programs–such as a show denouncing Cuba's Fidel Castro–to counter Republican attacks on the documentary series for programs the right didn't like, such as Bill Moyers' analysis of the Iran/Contra scandal.
In essence, the idea was to inject right-wing bias into some programming as "balance" to other serious journalism, which presented facts that Republicans found objectionable. That way, the producers could point to the right-wing show to prove their "objectivity" and, with luck, deter GOP assaults on PBS funding.