Study: Networks Snub, Malign ‘Tea Party’ Movement

Daily News Article   —   Posted on April 14, 2010

(by Joseph Curl, WashingtonTimes.com) – The big three television networks virtually ignored the massive, grass-roots “tea party” surge in 2009, and so far this year have maligned the movement as teeming with racists and violent fringe figures, according to a report by the Media Research Center.

“Rather than objectively document the rise and impact of this important grassroots movement, the ‘news’ networks instead chose to first ignore, and then deplore, the citizen army mobilizing against the unpopular policies of a liberal president and Congress,” wrote MRC Research Director Rich Noyes.

As a nation-spanning “Tea Party Express” caravan plans to pull into Washington for a “tax day” rally on Thursday, a Rasmussen poll finds that the number of people who say they’re part of the tea party movement nationally has grown to 24 percent, up from 16 percent a month ago.

“The rise in tea party support is perhaps not surprising at a time when more voters than ever (58 percent) favor repeal of the national health care plan just passed by Democrats in Congress and signed into law by President Obama,” the pollster wrote.

The Media Research Center, a watchdog organization founded by conservative L. Brent Bozell III, compiled reams of statistics to support its findings about TV network coverage, among them:

  • ABC, CBS and NBC aired 61 stories or segments on the anti-spending movement over a 12-month period, and most of that coverage is recent. “The networks virtually refused to recognize the tea party in 2009 (19 stories), with the level of coverage increasing only after Scott Brown’s election in Massachusetts” in January, the report said, referring to the Republican’s win of the Senate seat long held by Edward M. Kennedy.
  • Overall, 44 percent of the networks’ reports on the tea party suggested the movement reflected a fringe movement or a dangerous quality. “Signs and images at last weekend’s big tea party march in Washington and at other recent events have featured racial and other violent themes,” NBC anchorman Brian Williams said in a September report.
  • Coverage of the movement pales in comparison with coverage of “protests serving liberal objectives,” the report said. For instance, the Nation of Islam’s “Million Man March” in 1995 garnered 21 evening news stories on the day of the march – more than the tea party demonstrations received in all of 2009.

No one from any of the three networks returned phone messages or e-mails seeking comment.

Thousands of tea party protesters are expected to turn out Thursday for a “People’s Tax Revolt” rally in Washington’s Freedom Plaza, a block from the White House. [The President will] be out of town that day, traveling to Florida for an event on the future of the U.S. space program.

On Wednesday, thousands will gather in Boston for an event to be headlined by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee who has embraced the movement’s message of lower taxes and limited government.

The loose-knit movement – which is not a political party and has no official leaders – was born Feb. 19, 2009, when CNBC contributor Rick Santelli suggested a “tea party” to protest government aid for homeowners. The movement grew exponentially over the summer as protesters packed town halls across the nation to give their congressional representatives an earful of opposition to Mr. Obama’s $1 trillion health care reform plan.

But the Media Research Center, which tracked network reports from Feb. 19, 2009, through March 31, 2010, found that the movement has been given short shrift from the onset.

“While the broadcast networks seldom devolved into the juvenile name-calling and open hostility evident at the liberal cable news networks, their coverage of the tea party’s first year reflected a similar mindset of elitist condescension and dismissiveness,” the report said.

After first ignoring the movement, then seeking to label it as racist and extremist, the networks moved to portray the tea party’s emergence as part of a Republican civil war, the report found.

After Mr. Brown’s election victory in Massachusetts, “network reporters spent more time suggesting that the tea party was a threat to Republicans rather than to the Obama administration and its liberal allies,” the report said, based on its analysis for network coverage.

Meanwhile, data from a Rasmussen Reports survey of 2,000 likely voters nationwide found that among those who consider themselves part of the tea party movement, 89 percent disapprove of Mr. Obama’s performance as president.

Ninety-six percent of those in the movement say America is overtaxed, and 94 percent “trust the judgment of the American people more than America’s political leaders,” the survey found.

Some opponents of the tea party movement say they plan to infiltrate and undermine the credibility of the political group by trying to make its members appear to be racist and homophobic.

Jason Levin, creator of www.crashtheteaparty.org, said Monday that the group has 65 leaders in major cities across the country who are trying to recruit members to infiltrate tea party events Thursday.

“Every time we have someone on camera saying that Barack Obama isn’t an American citizen, we want someone sitting next to him saying, ‘That’s right, he’s an alien from outer space,'” Mr. Levin said.

One tea party organizer said the attempt to destroy the movement was evidence that the tea party message is resonating.

“We’ve been ignored, we’ve been ridiculed. Well, now they’re coming after us,” said Judy Pepenella, a co-coordinator for the New York State Tea Party.

“Gandhi’s quote is one we understand: ‘First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.'”

Copyright 2010 News World Communications, Inc.  Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times.  For educational purposes only.  This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization.  Visit the website at washingtontimes.com.

Questions

1. a) What is the tea party movement?
b) What does the acronym TEA stand for?

2. What does the Media Research Center’s report on the tea party conclude about the major TV news networks?

3. How much of an increase has there been in the past month in the percent of people who say they are part of the tea party movement, according to Rasmussen polls?

4. How did the Media Research Center arrive at its conclusion about news reports on the tea party?

5. How do tea party supporters view the efforts of opponents who have a goal of infiltrating tea party events this Thursday (Tax Day)?

6. Instead of reading about them in the news, visit the websites of some of the tea party groups to see who they are first-hand. (Find tea party groups in your state at teapartypatriots.org/2010/Search.aspx.)
a) Do you agree with tea-party members’ goal of lower taxes and limited government? Explain your answer.
b) Ask a parent the same question.


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Background

(from the teapartypatriots.org posted at the Arizona tea party website):
“There is one common thread that is uniting the one million plus people who protested on April 15th at over 850 Tea Parties across this great country. That common thread is that we all want fiscal responsibility with our tax dollars.”

Tea-Party Movement: Driven by Concerns about the Economy (by Kristen Soltis, posted at nationalreview.com)

Who are the [tea-party members]? A vocal but marginal minority? Or something larger? And, most of all: What do they want, anyway?

For the last three months, I’ve been working with a team of pollsters here at the Winston Group to answer those questions. Some of our findings were unsurprising:

  • tea-party members tend to be conservative
  • a majority of tea-party members are Republican
  • tea party supporters are concerned about the federal deficit and spending.
  • But some four out of ten tea-party members aren’t Republican, and a third aren’t conservative, painting a picture of a movement that is hardly monolithic.

There’s quite a bit of data to sift through, but the critical storyline that emerges is this: The tea-party movement is driven by concern about the economy and jobs. Yes, they place a high level of importance on the national deficit – over three times as many tea-party members name it as their top issue than do voters overall – but it doesn’t end there.

In question after question, tea-party members expressed their belief that things like low taxes and reduced spending can create jobs. For instance, 85 percent say that cutting taxes for small businesses will create more jobs than increased government spending on infrastructure projects. Yet when pressed on what they’d prefer – a balanced budget or a 5 percent unemployment rate – 63 percent picked the unemployment rate, similar to the overall sample of voters at 64 percent.

The tea-party movement can be defined by its belief in economic conservatism, but the ideology is not an end in and of itself. Just like voters all across America, of all political parties and ideologies, the tea party is primarily concerned with fixing our economy in order to bring jobs back.

Resources

Find tea party groups in your state at teapartypatriots.org/2010/Search.aspx.