After Ignoring Tea Party Beginnings, NYT Quickly Fawns Over Lefty Coffee Party: No Anger or Astroturf Here

After ignoring the Tea Party - the fast-growing anti-government movement - for two months, the New York Times finally noticed the massive country-wide protests that took place on Tax Day, April 15, 2009. Even then, the Times reacted to the rallies with snide accusations of anger and Astroturf - that is, of not being a genuine grass-roots movement but instead being funded by right-wing paymasters.

By contrast, it took the Times a mere week to jump on the nascent leftish "Coffee Party" movement for Tuesday's report from Kate Zernike, "Coffee Party, With a Taste for Civic Participation, Is Added to the Political Menu." The Washington Post got there even quicker, with a front-page feature that ran on Friday, February 26.

The first post at, a mission statement, was made on Monday night, February 22. Eight days later, the group has sympathetic feature stories in the Washington Post and the New York Times. Not bad for a week's work, Coffee Partiers!

(Side note: Zernike did a decent profile of Seattle blogger and Tea Party catalyst Keli Carender on the front page of the Sunday Times, sandwiched between her false accusation that a CPAC speaker, Jason Mattera, indulged in racial stereotyping in an anti-Obama speech, and this pleasant profile of a left-wing protest movement.)

Zernike's Tuesday story saw only the most benign motives in the Coffee Party movement - no accusations of anger or Astroturfing, no liberal labels, and an inordinate faith in the metrics of Facebook:

Fed up with government gridlock, but put off by the flavor of the Tea Party, people in cities across the country are offering an alternative: the Coffee Party.

Growing through a Facebook page, the party pledges to "support leaders who work towards positive solutions, and hold accountable those who obstruct them."


It had nearly 40,000 members as of Monday afternoon, but the numbers were growing quickly - about 11,000 people had signed on as fans since the morning.

"I'm in shock, just the level of energy here," said the founder, Annabel Park, a documentary filmmaker who lives outside Washington. "In the beginning, I was actively saying, 'Get in touch with us, start a chapter.' Now I can't keep up. We have 300 requests to start a chapter that I have not been able to respond to."

The slogan is "Wake Up and Stand Up." The mission statement declares that the federal government is "not the enemy of the people, but the expression of our collective will, and that we must participate in the democratic process in order to address the challenges we face as Americans."

Local chapters are planning meetings in cities from Washington to San Antonio to Los Angeles (where there have been four in the last month.) The party ( is planning nationwide coffee houses for March 13, where people can gather to decide which issues they want to take on and even which candidates they want to support.

This summer, Ms. Park said, the party will hold a convention in the Midwest, with a slogan along the lines of "Meet Me in the Middle." The party has inspired the requisite jokes: why not a latte party, a chai party, a Red Bull party? But Ms. Park said that while the Coffee Party - and certainly the name - was formed in reaction to the Tea Party, the two agree on some things, like a desire for fiscal responsibility and a frustration with Congress.

"We're not the opposite of the Tea Party," Ms. Park, 41, said. "We're a different model of civic participation, but in the end we may want some of the same things."

The pro-Obama motivations behind the gatherings were minimized, and this particular denial of partisan leanings was totally unconvincing. How can one campaign for Obama while also paying "little attention to politics"?

Eileen Cabiling, who founded the Los Angeles chapter, said she had campaigned for President Obama, but paid little attention to politics until the Tea Party convention and Mr. Obama's State of the Union speech, where he rebuked Congressional Democrats and Republicans alike for their inability to move on legislation.

Notable by its absence was any probing into the background of chief "Coffee Party" organizer Annabel Park. That was left to William Jacobson on his Legal Insurrection blog, where he cited some of Park's posts on her Twitter account, including this charming appeal to sweet reason posted by Park on January 26, where Park sounds far less measured than she does in Zernike's sympathetic handling:

we need to re-engage the grassroots movemnt that got Obama elected. we need to get busy. cannot give it away to tea baggers.

Jacobson also uncovered Park's support for the Obama campaign, which Zernike didn't see fit to mention, much less point to as a possible sign of the Coffee Party being pro-Obama "Astroturfing" as opposed to a genuine grass-roots movement. (It doesn't appear to be, but then, neither is the Tea Party movement that was constantly accused of being such.) Jacobson found that Park was "one of the organizers and operators of the United for Obama video channel at YouTube."

After his post, Jacobson even got a call from the reporter, Kate Zernike, who defended her story. He recorded her exceedingly lame reaction:

I explained that I did not feel that the NY Times article adequately disclosed (i) the depth of the connection to the Obama campaign reflected in Park's background, or (ii) that the specific purpose of the Coffee Party, as expressed in Park's Tweets, was to undermine the Tea Party.

I told Ms. Zernike that I would do an update to this post, and I hoped that she would do an update to her article to explain Park's Obama connection and apparent motivations. Ms. Zernike declined, explaining that she had to limit her article to 700 words.

Why would such an arbitrary deadline apply to the online version of the article, which is free from the space limitations of print?

- Clay Waters is the director of Times Watch.