TV's Tea Party Travesty

How ABC, CBS and NBC Have Dismissed and Disparaged the Tea Party Movement

Scorning the Tea Parties as Wacky, Extremist and Racist

2009-08-07-ABC-WNCG-uglyThe networks almost never associated the Tea Party with the anti-ObamaCare protests that erupted during congressional town hall meetings in August, which means such stories fall outside the scope of this study. But the MRC’s review of coverage at the time showed the citizens protesting at those meetings were derided in the media as “ugly,” “unruly,” “nasty” mobs, with reporters presenting the most odious images (such as pictures of Obama drawn as Hitler) as somehow representative of the entire group. In spite of the media onslaught against the protesters, public support for both President Obama and his ObamaCare program fell dramatically during the month.

Thus, by the time the Tea Party movement descended on Capitol Hill for a huge rally on September 12, liberal politicians had shifted tactics, launching direct attacks on the Tea Party and other anti-Obama protesters. The media shifted their tone as well. Now, correspondents were warning viewers of a group that seemed weird, or even extremist in its views — and possibly even racist in its motivations.

Opening Saturday’s Good Morning America the morning of the event, co-host Bill Weir painted the Tea Partiers as driven by rage: “This morning, outrage. Protesters descend on Washington to rally against the President’s health care plan. As civility gives way to shouting, what’s fueling all this anger?” On that night’s CBS Evening News, reporter Nancy Cordes also touted the supposed radicalism of the crowd: “Homemade signs accused Mr. Obama of socialism, communism and worse.”

Back on ABC’s Good Morning America the next day, reporter Yunji de Nies highlighted one marcher who claimed “every Democratic politician is working for the mafia,” and she directly confronted a second man: “Do you really believe the President is a communist?”

On CBS’s Face the Nation, Bob Schieffer framed it this way: “An angry nation, a nasty debate....Tens of thousands of conservatives marched in Washington yesterday, protesting what they call socialism in the President’s health care plan. How indicative is their demonstration of the national mood?”

In the days following that rally, liberal reporters tried to reset the debate to one about the marchers’ civility, not the President’s policies. ABC’s World News on September 15 showed pictures from the Capitol Hill rally in a piece by Dan Harris detailing liberals’ complaints about the protesters, followed by a suggestion that the real problem is some Americans’ “refusal to accept a black President.”

"They’ve waved signs likening President Obama to Hitler and the devil, raised questions about whether he was really born in this country, falsely accused him of planning to set up death panels, decried his speech to students as indoctrination and called him everything from a ‘fascist’ to a ‘socialist’ to a ‘communist.’...And all that was before Mr. Obama’s speech was interrupted by a Representative who once fought to keep the Confederate flag waving over the South Carolina state house. Add it all up, and some prominent Obama supporters are now saying that it paints a picture of an opposition driven, in part, by a refusal to accept a black President."

Adding to the drumbeat that night, NBC’s Brian Williams touted a similar jab from Jimmy Carter, whom Williams had interviewed as part of a profile for the ex-President’s upcoming 85th birthday. “A certain number of 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, and President Carter today said he is extremely worried by it,” Williams gravely intoned.

Carter smeared: “I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he’s African-American....It’s an abominable circumstance and grieves me and concerns me very deeply.”

2009-09-20-CBS-SMNot to be left out, CBS weighed in a few days later with a long profile by senior political correspondent Jeff Greenfield on Sunday Morning. Greenfield detailed what he termed a “new militancy on the Right,” perfectly capturing the liberal establishment’s view of the Tea Party:

From the Tea Parties on tax day last the rancorous town halls on health care in August, to the gathering last weekend at the Capitol, discontent is in the air. You can see it in the signs they carry, hear it from the most prominent voices on talk radio, all from the right....Some of it seems very traditional, an outcry against the government that critics say has grown too big....Some of it is aimed specifically and virulently at Obama — at his background, at his race, at his agenda: Fascist, Communist, both.

Greenfield then permitted liberal Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank to slash at what he called “racist elements” of Obama’s opposition: “The very anger of it, the racist elements, the irrational elements, the embrace of fiction, the threats — I think that makes it less politically useful.”

Nightline got around to producing its one (and, so far, only) lengthy report on the Tea Party on November 2. Co-anchor Terry Moran cobbled together every spin point the Left had ever coined about the Tea Party. “We went to south Florida to see at the ground level what this grassroots movement is really like, and check out critics’ contention that it’s not a real grassroots uprising at all, but a corporate front — an AstroTurf movement, they call it,” Moran promised at the outset.

Moran centered his report on FreedomWorks chairman Dick Armey, a key supporter of the Tea Party. Moran lamely tried to argue that Armey was a “hypocrite” for opposing a massive government-imposed health care system while he himself was on the federal employees health plan as a member of Congress: “People would say, Mr. Armey, you got government health care. You got taxpayers subsidizing your health care....They’d say now you’re a hypocrite.”

“And I’d say you’re being silly,” Armey shot back. “That is not a reason why I should be opposed to you having your insurance imposed on you by the federal government.”

Moran also cast the Tea Party as a gang of angry white people. “Some critics of the movement note that the vast majority of people at the rallies are white people. And they point to a few hateful signs that have dotted the crowds. Former President Jimmy Carter said it was all being fueled by racism,” Moran told Armey.

“Jimmy Carter’s all wet, the poor fellow,” Armey riposted.

Actually, according to a poll of Tea Party participants and supporters conducted in March by McLaughlin & Associates and commissioned by the National Review Institute, nearly one in six Tea Partiers are non-white, with education rates that are higher than the general population (see box).

The same poll also discovered that 87 percent of Tea Party supporters said they are “very likely” to vote in the 2010 election for U.S. Congress. To put that in perspective, in the previous midterm election, 2006, just over 40 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. In other words, the Tea Party seems poised to be a potent political force in 2010.