Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tax Day, Tea, and a Little Light Reflection on Journalism

Imagine, for a moment, that we are in a Republican administration. Imagine that during the first few months of this Republican president's term, thousands and thousands of people spontaneously gather in cities all over the nation to protest taxes, the president's stimulus plan, and the like. Imagine that this is truly a grassroots effort, not tied to any party or future candidate.

What would the news coverage be like?

I can imagine a few headlines:

Tax Day Protests Signal Wide Bipartisan Displeasure with President

Protests Send Message: Stimulus Plan Too Expensive

National Tea Party Shows Lack of Confidence in Administration

Huge Turnouts at Tax Day Protests; Republicans in Disarray

or even, succinctly, from the New York Times:

Worst President Ever?

Now take a look at the actual event taking place today; here's the website.

And here's a sampling of the coverage:

From the New York Times:

The government deadline for filing income tax returns on Wednesday offered some Americans a timely excuse to vent their frustrations and twist a metaphor more than two centuries in the making. Turning tea into an acronym for Taxed Enough Already, demonstrators were expected to attend more than 750 rallies in cities from Boston to Washington, East Hampton, N.Y., to Yakima, Wash., to protest government spending — namely the Obama administration’s $787 billion stimulus package and $3.5 trillion budget.

Although organizers insisted they had created a non-partisan grassroots movement, it was argued by others that these parties were more of the synthetic “Game Day Grass” variety, since the occasion was largely created by the clamor of cable news and fueled with the financial and political support of current and former Republican leaders.
Ah, those mysterious unsourced "others" show up again, in the second paragraph quoted, as the reporter tries to claim that the Republicans and their Vast Right Wing Conspiracy (a division of Halliburton) were responsible for this one. It won't be the economy that kills the Grey Lady, if she falls--it will be the decline in journalistic standards that result from the desperate struggle for approval from The One.

A Vancouver Sun editorial is even less circumspect:

A fake U.S. "grassroots" anti-tax movement, paid for, planned and promoted by right wing think tanks, corporate lobbyists and Fox News Channel, has failed to bring about the "popular uprising" against the Obama administration its creators had hoped for.

The day of "tea parties" pushed by Republican operatives and partisan advocacy groups such as FreedomWorks, brought about only a few hundred "tea-baggers" in most parts of the country, despite relentless promotion by Fox News TV hosts such as Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck.

Gee, Vancouver. Tell us what you really think. Or not; nobody reads newspapers anymore anyway.

At least Vancouver doesn't pretend to be writing anything but an editorial. The folks at AFP responsible for this piece from before the whole thing really got underway don't have that excuse:

NEW YORK (AFP) — Critics of President Barack Obama marked national tax day Wednesday with "tea party" protests that Republicans called the birth of a grassroots opposition, but Democrats dismissed as a fraud.

Modest crowds gathered under blustery skies in Washington, Miami, New York and Boston, with several thousands meeting in Sacramento, California, to protest taxes, government bailouts and Obama's big-spending budget proposals.

Organizer Eric Odom said protests would take place in almost 800 cities in a "new day for the freedom movement."

The demonstrations, styled on the famed 1773 Boston Tea Party revolt against British colonial taxes, came as Americans rushed to meet the annual deadline for filing income tax returns.

Protests featured teabags, iced tea and other tea-related props, complete with a planned re-enactment of the original dumping of tea into Boston harbor.

But despite the catchy theme, there were questions about whether the scattered, mostly Republican forces could achieve a significant turnout.

Well, yes, because it's hard to count turnout when an event hasn't actually, you know, happened.

Not everybody in the media is taking this same view. This editorial by E. Thomas McClanahan of the Kansas City Star takes a more thoughtful look:

Democrats and other skeptics are desperate to dismiss the tea parties that popped up across the country today. Kansas City political consultant Steve Glorioso told The Star they were being staged by the "same far right fringe characters driven in large part by talk radio."

This eagerness to explain away this movement is telling, suggesting the skeptics see these gatherings as a real threat. Certainly the tea parties have an anti-Obama slant, but what we're seeing is something outside the normal dynamics of Democrat-Republican tension. [...]

This is a genuine grassroots phenomenom. Various facets of the GOP coalition and conservative movement are trying to leverage this movement, but the movement was there first, and it took off after Rick Santelli's famous rant in Chicago. It isn't clear yet what the tea party movement is all about, but it can't be dismissed as something that simply arose from shadowy GOP organizers.

Everything's up to date in Kansas City. Even the journalism, which appears willing to consider the possibility that this tea-party thing isn't being masterminded by Karl Rove or somebody just like him, but might actually be the first hint at a bipartisan populist outrage over the fact that even those who supported Mr. Hope 'n Change might be a bit annoyed that this tax season, they're reduced to hoping for a little change back from the increasingly rapacious federal government.

UPDATE: Check out this unbelievable video at CMR.


Anonymous said...

My husband and I have been watching CNN for two hours this morning, and have not heard ONE word about the fabulous turnout for the
tea parties. What gives?

Tony said...

I had many discussions at the tea party I attended, and we were, as a rule, more pissed off at Republicans than the Democrats.

The Democrats can't help it, they're Democrats, the Republicans ought to know better.