TV's Tea Party Travesty
How ABC, CBS and NBC Have Dismissed and Disparaged the Tea Party Movement

The Tea Party: Liberals' Secret Weapon?

Coverage of the Tea Party ramped up considerably after the election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts, a shocking defeat for liberals that nearly derailed their plans to enact a massive government health care program. In just the first three months of 2010, the networks ran 42 stories on the Tea Party, compared to just 19 in 2009. Another 93 stories carried at least a brief reference to the Tea Party, for a total of 135 items through March 31, 2010 — a rate of coverage six times greater than it was in 2009 (an average of 14 stories per month in 2010, vs. barely two stories per month from April to December).

In late 2009, some reporters suggested the Tea Party’s involvement in the special congressional election in upstate New York was a precursor to a Republican or conservative civil war. On ABC’s Good Morning America the morning before the election, reporter Jake Tapper painted the Tea Party as a spoiler because the official Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava’s “candidacy had been hobbled irreparably by Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman, the new darling of conservative Tea Party activists....Obama advisors are eager to paint this as a trend, a conservative purge.”     

Of course, Scozzafava had been chosen by a small group of party leaders, not a primary, and her liberal voting record in the New York state assembly was at odds with rank-and-file Republican voters. It can be argued that Scozzafava’s decision to endorse the Democratic candidate instead of the conservative Hoffman was what ultimately “spoiled” the race for New York’s Republican voters.

Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts Senate race in mid-January appears to have jolted the media into finally recognizing the Tea Party’s clout. But over the next several weeks, network reporters spent more time suggesting that the Tea Party was a threat to Republicans rather than the Obama administration and its liberal allies.

“Republicans may have benefitted from this movement, but they may not be immune from Tea Party activist anger themselves,” ABC’s Tapper opined on the January 20 World News, the day after Brown’s win. CBS’s Jeff Greenfield echoed the point a week later on the Evening News: “There’s no doubt that the grassroots Tea Party energy is stirring Republican hopes and dreams for big gains in Congress this November, but like any powerful force, nitroglycerin, for example, it has to be handled with great care.”

“Republican incumbents have a big problem of their own this year. Across the country, Tea Party activists are challenging sitting Republicans, claiming they’re not conservative enough.”  CBS’s Chip Reid proclaimed on the February 18 Evening News.

A week later on The Early Show, co-host Harry Smith suggested to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger that the Tea Party’s effect would be to make Republicans unelectable: “There are winds of change blowing in the Republican Party. The Tea Party has met. It feels like a significant shift to the right. Can the Republican Party exist without moderates?”

Certainly, the Tea Party has aided challenges to Republican candidates — most notably, Florida Governor and Senate candidate Charlie Crist — who seem to espouse the same frivolous attitude toward government spending as liberal Democrats. But it is a stretch to argue that the net effect of a broad-based voter movement against higher spending and big deficits would be most keenly felt by Republican candidates.

Yet nearly all of the analysis of the Tea Party’s potential political effect emphasized problems for Republicans. One exception was NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, on the January 10 Meet the Press: “There are more Democrats at stake than Republicans. So the Democratic Party is facing the reality that in 2010, if it doesn’t start to change, they are going to feel the anger, the anger that the Tea Party advocates really epitomize.”

Previous: Scorning the Tea Parties as Wacky, Extremist and Racist
Next: More Tea Party Trashing

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