The mainstream media (MSM) spent the last year treating the Tea Party movement as if it were a cancer on the body politic, not an organic outcry from a citizenry that had enough.
That was before the movement helped elect three GOP candidates — particularly Scott Brown’s stunning takeover of the so-called Ted Kennedy seat in Massachusetts.
Now, the MSM knows better than to tar and feather tea partiers — or use a derogatory sexual term to describe them.
Instead, the press treated this weekend’s premiere National Tea Party Convention in Nashville as it would anything else outside its liberal bubble — with grudging respect mixed with mudslinging.
The media memes from the convention coverage weren’t hard to find. Infighting. Palin’s big speaker fee. Is the party doomed because of said infighting? And reporters couldn’t help lumping in the few crazed protestors at the event with the bulk of the people hoping for Change 2.0.
For some outlets, the movement’s growing pains overshadowed the content of the convention.
USA Today ran a story headlined, "Tea Party label invites discord," while CNN.com bemoaned "infighting plagues conservative group on one of its blog reports.
Reuters ran a story with a headline, "Palin star of controversial tea party," even though it failed to hammer home what was so controversial about the movement. Maybe it’s the fact that right-leaning Americans have found their inner protest spirit.
Other outlets marinated in their own ill-informed take on the movement.
The Idaho Statesman let loose with this howler concerning the movement’s early days — "At the time, many dismissed tea partyers as nutballs hyped up on too much Fox News who would soon crawl back under rocks."
Who’s "many?" Many in their newsroom, perhaps.
The New York Times‘ Kate Zernike wrote a fair piece on the convention, but couldn’t resist a little ageism.
"But the crowd here was largely middle-aged and older, and technology may not come as easily as it did to the young adults who powered Mr. Obama’s campaign.
"Tea party movement faces uncertain future" by The Associated Press, played it fairly straight but couldn’t help bringing out the old, ugly labels.
"The coalition was tagged as extremist because of disruptions during healthcare town hall meetings last summer and signs like "Bury Obamacare with Kennedy" that sprouted at a Washington rally last fall following Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s death."
When was the last time a major wire service called a liberal protest "extreme" based on a scattering of ugly signs amidst the sea of protestors?
Even while some media outlets appeared to learn their lesson, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow was there to fill in the bias gaps.
"The much-maligned national tea party convention is underway today in Nashville," she began during one report, before injecting a non-existent racist undertone to speaker Tom Tancredo’s wish that voters pass a basic civics test.
One could argue with the merits — or even the feasibility — of such a plan. Instead, Maddow reached into her trusty deck and played the race card. It’s like an instinct for her ilk.
"It was sort of hard to tell exactly what the sounds coming from the crowd meant. They were sort of a little bit muffled by, you know, the white hoods."
And Maddow and co. are finding themselves heard by a shrinking pool of viewers according to recent ratings reports, some of whom prefer tin-foil hats to hoods.
MSNBC also let Democratic operative Bob Shrum weigh in during its live coverage of Gov. Sarah Palin’s keynote address. And he didn’t disappoint, calling Palin "a merchant of hate with an oh, gosh smile."
Mark Preston, CNN’s Political Editor, called Palin out for having a few words scribbled on her hand during part of her public performances over the weekend.
"The fact that she wrote on her hand isn’t really that big of a deal," Preston said. "But the fact that she was critical of President Obama, and called him, "That charismatic guy with the teleprompter," and as you just saw, I looked down at my notes to give that direct quote. It’s very hard to be critical of one person when you yourself are using the same kind of aids when you’re speaking."
When it comes to Palin, reporters can’t help but falling on their ideological swords. Consider the AP’s one-two punch against Palin.
The wire service attached an ugly picture of the former governor, no mean feat given her lovely countenance, and then hammered her from within the story.
"Sarah Palin, in a speech that was short on ideas but big on enthusiasm, took aim at President Barack Obama and the Democrats," the story began. Funny, when then Sen. Barack Obama said, "We are the ones we’ve been waiting for," did any wire service deconstruct the lack of ideas present?
The story also mentioned Palin’s speaking fee, supposedly $100,000, as if it somehow defiled what she had to say. But where’s the context? Do other former politicians also gobble up speaking fees? You betcha, as Palin might say.
But a slam is a slam is a slam, never mind Palin said she was pouring the speaking fee back into the movement.
The AP story in question, by Liz Sidoti, also engaged in that oh, so boring horse race subject matter, even though the next presidential election is
nearly three years off.
"But, given the plethora of attacks that Palin leveled at Obama, she seemed like she was already running against him. And, perhaps, as an independent," Sidoti writes.
Yet Sidoti also penned another piece, one that probably wouldn’t have seen the light of day a few months ago.
"But many who call themselves ”tea partiers” are simply real people with real concerns who have real voices and want to force real change. And, as history has shown, politicians of all political stripes ignore such uprisings at their own peril," she writes.
Maybe the MSM is starting to see the light, but the tea partiers have long memories and recall how reporters treated them during 2009. For them, a more fair and balanced approach to their handiwork is likely a year too late.