The Media's Law of Silent Protests
If 150 members of the Tea Party protest at an Obama fundraiser and the press fail to report it, was the Tea Party ever really there?
Back in April 2009, when the Tea Party was just a fledgling movement, the press barely took notice. I sent out hundreds of press releases for that first Tea Party, and I recall only one local TV station showing up -- and that only at the very onset of the rally. The seasoned reporter asked a few questions and conveniently departed before 1,000 protesters descended on Nancy Pelosi's office, delivering tea bags and asking for a town hall meeting.
As most AT readers know, the press coverage those first few years was scant and slanted. The Tea Party was consistently portrayed as racist, anti-government radicals who were mostly white, militant, gun-toting, Bible-slapping, knuckle-dragging, toothless mental midgets.
To bolster that fiction, the press disseminated -- almost universally -- unflattering pictures of Tea Partiers and quotes that often failed to reflect accurately the movement or its participants. All too often, the pictures and quotes were of infiltrators trying to make the movement look bad.
The press intentionally manufactured the myth of the uninformed white Tea Partier who opposed President Obama strictly because of his skin color, while blatantly ignoring the real issues and policies that motivated millions of all backgrounds and political affiliations to get off their couches and take to the streets -- ObamaCare, excessive government spending, balancing the budget, reading bills before voting on them, passing legislation that represents the will of the people, lowering onerous taxes, and minimizing regulations that discourage investment.
This past spring and summer San Francisco, Tea Partiers noticed a surprising surge in press coverage at events, and for the first time in the short life of the Tea Party, Bay Area media were not only showing up, but reporting on the Tea Party's mission, members, numbers, and influence -- and more accurately than ever before.
But that wasn't the case on October 8 at our "Say Good-bye to President Eye Candy" protest, where four to six thousand Obama supporters showed up to see the president at his sixth San Francisco fundraiser of the year.
To accommodate the throngs of supporters, Polk Street was cordoned off around Civic Center Plaza and served as the processing point for thousands of ticket-holders. Protesters of all stripes were situated along the sidewalk directly facing Obama's supporters. We were ten feet away from each other -- literally face-to-face with our Obama opponents -- and it was intense.
Because this was supposedly Obama's last fundraising trip to California, the San Francisco Tea Party made sure it had a solid showing. About 150 Tea Partiers showed up, along with the usual mélange of left-wingers -- a smattering of anti-drone, anti-war agitators; a handful of pro-cannabis warriors; a few PETA fanatics dressed as circus elephants; and even a couple of scantily clad porn stars zipping around on their shiny silver roller skates.
The press was also out in droves, interviewing and filming many of the 150 Tea Partiers. But if you turned on the 11:00 news that night, even though Obama's visit was the lead story on every channel, you would have consistently heard that Obama was in town for his sixth fundraiser and delivered a mighty rebuke against Romney; that 6,000 people showed up to see him and attend the John Legend/Michael Franti concert; and that anti-war, pro-cannabis protesters were out in full force.
The Tea Party either was not mentioned or was lumped together with the other protesters. The average San Francisco viewer would have turned off the tube having no idea that the largest bloc of protesters that night was the Tea Party, with 150 people.
KTVU did not acknowledge the San Francisco Tea Party at all. During its 11:00 broadcast, KRON 4 merely presented a fleeting image of a "Defeat Obama" sign. KPIX Channel 5 did report on all of the protesters, including the Tea Party, but did not comment on its size. And while Channel 7 did air an actual interview with one of our members, the audio failed, so you could not hear a thing he said.
If you are a Romney supporter living in this Orwellian world of "the economy is great, we are better off than we were four years ago, Obama saved us from a great depression and single-handedly routed radical Islam with drone strikes and the killing of bin Laden," you would have turned off the 11:00 news thinking you are the only Romney supporter west of the Golden Gate.
Tea Partiers that night were shouted at, flipped off, and subject to all of the usual epithets hurled at us by Obama's supporters -- racist, sexist, homophobe. None of this is new, and none of this was news.
While the Tea Party was playing 150 Davids to Obama's Goliath, a young reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle asked me how Obama's policies hurt members of the Tea Party (finally, a question with meat on its bones). Even though I recounted for him the many Tea Partiers who are out of work, those who own small businesses but had to cut back on hires, or the college grads who cannot find work -- not to mention the constant worry we all experience about our mortgages, college educations, and retirements -- none of this appeared in his column (although he did acknowledge that the Tea Party was there).
What happened? Although there had been an uptick in press coverage of the Tea Party in the Bay Area, that was short-lived. As soon as Romney became a contender in the eyes of our Fourth Estate, they went into full "protect Obama in the press at all costs" mode.
When they aren't ignoring the Tea Party or conservative sentiment, members of the mainstream media offer up pabulum. Instead of focusing on the red meat of the many issues facing this country, journalists have been concentrating on our reactions! They are more interested in what Republicans or Tea Partiers feel about the convention, the debate, or a candidate's statement than they are in the underlying issues.
Not long ago, I had a 30-minute sit-down interview with the lead reporter from a major local network about Romney's 47% remark. After congratulating me for my analysis, he let it be known that he was going to air only my reaction to the remark and that, while the other 29 minutes and 30 seconds made for great mental gymnastics, the material therein wouldn't be used.
In sum, the evolution of the Tea Party's relationship with the press looks something like this: at first, the reporting was scant, and then it quickly morphed into heavily biased and inaccurate coverage, which became more accurate and positive for a brief period of time this past spring and summer but noticeably tapered off -- once Romney began to pick up steam -- to its current state, where the media will report only the fluffy stuff, not the substance.
But once a journalist -- who is in the tank for Obama -- is forced to confront the incontrovertible evidence of a $16-trillion national debt, $500 million taxpayer dollars squandered on Solyndra, 23 million un- and under-employed for over 42 months, a drop in median household income by $4,300, 50% of college grads unable to find work, and a fictitious economic recovery barely squeaking by, with an average annual GDP of 2.2%...then that journalist is in the untenable position of having to tackle Obama's failures.
Obama's supporters have chosen to stick their collective heads in the sand. Their chronic denial about the state of the economy, the security of the country, and the integrity of the Obama administration is practically pathological and should be of concern to anyone with a pulse. If Obama says we are in a recovery and better off today than four years ago -- and that narrative is reinforced by the press -- then forget the facts, reality be damned, pass the champagne, and vote for another four! Just smile and pretend things are wonderful in this Orwellian San Francisco fog.
But most of us can see through the fog and are not afraid to confront the deception. Some might have to squint and take it slow, but they will eventually recognize the truth. Two plus two does not equal five, and yes, even when the press intentionally neglects to report 150 Tea Partiers protesting Obama, we were there.