That troublesome Tea Party

You’re the weekend reporter for a small market, and the Tea Partiers have come to town for a rally. What do you do? You know squat about the group. They’re an oddball mix with misspelled signs, and they seem to drag along an illiterate and, well, ignorant crowd with them. Is that the story? Is the combination of religious zealots and gun-toters a threat to America? Is that the story? They talk like right wing GOPers. Is that the story? They say they’re a serious political movement in the country. Is that the story?

Let’s begin by saying that political animals know that you don’t know anything about them and their cause, so they use weekends to get their point-of-view across. So take the press release, but ask smart questions. What questions, you ask? Here’s a great interview with a guy who’s been covering the Tea Party for the Washington Independent since its inception.

David Weigel offers two wrong ways to look at the events:

“The only thing I try not to do is what I call “point and laugh” coverage,” Weigel tells Bob Garfield, “where you find a tea party group doing something kind of crazy and make fun of that and move on.” The second way reporters mischaracterize the movement, according to Weigel, is “taking a press release from one of these tea party groups and reporting that this was an authentic American uprising that informs our understanding of why Barack Obama’s not very popular right now.”

The simple answer is that the economy’s bad. It’s not that the self-selected conservative protestor showing up somewhere is the voice of the independents. They’re neither freaks nor Norman Rockwell representations of every American.

This is a tough assignment for any reporter, but for the green weekender, it poses lots of problems. Better to bone up on it now, because we’re going to be hearing a lot from this group in the months ahead.

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