The big mistake in covering the Tea Party

tea party t-shirtI don’t write about politics often, because I get myself in trouble when I do. Thanks to an important period in my history, I see things a little differently than most of my peers, and that either makes me insightful or crazy, depending on your own perspective.

From 1981–1985, I was producer of The 700 Club, Pat Robertson’s go-to guy when it came to the program. I also worked there for a year in 1987 as executive producer while he was running for President. Many people have asked me to write a book about that period, and I may yet, although the subsequent shit storm would probably not be worth it. When people hear that I did that in my life, they make assumptions, and that’s fine. I promise those assumptions are wrong, but who cares? The point is I was there, in the thick of the rise of the Christian Right, and you weren’t, so argue with me if you wish, but my response will probably still be, “You don’t know crap.”

All of that brings me to a point I wish to make about this thing called The Tea Party and, more importantly, how the press is reacting to it.

Henry Blodgett tweeted this morning: “Here are the 14 OTHER craziest things tea party candidates believe,” which was then retweeted by Jeff Jarvis. Blodgett has 18,009 followers; Jarvis has 50,953. Both are very influential folks in the world of journalism, so we can fairly well assume that this was passed all over the globe. The link on the tweet was to a Business Insider article by the same title, which contains, among other things, this:

For Democrats, supporting the Tea Party means winning a few populist votes and establishing a third party to split the conservative vote. For Republicans, supporting the Tea Party means co-opting America’s loudest grass roots movement.

But who exactly are these people? Some are really, really nutty.
Click here to see their strange beliefs »

humorous pictured used in the storyWhat follows is a slide show with entertaining pictures of candidates that are Tea Party friendly, like this one of Delaware Republican Senatorial nominee Christine O’Donnell. The idea of this article and the slide show is to look down intellectual noses and make fun of this group. Nobody from the left takes the Tea Party seriously, although they all view the group as a threat, both politically and culturally. The tactic liberals are employing is to simply reveal the Tea Party’s lack of intelligence by showing their signs or lifting outrageous quotes, as this article does, in the assumed belief that readers or viewers will gasp at the ignorance. The veiled references to Hitler or other totalitarian monsters are designed to scare “real” people into action.

Let me tell you, folks, this is a significant mistake, because this group and these people are neither stupid, ignorant or, as the writer asserts, nutty. The press is playing right into their hands with this behavior by confirming the “us versus them” nature of their argument that something is wrong with America and these intellectual snobs are to blame. We are being baited, folks, baited by people who know exactly what they’re doing. Rather than pick little quotes or signs or whatever that fit into our predispositions, we’re going to need to do a better job of explaining the context within which those statements are given. Otherwise, we simply make their case for them.

Who is the Tea Party? We view them as backwoods morons from the South (it’s always the South, right?), and this is our first mistake. We hear some outrageous statement and that’s all we hear. We need to probe deeper and maybe drop the condescending nature of our coverage.

To put it in Jay Rosen’s terms, people feel disenfranchised from a lifetime of being left out of the debate by those with the power to do so. Remember, one in seven are unemployed. They’re worse off than ever, and more importantly, they see no hope, especially in continuing to trod the old paths. They’re tired of us considering them in the “sphere of deviance,” not worthy of participation in the discussion of life’s events. They look around and blame us for this, and in today’s world of disruption, they don’t need us anymore, so they’re saying, “The hell with you.”

Look around. The U.S. simply isn’t what it used to be. We’ve sold our future, and we’ve got growing problems. The economy sucks. If you think the public isn’t on the verge of taking matters into their own hands, you’re deluded. That’s the steaming caldron of a mess that the Tea Partiers are feeding upon, and we disrespect those who are suffering by asserting our intellectual superiority as the foundation of our coverage of the group.

So while it may seem like fun to present the Tea Party as such, we’re actually remiss in our duty as journalists in so doing. “Nobody with any brains will actually vote,” we convince ourselves, “for somebody who believes the earth is only 6,000 years old.”

(Will they?)


  1. Right on the money. I see Delaware following in the footsteps of Minnesota, those for are desperate for someone to do something to break the gridlock. Go Tea Party! We need a third party. The Founding Fathers were right. There are three branches of government for a reason. You can’t break a tie with two.


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