Welcome to Fox News tea parties
When is a protest not a real protest? When it's all about partisan politics rather than issues, when it's staged by the media, and when nobody knows why they're there. And that's exactly the case with those so-called "Tea Parties" held around the...
When is a protest not a real protest? When it's all about partisan politics rather than issues, when it's staged by the media, and when nobody knows why they're there. And that's exactly the case with those so-called "Tea Parties" held around the country on Tax Day, April 15.
Organizers proudly called them "grassroots" protests. In fact, there was nothing grassroots about them. As economist Paul Krugman noted, they were more like Astro-turf. The tea parties were hatched, planned, and paid for by three right-wing organizations: FreedomWorks, headed by former Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey; dontGo, which organized last year's GOP public-relations blitz in support of offshore drilling; and Americans for Prosperity, headed by Ralph Reed's former business partner, Tim Phillips.
Having organized the parties, Republicans then showed up to pour the tea. Speakers at various locations included Newt Gingrich, Armey, John Boehner, Alan Keyes, Joe the Plumber, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, several Republican members of Congress, and hooker-bait David Vitter.
The tea parties did make history, in one sense. They represent the first time a television network has actually moved from covering events to creating events. For an entire week before April 15, Fox News exclusively hailed the upcoming tea parties, broadcast their locations, and encouraged viewers to participate in "FNC Tax Day Tea Parties." For those unable to attend an event in person, Fox News even conveniently hosted a "virtual tea party" on its Web site.
Host Neil Cavuto vehemently denied that he and fellow Foxers had become event sponsors, not just event reporters, insisting that Fox had given just as much advance publicity to the Million Man March in Washington. There's only one problem with that: The Million Man March was held in 1995. The Fox News Network wasn't launched until 1996.
The truth is, the tea parties were a Fox News creation and would never have happened without Fox. Between April 6 and April 13, as documented by Media Matters for America, Fox News featured at least 20 segments on the upcoming "tea parties" and aired over 73 in-show and commercial promotions for their coverage of the events. Not only that, on April 15, Fox anchors Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Neil Cavuto and others actually went on the road to host various tea parties around the country. In Washington, Fox News analyst Tobin Smith welcomed participants "on behalf of Fox News Channel." Clearly, the old slogan of Fox News -- "we report, you decide" -- has been replaced by the more accurate "we create, you participate."
Even with Fox's blessing, however, the tea parties were a bust. Organizers predicted that millions of Americans would attend over 2,000 events around the country. In actuality, there were only about 300 tea parties, and attendance, based on reports from sites across the country, was in the tens of thousands.
And no wonder. For one thing, nobody could quite explain what the assembled protesters were really protesting. Talk about confusion. I attended the rainy tea party in Washington's Lafayette Square. Not even protesters knew why they were there. I saw signs ranging from "No Queremos Socialismo" to "Hey, Big Brother. Show us your real birth certificate" to "Obama bin Lyin." One lone ranger even showed up to protest the programming schedule on Fox News: "Move Glenn Beck to 7 p.m."
Since the tea parties took place on April 15, you might think they were held in opposition to higher taxes. Yet over 95 percent of those protesters just received a big Obama tax cut, not a tax increase. Others said the protests were held to release express bipartisan anger over big government spending. If so, where was this gang when George W. Bush, the biggest spender in history, racked up the biggest budgets, biggest deficits and biggest national debt ever? How many tea parties were held on April 15, 2008? Zero.
No, the evidence is clear. The Fox News tea parties were neither genuine nor spontaneous. And they certainly bore no relation to the original Boston Tea Party protest against "taxation without representation." This year's events were pure partisan political rallies, staged by Republicans and promoted by Fox News, to embarrass President Obama.
In the end, that's what protesters were most unhappy about: They lost the last election.
-- Press is host of a nationally-syndicated radio show and is an author.