The New York Times finally noticed -- kind of -- the nationwide "tea party" protests against the bailouts, the stimulus plan, and President Obama's budget. Reporter Liz Robbins' story, "Tax Day Is Met With Tea Parties" is the first Times news report to deal with any of the conservative anti-spending protests, and does so in a predictably snide manner and in a relatively short article on Page 16 of Thursday's edition.This paragraph from Robbins' initial version of the story, posted at nytimes.com Wednesday afternoon at 2:30 (no longer online), got a few facts about conservatives wrong:
Fox News was covering the events and streaming live video as its own commentators Neil Cavuto and Michelle Malkin were headlining the protests in Sacramento, Sean Hannity appeared in Atlanta, and Newt Gingrich showed up at City Hall Park in New York.
Oops. Neil Cavuto is a host at Fox News, not a commentator, and given that her story was filed Wednesday afternoon, Robbins couldn't have actually reported on Newt Gingrich's speech at City Hall Park, which didn't start until sometime past 7:30 p.m. An attack from that first filing that didn't make it into the print version accused the protestors of "group therapy" and of "expressing their anger, but offering no solutions."
Of course, when the small band of colonists dressed as Indians and dumped tea in Boston Harbor in 1773 to protest King George's import tax and imperial government, that movement led to independence.
All of these tax day parties seemed less about revolution and more about group therapy. At least with the more widely known protest against government spending, people attending the rallies were dressed patriotically and held signs expressing their anger, but offering no solutions.
As if your garden variety left-wing protest, with its papier-mâché puppets, inflatable rats, and every interest group under the sun, is some kind of organically conceived masterpiece of coherence. Speaking of which: Huge rallies of immigrants in support of amnesty held the same day in various cities made the Times' front page back on May 2, 2006, complete with sidebars and extensive audio and video coverage. From the lead:
Hundreds of thousands of immigrants and their supporters skipped work, school and shopping on Monday and marched in dozens of cities from coast to coast.
The demonstrations did not bring the nation to a halt as planned by some organizers, though they did cause some disruptions and conveyed in peaceful but sometimes boisterous ways the resolve of those who favor loosening the country's laws on immigration.
Double standards abounded. Robbins tarred the allegedly vague message of the tea parties as "offering no solutions." Yet the left-wing scattershot approach at the immigration rallies was called a "broader tone of social action" (how's that for a euphemism for vague). From the immigration story:
The protesters, a mix of illegal immigrants and legal residents and citizens, were mostly Latino, but in contrast to similar demonstrations in the past two months, large numbers of people of other ethnicities joined or endorsed many of the events. In some cases, the rallies took on a broader tone of social action, as gay rights advocates, opponents of the war in Iraq and others without a direct stake in the immigration debate took to the streets.
Back to the tea parties: Robbins' Wednesday night update, filed around 9:20 p.m., matched the version that appeared on Page 16 of Thursday morning's paper, correcting the Cavuto mistake and taking out Gingrich (and the entire New York City protest) entirely. The slightly longer online version relegated the NYC tea party to a single paragraph from the Associated Press. An excerpt:
Some people wore their tea bags hanging from umbrellas or eyeglasses. Others simply tossed them on the White House lawn. Wednesday's deadline for filing income tax returns offered some Americans a timely excuse to vent their frustrations as demonstrators attended more than 750 Tax Day tea parties in cities like Boston, Washington, East Hampton, N.Y., and Yakima, Wash. The events were meant to protest government spending -- particularly the Obama administration's $787 billion stimulus package and its $3.5 trillion budget. Although organizers insisted they had created a nonpartisan grass-roots movement, others argued that these parties were more of the Astroturf variety -- an occasion largely created by the clamor of cable news and fueled by the financial and political support of current and former Republican leaders.
The immigration rallies were not snidely accused of "Astroturfing," even though the May 2006 story said they were organized by "union organizers, immigrant rights groups and others." More from Robbins on the tea parties:
Fox News covered the events all day with reporters and hosts at the scenes. Neil Cavuto, a Fox host, and Michelle Malkin, a conservative contributor, headlined the protests in Sacramento while Sean Hannity broadcast his show from the protests in Atlanta. The Web site TaxDayTeaParty.com listed its sponsors, including FreedomWorks, a group founded by Dick Armey, the former House majority leader; Top Conservatives on Twitter; and RFCRadio.com.
And this is pretty pathetic journalism on the part of the Times, to resort to a wire service account of a huge rally that took place in its own hometown:
Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, urged people in New York to tell their lawmakers "we're going to fire you" unless they vote against big spending, The A.P. reported.
Not even the paper's local City Room blog found the protest newsworthy. It wasn't a small gathering, either. The website ParcBench, which advertises itself as "NYC Tea Party Headquarters," cited a "New York Police Department" claim of 12,500 protestors. The New York Post estimated a crowd of 5,000 around City Hall last night, while the Associated Press counted 2,000. Times Watch's best guess based on personal observation? Somewhere between the AP's 2,000 and the Post's 5,000.The City Room blog did have sufficient manpower to cover a local gathering of Soho residents rallying to save their post office.