The New York Times suddenly isn't so fond of community organizing, now that the right has gotten into the game, attacking Obama's health-care proposals in clamorous town halls held by Democratic congressmen over the August recess.
In fact, the Times agrees with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that such meetings have become "hostile" and "extreme." "Beyond Beltway, Health Debate Turns Hostile" is the headline over a very slanted front-page story Saturday by Ian Urbina.
The bitter divisions over an overhaul of the health care system have exploded at town-hall-style meetings over the last few days as members of Congress have been shouted down, hanged in effigy and taunted by crowds. In several cities, noisy demonstrations have led to fistfights, arrests and hospitalizations.
Democrats have said the protesters are being organized by conservative lobbying groups like FreedomWorks. Republicans respond that the protests are an organic response to the Obama administration's health care restructuring proposals.
There is no dispute, however, that most of the shouting and mocking is from opponents of those plans. Many of those opponents have been encouraged to attend by conservative commentators and Web sites.
"Become a part of the mob!" said a banner posted Friday on the Web site of the talk show host Sean Hannity. "Attend an Obama Care Townhall near you!" The exhortations do not advocate violence, but some urge opponents to be disruptive.
Funny that the Times never mentioned the organizing power of the left, which print up professional protest signs and bus in protestors at the drop of a hat, but is suddenly concerned about far less orchestrated efforts by conservatives.Urbina doesn't mention Obama's network, "Organizing for America," whose members are being urged to get into the debate. The group sent out a video to supporters on Friday urging them to "sign up for events in your community and contact your representatives."
Urbina's reporting was quickly mired in liberal quicksand. Paragraph five:
"Pack the hall," said a strategy memo circulated by the Web site Tea Party Patriots that instructed, "Yell out and challenge the Rep's statements early."
"Get him off his prepared script and agenda," the memo continued. "Stand up and shout and sit right back down."
The memo was obtained by the liberal Web site ThinkProgress. Its author, Robert MacGuffie, a founder of the conservative Web site Right Principles, confirmed to The New York Times that the memo was legitimate.
Urbina is taking a left-wing talking point spread by Think Progress that falsely painted Connecticut anti-tax activist Robert MacGuffie as the Mr. Big of the health-care protest movement. Mary Katharine Ham at the Weekly Standard did some digging and relayed the actual reach of the Democrat's newest Public Enemy. Read this excerpt from Ham, if you dare, for a sense of MacGuffie's enormous influence:
Right Principles PAC was formed by Bob MacGuffie and four friends in 2008, and has taken in a whopping $5,017 and disbursed $1,777, according to its FEC filing.
"We're just trying to shake this state up and make a difference up here," MacGuffie told me during a telephone interview. He's surprised at his elevation to national rabble-rouser by the Left.
Right Principles has a Facebook group with 23 members and a Twitter account with five followers.
Urbina glossed over a violent confrontation at a town hall in St. Louis organized by Democrat Rep. Russ Carnahan:
In response, liberal groups and the White House have also started sending supporters instructions for countering what they say are the organized disruptions.
A volatile mix has resulted. In Mehlville, Mo., St. Louis County police officers arrested six people on Thursday evening, some on assault charges, outside a health care and aging forum organized by Representative Russ Carnahan, a Democrat. Opponents of the proposed changes, organized by the St. Louis Tea Party, apparently clashed with supporters organized by the Service Employees International Union outside a school gym.
That brief description lets the union off very easy. Ham of the Weekly Standard again did some actual reporting about the St. Louis scuffle, digging up a video clip that strongly suggests that a purple-shirted SEIU protester physically assaulted and used a racial epithet against Kenneth Gladney, a black man selling flags at the event.
Urbina, helped by anecdotes gathered by a crew of reporters across the country (David Hersezenhorn, Theo Emery, Brian Stelter, Sean Hamill, Carmen Gentile and Malcolm Gay) filed nothing but Democratic talking points portraying the protesters in contradictory fashion as both passionate extremists and fake Astroturfers, though the only physical confrontations captured so far look to have been started by pro-Obama activists:
The tenor of some of the debates has become extreme. Ms. Pelosi has accused people at recent protests of carrying signs associating the Democratic plan with Nazi swastikas and SS symbols, and some photographs showing such signs have been posted on the Web.
Actually, Pelosi's statement was far more open-ended, leading many conservatives to think she was calling them Nazis (and what kind of AstroTurf strategist would suggest carrying homemade posters with swastikas?). Here's what Pelosi said:
I think they're AstroTurf. You be the judge. They're carrying swastikas and symbols like that to a town meeting on health care.
Urbina hit all the talking points circulating on left-wing blogs, dredging up the old "Brooks Brothers" accusation from the Bush-Gore protests of 2000.
Earlier this week, Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, compared the scenes at health care forums to the "Brooks Brothers brigade" in 2000, a reference to the protests that disrupted the vote count in Miami during the presidential election battle between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Portrayed at the time as local protesters, many were actually Republican staff members flown in from Washington.
For Representative Steve Kagen, Democrat of Wisconsin, Mr. Gibbs's criticism rang true.
After he faced heckling during a heated discussion about health care at a forum on Thursday, Mr. Kagen was confronted by a vocal opponent named Heather Blish, who identified herself as "just a mom from a few blocks away" and "not affiliated with any political party."
When interviewed by the local NBC affiliate, Ms. Blish insisted she was not a member of the Republican Party. But her page on the networking Web site Linked In said she was the vice chairwoman of the Republican Party of Kewaunee County until last year and worked on the campaign of John Gard, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully against Mr. Kagen last year.
Funny that Urbina could identify Blish as a Republican, yet the Times failed to identify a Democrat physically confronting an anti-Obama protester in a photo accompanying his story. The photo captured a confrontation at a town hall meeting held by Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor in Tampa -- Urbina's very next topic.
One of the week's most raucous encounters occurred Thursday in Tampa, Fla., where roughly 1,500 people attended a forum held by Democratic lawmakers, including Representative Kathy Castor. When the auditorium at the Children's Board of Hillsborough County reached capacity and organizers had to close the doors, the scene descended into violence....Some of the protesters told local reporters they had been urged to come by a local activist group promoted by the conservative radio and television host Glenn Beck. Others said they had received e-mail messages from the Hillsborough County Republican Party that urged people to speak out against the plan and offered talking points.
Karen Miracle was caught by a St. Petersburg Times photographer administering either a push or slap to the face of Obama-care opponent Barry Osteen. The Times's caption said she "pushed" Osteen, but the six pictures (check pictures 12-17 to see her left hand in action in slo-mo) suggest a little slap.
Miracle has been identified, though not in the Times, as the treasurer of theEast Hillsborough County Democratic Club. Yet after four paragraphs disparaging Blish as an undercover Republican, Urbina managed to avoid the face-slap delivered by a local Democratic operative -- captured in a photo included in his own story.