Study: Media Significantly Exaggerate Racism at Tea Party Rallies
Not that we needed a study to tell us this, but according to one conducted by a UCLA grad student, media coverage of Tea Party rallies has dramatically overrepresented the presence of racist or other offensive signs there.
According to the Washington Post, which laudably reported on the study today, UCLA grad student Emily Ekins found that "media coverage of tea party rallies over the past year have focused so heavily on the more controversial signs that it has contributed to the perception that such content dominates the tea party movement more than it actually does."
Ekins, who, it should be noted, is a former intern at the libertarian Cato Institute, actually attended the September 12 rally (imagine that) and kept a tally of the types of signs she saw there:
Ekins photographed about 250 signs, and more than half of those she saw reflected a "limited government ethos," she found - touching on such topics as the role of government, liberty, taxes, spending, deficit and concern about socialism. Examples ranged from the simple message "$top the $pending" scrawled in black-marker block letters to more elaborate drawings of bar charts, stop signs and one poster with the slogan "Socialism is Legal Theft" and a stick-figure socialist pointing a gun at the head of a taxpayer.
There were uglier messages, too - including "Obama Bin Lyin' - Impeach Now" and "Somewhere in Kenya a Village is Missing its Idiot." But Ekins's analysis showed that only about a quarter of all signs reflected direct anger with Obama. Only 5 percent of the total mentioned the president's race or religion, and slightly more than 1 percent questioned his American citizenship.
Ekins's conclusion is not that the racially charged messages are unimportant but that media coverage of tea party rallies over the past year have focused so heavily on the more controversial signs that it has contributed to the perception that such content dominates the tea party movement more than it actually does.
"Really this is an issue of salience," Ekins said. "Just because a couple of percentage points of signs have those messages doesn't mean the other people don't share those views, but it doesn't mean they do, either. But when 25 percent of the coverage is devoted to those signs, it suggests that this is the issue that 25 percent of people think is so important that they're going to put it on a sign, when it's actually only a couple of people."