5 Years After: 7 Worst Media Attacks on Tea Party

Five years ago, the Tea Party launched itself onto the American political scene – pushing hard against ObamaCare, the $787-billion stimulus and Big Government. On Feb. 27, 2009, Tea Party protests were held in more than 40 cities.

But rather than treat the Tea Party as a standard protest movement, the American media closed ranks with the left and spent much of the last five years attacking them. The Tea Party has been called “racist,” “homophobic,” “terrorists” and “wingnuts.” It has also been accused of causing “economic destruction.” The media tried to link Tea Partiers to the attack on then-Rep. Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords, D-Ariz., and the Aurora theater shooting.

 

On Tax Day, April 15, 2009, CNN’s Susan Roesgen called the Tea Party: “anti-tax,” “anti-CNN,” “not really family viewing” and said the event was “highly promoted by the right-wing conservative network Fox.” One Washington Post headline went so far as to claim: “Tea Party has roots in the Dallas of 1963” – yes, 46 years before the Tea Party was even born.  

By contrast, the media lionized the Occupy Wall Street movement, though Occupiers openly called for “revolution,” even marching down the street carrying banners with that battle cry, or sometimes communist flags. According to OccupyArrests.com, there have been 7,765 arrests of that group. Arrests ranged from rape and assaults on police to vandalism, rioting and arson. Five Cleveland Occupiers were even arrested in a bombing plot.

The Tea Party events that were almost universally peaceful never received the same kind of positive coverage. Instead, Tea Partiers were often treated like Hezbollah by a media embracing liberal talking points at every turn.

That made choosing the worst media attacks extremely difficult. Which hyperbolic claim of “racism” was more offensive than the others? Which outlandish media slam stood out above the rest? The Media Research Center’s Business and Media Institute has chronicled the life of the Tea Party since the Rick Santelli rant on Feb. 19, 2009. Here is our selection for the worst media attacks on the Tea Party:

 

1. Blaming Tea Partier for Mass Murder

 

Nothing was more egregious, more irresponsible or more bigoted than ABC’s attack on the Tea Party following the Aurora, Colo., massacre. Gunman James Holmes killed 12 people and injured 58, but ABC’s investigative reporter Brian Ross used the tragedy to score points against the Tea Party.

The July 20, 2012, shooting was followed the next morning by “Good Morning America” host George Stephanopoulos announcing that Ross had “found something that might be significant.” According to Ross, a Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colo., had joined the Tea Party but added that “we don’t know if this is the same Jim Holmes.”

It turned out he was completely wrong. ABC had to release an apology, but never did so on air.

 

2. Krugman: Blame Tea Party for Giffords Shooting

New York Times Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman spent so much time targeting the Tea Party that his column was more enmity than economics. In his most incredible assault, he jumped to conclusions and blamed the attack on Rep. Gabby Giffords on … the Tea Party, in a Jan., 8, 2011, blog post.

“We don’t have proof yet that this was political, but the odds are that it was. She’s been the target of violence before. And for those wondering why a Blue Dog Democrat, the kind Republicans might be able to work with, might be a target, the answer is that she’s a Democrat who survived what was otherwise a GOP sweep in Arizona, precisely because the Republicans nominated a Tea Party activist. (Her father says that ‘the whole Tea Party’ was her enemy.) And yes, she was on Sarah Palin’s infamous ‘crosshairs’ list,” wrote Krugman.

Of course, like Ross, he was entirely wrong. That didn’t stop him from continuing to bash the Tea Party numerous times since.

 

3. Blame the Tea Party, They’re ‘Terrorists’

The word “terrorist” was used often by haters of the Tea Party. A pair of New York Times columnists deployed the term just two weeks apart in 2011. Joe Nocera said: “You know what they say: Never negotiate with terrorists.” He went on to accuse the Tea Party of having “waged jihad on the American people” and having worn “suicide vests,” in his Aug. 2, piece.

That comment merely refined the far-worse attack by Thomas Friedman on July 26 who linked the Tea Party to the terrorists of Hezbollah. “If sane Republicans do not stand up to this Hezbollah faction in their midst, the Tea Party will take the GOP on a suicide mission.”

The New York Times doesn’t even call Hezbollah a terrorist group. On Feb. 19, 2014, they used the phrase, “Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.” This is the very same Hezbollah that killed “220 Marines and 21 other service personnel” with a truck bomb in 1983.

 

4. Media Immaturity over ‘Teabag’ Sexual Meaning

The term ‘teabag’ has a street sexual meaning, a fact unknown to many supporters of the Tea Party, especially when it first began. But journalists and liberals thrilled to the idea of mocking the movement with stealth, or sometimes not-so-stealth, dirty comments.

On Tax Day 2009, CNN’s Anderson Cooper took the broadcast into the gutter with a smirk. During the “AC360” show, CNN’s senior political analyst David Gergen commented about how Republicans were “searching for their voice” after two electoral losses. Cooper seized the moment and snarked, “It’s hard to talk when you’re tea-bagging.”

But Cooper was an amateur compared to MSNBC host Rachel Maddow and her guest then-Air America radio contributor Ana Marie Cox.  They teamed up to use the word "teabag" at least 51 times in a 13-minute long segment of bad "teabag" puns.

 

5. It’s Racism

When journalists ran out of some of the more bizarre anti-Tea Party attacks, they used the liberal default – blame everything on racism. ABC’s Sam Donaldson summed up the media disdain for Tea Partiers during a Dec. 23, 2012, “Chris Matthews Show” appearance. He criticized the slogan “We want to take back our country,” and added “Guys, it’s not your country anymore.”

One-time MSNBC host Keith Olbermann, now on ESPN, used one of his classic nutty rants to go much further. “If racism is not the whole of the Tea Party, it is in its heart,” he argued on March 22, 2010. Even Chris Noth, a star of CBS’s “The Good Wife,” later got into the act. In one October 2013, tweet, he complained about Republican “racism.” The one-time Mr. Big from “Sex in the City,” followed that with the claim that, “Every Tea Party member should be horsewhipped.”

But liberals only had to turn to PBS to find someone willing to go still further. Tavis Smiley, who hosts his own show, used a debate with author Ayaan Hirsi Ali to lambast Christians and especially Tea Partiers. “There are folk in the Tea Party, for example, every day who are being recently arrested for making threats against elected officials, for calling people ‘nigger’ as they walk into Capitol Hill, for spitting on people,” he claimed on May 25, 2010.

 

6. The South Has Risen Again

The natural spin-off of saying everything is racist is claiming everything the Tea Party does is an extension of the Confederacy. On Oct. 13, 2013, Washington Post columnist Colbert King brought up the Old South, almost 150 years after the end of the Civil War. In a piece titled “The rise of the New Confederacy,” he “don’t go looking for a group by the name of New Confederacy,” because “they respond, however, to the label ‘tea party.’ By thought, word and deed, they must be making Jefferson Davis proud today.”

 

7. OK, Tea Party Is Just Everything Bad

Then-Washington Post rising liberal star, and originator of the Journolist, Ezra Klein needed help to smear the Tea Party. Klein sure found it. He interviewed Christopher Parker, a political scientist at the University of Washington, who co-authored the hit-piece book, “Change They Can't Believe In: The Tea Party and Reactionary Politics in America” about what he called “reactionary conservativism.”   

Unsurprisingly, since Klein interviewed him, Parker had found Tea Partiers were awful people. “And when I looked at it empirically, I found that people who supported the tea party tended to be more racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and anti-Obama,” he told Klein.

Dan Gainor
Dan Gainor is The Boone Pickens Free Market Fellow and Vice President for Business and Culture for the Media Research Center