As Americans flood to town hall meetings and Tea Parties to express their opposition to ObamaCare, media members find it somewhat hypocritical that these same people might have looked upon anti-Bush protests with contempt.
This seeming contradiction was addressed on CNN's "Reliable Sources" Sunday when host Howard Kurtz asked his guests, "[H]asn't Fox, in fact, flipped -- some Fox hosts, I should say -- from slamming liberal protesters to defending these anti-Obama protesters?"
This question arose when Kurtz brought up last week's exchange between Fox News's Bill O'Reilly and Comedy Central's Jon Stewart (video embedded below the fold with partial transcript, relevant section at 8:45):
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Speaking of Fox News, there's a bit of a smack-down on the airwaves that we're going to play for you that goes to the question of how Fox is treating the protesters.
First, Jon Stewart, on "The Daily Show," played some clips to that effect. And then Bill O'Reilly came back the next night with a rebuttal. Let's show that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: When we cover the town hall meetings, we don't describe the protesters as loons.
JON STEWART, "THE DAILY SHOW": Of course you don't describe the protesters as loons. What kind of monster would describe honest Americans voicing their political opinions that way?
O'REILLY: The surveys show many protesters are simply loons.
STEWART: All right. To be fair -- to be fair, those were protesters he agrees with.
O'REILLY: To be fair? Ha! Once again, Jon Stewart took the "loon" clip out of context. Here's what I really said...
There are the anti-Bush protesters here in New York City. While most of these people have been peaceful, more than 1,000 have been arrested, and surveys show many protesters are simply loons, calling for the destruction of the American system, calling for retreat in the face of terrorism.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And O'Reilly went on to say that he understands that Stewart is a satirist, but that he had been unfair in the way he had framed it.
So, Anne Kornblut, I'm sure "The Daily Show" does selective editing for comedic purposes, but isn't there a serious point here about who you describe protesters, depending on what the cause is?
ANNE KORNBLUT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I guess so. I'm glad he has a new target besides Olbermann. There's a new fight going on.
Sure. I mean, look, we have to be -- I think all of us here are careful about how we describe the protesters and giving them credence. They operate in a different universe. And certainly, I think, Jon Stewart's goal in all of this is to be funny first and probably accurate first-ish.
KURTZ: Clarence, hasn't Fox, in fact, flipped -- some Fox hosts, I should say -- from slamming liberal protesters to defending these anti-Obama protesters, some of which -- some of whom are very articulate and some of whom seem a little confused about some of the facts?
A little confused about some of the facts?
Why was that in any way important? Weren't some of the liberal protesters during the Bush years a little confused about some of their facts, or were they all experts in the causes they supported?
Beyond which, why is it that media members don't seem to understand why many Americans -- not just Fox News hosts! -- find anti-war protests distasteful once the military has been deployed and are in harm's way?
After all, at that point, regardless of protesters' claims of undying love for their country, many believe -- whether rightly or wrongly -- that such people are taking the side of America's enemies, and their very actions might be emboldening those we're at war with.
Maybe more importantly, folks with enlisted friends and family members feel such protests could end up costing the lives of their loved ones.
As such, there's a world of difference between the emotions evoked on both sides of an anti-war demonstration and what's currently being played out at town hall meetings and Tea Parties across the fruited plain.
This inconvenient truth didn't surface on "Reliable Sources" Sunday as it rarely does when town hall protesters are compared to anti-war demonstrators:
CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: To be fair, Howard...
KURTZ: Yes, let's try that.
PAGE: ... to be fair that we are talking about the line being blurred between news and entertainment more than any of us could have imagined, except maybe in the world of Paddy Chayefsky's "Network" back in 1975. If you look at that now, you're seeing that kind of a circus unfold on cable TV now.
The real point underlying all this is that it's OK to slant your anchor coverage, if you will, to slant your shows on cable TV now...
KURTZ: But aren't these opinion shows? They're not anchors. They're not anchors, they're commentators.
PAGE: But, you know, again, how much of our audience out there understands the distinction? I mean, we're in this business, you know, and we make that distinction. But folk outs there -- I go to my video store and the guy says, "Oh, I get all my news from Bill O'Reilly." I like Bill, but getting all your news from any one place...
KURTZ: And MSNBC, some hosts, seem to be more inclined to go after these town hall protesters than they were to go after the anti- Bush demonstrators.
Indeed, Howard, like the folks on that network -- such as David Shuster and Keith Olbermann -- who referred to Tea Partiers by a sexual term.
To date this is all the coverage "Reliable Sources" has given that issue (April 19):
KURTZ: All right. MSNBC, as I mentioned at the top, seemed to delight in making fun of this whole TEA party Tax Day business. And we have a clip here of one guest on MSNBC, Ana Marie Cox.
Let's roll that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) COX: It is true that teabaggers are grossly underrepresented in Congress. I'm trying to work on that personally, but, you know, one can only do so much. I think David Vitter really is the right spokesman for the movement though.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: All right. Now, tea-bagging is sexual slang, the definition of which we are not going to go into on this program.
And you took some heat for a series of jokes about that sort of thing. Do you think in retrospect that you went a little far on that?
ANA MARIE COX: I don't think I went far. I mean, I think that we all talk about we have different roles as journalists and commentators, and I always approach things from a humorous and risque point of view when possible. And also, this is something that we made very clear in the beginning, since the setup of that interview, which is the organizers themselves use "teabag" as a verb quite a bit, and it was unfortunate that they did not apparently have access to the Google to find out what that means.
KURTZ: But a number of MSNBC hosts did a lot of sexual double entendres, and that sounded, to my ear, to be very dismissive of the fact there were people with legitimate grievances who wanted to protest.
AMANDA CARPENTER: I believe when you cover any subject, whether you disagree with it or not, you owe your subject a certain amount of respect. I did not think using that word was respectful. I thought it was offensive, it was a sexual insult used to disparage the people that supported these TEA parties. And I think it was very inappropriate to use on primetime television.
FRANK SESNO: And I think we've got a lot to worry about here. Whether we're dismissing it from the left or pumping it up from the right, the question is whether we're going to back here one, two, three years from now apologizing to the audience the way we have apologized with the banking collapse and with the coverage of the Iraq War, that the right questions, the toughest questions, weren't asked and the media didn't take this stuff seriously, because we are putting this country in deep, deep debt. That's worth looking at.
KURTZ: A quick question for you about the role of the host, because you've been a host, obviously, here on CNN.
KURTZ: Janeane Garofalo, the actress and activist, was on Keith Olbermann's MSNBC program, and she dismissed the protest with these words: "This is about hating a black man in the White House. This is racism straight up. This is nothing but a bunch of tea-bagging red necks."
Now, she can say whatever she wants, but Olbermann didn't challenge her at all.
SESNO: Should be challenged. I mean, again -- but it depends what the show is. All right? I mean, Keith Olbermann is Keith Olbermann. I mean, he's going to approach this the way he should.
KURTZ: Everybody is racist?
KURTZ: Everybody hates Obama because he's black...
SESNO: No. Of course not. Of course not.
And of course it's not true that everybody who is at these TEA parties is there at the behest of Fox News. There are really serious issues. Your kids, my kids, you know, we're all going to be paying...
And that, as they say, was that.
Something else that didn't come up in Sunday's segment that might have been quite relevant was how anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan was thrown under the bus this week by ABC's Charlie Gibson.
As Kurtz and the panel discussed the differing treatment of protesters by the cablers, it might have been approriate to debate why Sheehan and what's remaining of her ilk are no longer of interest to press members that once couldn't get enough of them.
On the other hand, maybe that would have hit too close to home.
Moving forward, it goes without question that many media watchers are still astounded by the deplorable behavior of America's so-called journalists during last year's presidential campaign.
Sadly, history might view the press's treatment of Tea Partiers and town hall meeting protesters as equally disgraceful if not more so.
That's another issue I'd love to see Kurtz cover with a balanced panel...how 'bout you?
*****Update: As NBer SkipperMLM points out, while Kurtz and company were discussing Fox's supposed flip-flop, they might have addressed how two weeks ago, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Cali.) wrote an op-ed wherein she wrote:
These disruptions are occurring because opponents are afraid not just of differing views — but of the facts themselves. Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American. Drowning out the facts is how we failed at this task for decades.
Yet, on January 17, 2006, Pelosi said she was a fan of disruptors:
How's that for flip-flopping, Howie?