CNN Producer: Media's Tea Party Stereotypes 'Don't Tell the Whole Story'?

April 7th, 2010 3:38 PM
9/12 rally, Washington, DC, taken by the author, Matthew Balan |

CNN political producer Shannon Travis surprisingly acknowledged that the mainstream media has stereotyped the Tea Party movement in a Wednesday article on "When it comes to the Tea Party movement, the stereotypes don't tell the whole story." Travis continued by emphasizing positive aspects of the nascent grassroots movement and noting the presence of minorities.

The producer's article, simply titled "Reporter's notebook: What really happens at Tea Party rallies," recounted what he saw during five days of the Tea Party Express's convoy across the nation. He first summarized the slant often found in the media's coverage of the conservative protests: "Here's what you often see in the coverage of Tea Party rallies: offensive posters blasting President Obama and Democratic leaders; racist rhetoric spewed from what seems to be a largely white, male audience; and angry protesters rallying around the Constitution."

After recounting the alleged racial incidents against Representatives John Lewis and Emanuel Cleaver, Travis contrasted the stereotype with what he actually observed: "But here's what you don't often see in the coverage of Tea Party rallies: Patriotic signs professing a love for country; mothers and fathers with their children; African-Americans proudly participating; and senior citizens bopping to a hip-hop rapper."

Later in the article, the CNN producer recounted what the Tea Party Express rallies look like when the cameras are off and/or aren't looking:

Together, we beamed out images of the anger and the optimism, profiled African-Americans who are proud to be in the Tea Party's minority and showed activists stirred by "God Bless America" or amused by a young rapper who strung together rhymes against the president and Democrats....

Being at a Tea Party rally is not quite like seeing it on TV, in newspapers or online....It is important to show the colorful anger Americans might have against elected leaders and Washington. But people should also see the orange-vested Tea Party hospitality handlers who welcome you with colorful smiles.

There were a few signs that could be seen as offensive to African-Americans. But by and large, no one I spoke with or I heard from on stage said anything that was approaching racist.

Almost everyone I met was welcoming to this African-American television news producer.

And though speakers railed against the "lame-stream media," activists and their leaders praised CNN, especially for being the only national media outlet riding along for the post-weekend stops. Some of them e-mailed me after my trip, thanking our crew for fairly giving them a voice.

Speaking of stereotypes, I did get a few curious stares as I pulled up to the rallies. But not because of my skin color. It was because of my car rental: a Volvo....

...[S]tereotypes can loom large when they're magnified through a television lens, on the radio, the pages of a newspaper or in the vastness of the Internet.

So, it's important that with a newsworthy, growing phenomenon like the Tea Party movement, viewers and readers fully understand what they see and what they don't.

Travis's article is a welcome breath of fresh air, especially when you consider that it was former CNN correspondent Susan Roesgen who lashed out at an early point against the Tea Party movement a year ago in April 2009.