FLASHBACK: When a Juvenile News Media Tried to Destroy the Tea Party

April 14th, 2024 10:11 AM

Fifteen years ago this week (April 15, 2009), the grassroots Tea Party movement rallied to oppose the massive government programs (bailouts, ObamaCare) pushed by new President Barack Obama. In response, left-wing cable networks employed adolescent jokes to belittle the movement, while the broadcast networks decried it as a front for “corporate interests.”

The media putdowns failed, of course. The following November, the energy supplied by the Tea Party contributed to a “shellacking” of Democrats in the 2010 elections, as Republicans gained 63 House seats and six Senate seats (seven if you count Scott Brown’s upset in a January special election in Massachusetts).

The first T.E.A. Party (Taxed Enough Already) protests took place in various cities on February 27, 2009, a reaction to presumed new taxes that would inevitably result from the Obama administration’s huge bailouts and spending programs. A major national protest was scheduled for April 15, “tax day,” the deadline for filing federal income tax forms.

Filling in as host of MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann on April 13, David Shuster mocked the Tea Party by repeatedly deploying a slang term for a sex act called “teabagging.”

“It’s going to be teabagging day for the right-wing and they’re going nuts for it. Thousands of them whipped out the festivities early this past weekend, and while the parties are officially toothless, the teabaggers are full-throated about their goals,” Shuster sophomorically sneered.

The next night, CNN’s Anderson Cooper got into the act. “Republicans are pretty much in disarray...They’re searching for their voice,” analyst David Gergen dryly opined on the April 14 AC360. “It’s hard to talk when you’re teabagging,” Cooper snickered.



The big protests against Obama’s policies were April 15. That morning on New York City’s Imus in the Morning radio program, CNN analyst Paul Begala suggested true patriots would have no problem handing their cash to liberal bureaucrats, as he derided those protesting as “just a bunch of wimpy, whiny, weasels who don’t love their country....There are guys at Walter Reed who gave their legs for my country, and they’re whining because they have to write a check?”

Over on NBC’s Today, Chuck Todd dismissed the Tea Party as no big deal. “There’s been some grassroots conservatives who have organized so-called ‘tea parties’ around the company, country, hoping the historical reference will help galvanize Americans against the President’s economic ideas. But I tell you, the idea hasn’t really caught on....It hasn’t galvanized the party the way they would hope.”

On CNN that afternoon, correspondent Susan Roesgen decried the protest as “a party for Obama bashers....It’s anti-government, anti-CNN, since this is highly promoted by the right wing conservative network, Fox. And since I can’t really hear much more and I think this is not really family viewing, I’ll toss it back to you.”

On ABC’s World News that evening, correspondent Dan Harris framed the protests as something “cheered on by Fox News and talk radio,” as he emphasized how “critics on the left” claimed “this is not a real grassroots phenomenon at all, that it’s actually largely orchestrated by people fronting for corporate interests.”

“Organizers insist today’s ‘tea parties’ were organic uprisings of like-minded taxpayers from both parties....but some observers suggest not all of it was as home-grown as it may seem,” NBC’s Lee Cowan echoed on Nightly News. Over on CBS, correspondent Dean Reynolds cautioned that “it’s important to keep in mind that fresh polling indicates there is not all that much passion about high taxes in the country at large right now.”

“All of these tax day parties seemed less about revolution and more about group therapy,” New York Times reporter Liz Robbins dismissed in an online piece that afternoon. “People attending the rallies were dressed patriotically and held signs expressing their anger, but offering no solutions.” Someone must have thought she went too far — Robbins’ snarky observations were omitted from the version of the article which appeared in the Times’ April 16 print edition.

Following the protests, MSNBC’s Countdown on April 16 provided a platform for left-wing activist and actress Janeane Garofalo to accuse the Tea Partiers of ignorance and racism. “Let’s be very honest about what this is about,” she sneered. “It’s not about bashing Democrats, it’s not about taxes, they have no idea what the Boston Tea Party was about, they don’t know their history at all. This is about hating a black man in the White House. This is racism straight up. That is nothing but a bunch of teabagging rednecks.”

The disdainful coverage of the April rallies set the tone for the rest of the year. “What do you call a crazed group of people that disrupts a meeting on health care and hangs the congressman holding it in effigy? A mob,” ex-CNN reporter Bob Franken deplored in his August 7 “Politics Daily” column on AOL.

“When Hamas does it or Hezbollah does it, it is called terrorism. Why should Republican lawmakers and the AstroTurf groups organizing on behalf of the health care industry be viewed any differently?” MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann growled that same night on Countdown.

“They’ve waved signs likening President Obama to Hitler and the devil; raised questions about whether he was really born in this country; falsely accused him of planning to set up death panels; decried his speech to students as indoctrination; and called him everything from a ‘fascist’ to a ‘socialist’ to a ‘communist.’” ABC’s Harris scolded on the September 15 World News. “Add it all up, and some prominent Obama supporters are now saying that it paints a picture of an opposition driven, in part, by a refusal to accept a black President.”

When radical liberals take to the streets to rail against Republican policies, the media like to paint their cause as popular and bend over backwards to present the protesters as mainstream and normal. But when it came to the anti-big government Tea Party, the media’s mission was to disparage and destroy the grassroots opposition to the Obama administration’s unprecedented liberalism.

For more examples from our flashback series, which we call the NewsBusters Time Machine, go here.