Here we go again

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It’s happening folks. Once again, our media is dropping the ball. If you remember, about 11 years ago, not long after the inauguration of the first African-American president, a so-called ‘grassroots’ movement began that called itself the Tea Party. Supposedly, this group was immensely upset at what they saw as an out of control socialist government. We now know, of course, that the grassroots part of this equation was bogus. Much of the movement was financed and promoted by right-wing billionaires like the Koch Brothers and Fox News (Trump TV).

And now with most of the country shutdown trying to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, another so-called grassroots movement seems to be gathering steam. But is it really?

Media expert Eric Boehlert at PressRun has another take. When it comes to exposing media hypocrisy, nobody does it better than Eric. Here’s his take on what looks increasingly like what we saw over a decade ago. Hint: The media has not learned it’s lesson.

 

Right-wing protestors now getting the Tea Party treatment — fawning press coverage — Let’s not do this again

By Eric Boehlert

Anxious for a political angle to the ongoing pandemic story and one that can produce instant conflict (as well as compelling pictures), the news media are showering attention on the small groups of GOP protesters who are angry about life-saving social distancing orders issued by governors to battle the Covid-19 pandemic. The right-wing, Fox News-fueled street actions come as polling confirms an overwhelming majority of Americans support the stay at home orders, designed to curb the pandemic’s growing death toll. Even when restrictions are lifted, most Americans say they’re not sure they’ll resume “normal activities” right away.

Proving once again that every Beltway news cycle revolves around the very simple question of, ‘What are Republicans angry about today?, the recent emergence of Trump-sanctioned protests has grabbed the media’s attention, even though some events are drawing modest crowds.

More than a dozen protesters gathered near the governor’s mansion in Baton Rouge Friday calling for Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) to suspend measures designed to stop the spread of the coronavirus so people can go back to work,” the Washington Post reported over the weekend. [Emphasis added.] Meanwhile, the New York Times made sure to shine a bright spotlight on a Texas protest that attracted “more than 100 people.” The newspaper’s print headline claimed the event was indication that protests were “sweep[ing] nation.”

Most people understand that in a nation of nearly 330 million people, pro-Trump events that boast dozens of activists don’t qualify as major news. Yet news outlets seem to think small bands of angry conservatives must be treated as a big deal. The Times article completely misread the protests, suggesting they were representative of a widespread movement. (They’re not.)

But, in a deeply divided nation, the size of the protest in Michigan, and the appetite in other states for more rallies, suggested that anger over the no-end-in-sight nature of the lockdowns was not limited to the far right.

In Michigan, a couple thousand people participated in a drive-by protest, where most people stayed in their cars. In a state of 10 million people, how does that suggest there’s a widespread “appetite”? The Times article also provided zero evidence that the rallies featured anything but far right activists. In fact, virtually every person quoted was a hardcore Trump supporter. Why try to paint the rallies as bipartisan?

ABC News marveled that the protests were moving “coast to coast,” while conceding that a grand total of five states saw rallies over the weekend — five out of fifty states. On cable news, the word “protesters” was has been mentioned more than 150 times since Friday, according to TVeyes.

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We’ve seen this double standard before. During the run up to the Iraq War, news outlets routinely ignored and downplayed anti-war rallies that drew tens of thousands of people. The press was very slow to cover the left-leaning Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011. Instead, during Barack Obama’s presidency, it was the deep-pocketed, right-wing Tea Party movement that captivated the Beltway media’s attention, as the protests were relentlessly hyped as clarion calls of common sense from the heartland.

In 2010, when Republicans used Tea Party rallies as part of the midterm election cycle, the three major television networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, devoted 666 minutes of nightly news coverage to the movement. Compare that to 2018, when Democrats used the Trump resistance movement as part of its winning midterm strategy. For that, the networks set aside less than half as much airtime, just 247 minutes.

The Tea Party was literally created by the media. It was born on CNBC, when reporter Rick Santelli started ranting about Obama on the floor of the Chicago stock exchange, warning viewers the new Democratic president was steering the country toward a Cuban Castro-like economy. CNBC then boosted the clip incessantly (“Shot Heard Around The Word”/”Santelli’s Manifesto”), while NBC led its evening newscast that night of the rant with a clip of Santelli, announcing his rant had struck a “populist” chord.

Today, indications are that the stay-at-home-order protesters, like the ones in Michigan last week, are also being promoted by deep pocketed players, anxious to stir up trouble in order to hurt Democrats, even as governors struggle with an historic public health crisis. “The whole charade was facilitated by the Michigan Conservative Coalition, a conservative political group that doubles as a front for the Michigan Trump Republicans, and promoted by the Michigan Freedom Fund, a conservative group with ties with Betsy DeVos,” Mother Jones helpfully pointed out.

For now, the protesters’ muddled battle cry seems to be, “Curse the tyranny of governors! But only the Democratic ones!” since several Republican governors are also holding firm on stay at home orders. None of it makes sense. Neither does the fact some protesters show up carrying assault rifles and confederate flags to protest social distancing guidelines for a pandemic.

Then again, Tea Party protests didn’t make sense either. Obama hadn’t even finished appointing his cabinet secretaries when conservatives took to the street to denounce the new president’s supposedly socialist agenda. Keep in mind, Obama had just won the election in a landslide. Yes, protesters showed up carrying Hitler posters. And yes, the movement was born, in part, out of a deep desire to protest on behalf of insurance companies.

It’s distressing to see, but while covering right-wing social distancing protesters, the press is making the same mistakes they made covering the Tea Party.

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19 comments

  1. Hint: The media has not learned it’s lesson.

    I’m inclined to disagree with that.

    Putting things that way, suggests that the media have a responsibility to act in the best interests of the nation. They don’t. The president and members of congress have a responsibility to act in the best interests of the nation. But the media do not have that same responsibility.

    Ideally, the responsibility of the media should be to report the news. Like it or not, antisocial groups that attempt to disrupt are news. So, even with an ideal media, disruptive groups would get more media attention than we would like. But it is worse. The media cannot meet that ideal. In reality, the media are in the business of selling advertising as a way of supporting their journalism. And that results in more distortions.

    Let’s also remember that part of our problem is due to people who do not bother to participate in elections and similar civic activities.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I kind of agree with you Neil. Yes, they certainly are in the business of reporting the news. I think Eric’s view, and mine to a certain degree, is that they seem overly zealous to cover the crazy right-wingers. That’s been the case going back several years now. And then, the narrative that is created becomes the norm. Fox News is the best in the business at this. Again, we were led to believe that the Tea Party was simply a grassroots movement. That was only part of the story. Have you read “Dark Money” by Jane Mayer? It’s detailed in that book how much influence and $$$ Koch’s Americans for Prosperity group had on the movement. But, the media, in many ways, fell short in explaining this to the people.
      But again, it depends on your perspective. I don’t think we’re too far apart. Yes, they have to cover the events. But are they all making sure to tell the whole story? That Trump and his ‘liberate’ certain battleground states tweets were part of the instigation, as was the billionaire backed conservative group associated with Betsy Devos’ family? If they’re making sure to tell that side of it, for balance, I’m ok with it. If not, I have a big problem with it. The Tea Party protests were way overblown, in my view. But, we’ll see how this goes. I’m sure it might pick up steam because people are desperate right now.

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  2. I would say this to those “freedom fighters” for capitalism. Go out! Party on dude! Wave those flags for Liberty to do what ever you want.
    All I require is that you waive your health insurance for you and your family. Just let your private health insurance provider know that you will not be complying with any government orders to lock down in the name of your personal freedom If you get sick, you will be billed. And like those student loans, Congress should ensure that it is not to be dischargable in bankruptcy.
    Oh, and you get triaged to the end of the line.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. This is the second way in which the media are helping Trump, whether knowingly or not. Their coverage of his daily press briefings, supposedly to provide useful updates about the spread of the coronavirus, but in reality naught more than Trump campaign rallies, is unconscionable. And now this … I hadn’t thought about it until reading this piece, but yeah, the press are playing right into his tiny little hands. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Thanks for this eye-opening post, Jeff! I’ve also subscribed to Press Run, as per your suggestion. In 2016, the media gave Trump almost unlimited free coverage, and I’ve always felt that was one of the things that helped him get the votes he got, although he did NOT win the election, but rather lost by nearly 3 million votes. And now he’s been impeached, but nobody in his camp seems to care. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. I shall re-blog this for my morning post, for it is something we need to be aware of. Thanks for introducing us to Eric Boehlert!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the reblog Jill!! Yes, Eric’s been detailing the double standard media for a long time now. Usually it’s the squeaky wheels that get the most airtime, right? Once in a while, you get a progressive movement or march and sometimes it gets covered. But it just seems like there’s always more of an appetite for them to cover the idiots with AR-15’s on their shoulders and a crowd of a few hundred other nut jobs with ‘Don’t Tread on Me” banners. Makes me sick Jill. Again, thank you!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yep, as they say in the newspaper industry, “If it bleeds, it leads”. But, thing is the media, being a for-profit business, caters to the desires of their customers, We the People. So, if you think about it, it’s more a statement of our society than anything … people like conflict and controversy, they like blood & gore. Sigh.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes. It’s the same concept as when I used to live in California. As you know, traffic jams are common. But many times, the traffic jam was caused by what they used to call: ‘lookylews’ These are the people who just have to look at the side of the road where a tow truck is merely hooking up a wrecked car, from a wreck that was already cleaned up and over with. Traffic would literally back up for miles because of this. Train wrecks(Trump every day!), car wrecks…you name it, human beings love to watch. It’s disgusting…..

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  4. Reblogged this on Filosofa's Word and commented:
    In 2016, the media inadvertently helped Donald Trump by being so fascinated over his unlikely candidacy that they gave him almost unlimited FREE coverage. And today, our beloved “mainstream” media are doing something similar. Please read Jeff’s post, for this is something that I had not considered, and I bet many of you haven’t either, but we need to be aware. Many thanks, dear Jeff, for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The media backs Money because it is controlled by Money. They are capitalist businesses, out to return a profit, not to uphold the Constitution or those it is supposed to serve. There is lots of news out there, but we never get to hear all of it. If it isn’t going to sell newspapers, there is no need to print it.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. $$$$$$$ is everything, isn’t it? It certainly is in our ‘wonderful’ capitalist society. When media companies began getting bought up by conglomerates like Comcast, that’s when it started to go to hell in a hand basket, in my view. Now local newspapers are folding by the day it seems. We’re not always going to get the real picture anymore, are we?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. The BBC also gave this air time out of proportion to the size of the protest. Their correspondent got to ask Trump about it. His relpy suggested “some governors have gone too far” thereby provoking the protests. (That’s a paraphrase, not a direct quote). They also talked to some of the protestors. Like NRA supporters, they rate their individual freedom above the health and well being of their neighbors. Some still think that 30k deaths and rising is a hoax. What;’s a few thousand deaths against my right to attend a ball game? (For clarity, no-one I saw actually said that, but that’s how the protest comes across.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Very astute on your part Frank. That’s exactly how it came across, because that’s how those people feel. Selfish and lacking empathy, much like their glorious leader Trump. He’s egging them on and dividing the country even further than he already has. With Trump, that’s the point of it all. Get these whack jobs all riled up, pit Dem governors against R governors….and it all plays into his tiny little hands. Divide….and conquer. Another pillar of the Trump Doctrine.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Jeff, I just typed this on Scottie’s blog on the same subject. I will repeat it here.

    Two thoughts. The reason for all of this is money. Oil has gone negative in pricing at -$37 a barrel. The owner has to pay the buyer to take it. This is due to demand falling off a cliff. The Fossil Fuel industry is heavily invested in the GOP (with a little splashed in the Dems), so they are dictating the GOP to help them. They are calling in a marker to reopen the economy and Fox’s opinion hosts are following orders.

    The other comment is when decisions are made off of what makes the president look good and opinion hosts for Fox, who are not vetting are researching topics, then the opportunities for screw up are greater. Pretending COVID-19 is not serious, especially with some of the absolute blather of folks like Limbaugh, Ingraham, Carlson and Hannity, is actively harmful to Americans. And, these folks dictate much of what the president does.

    Carlson had a guest on who said he was representing a Stanford Medical School study that said the Hydroxychloroquine was 100% effective. Stanford issues a statement saying this individual is not affiliated with their school and they participated in no such study. Remember when Trump was accused of not vetting people or issues. He said that is the media’ jobs (which it isn’t). But, if he parrots Carlson who is not doing vetting, then Trump is making decisions without needed scrutiny.

    I mention all of this as Fox plays up an issue (like these protests, which are real but small) that started elsewhere and then reports on it when it starts happening more because of their broadcasts. This is a circular rumor in practice, which the president often uses.

    Keith

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  8. your analysis makes sense, but I always thought the media was blamed for being too liberal. I can’t imagine they’ve become conservative overnight, but are, as others have suggested in their comments, showing the news stories that attract viewers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I’ve heard that label forever Jim. I’m just not really buying it anymore. It’s not overly conservative or anything like that. I think newspapers like the NY Times, for instance, like to go out of their way to NOT be too liberal. Sometimes they write stuff that tries to normalize Trump a little too much. I know it’s a slippery slope. He is the president…unfortunately. But hell, let’s call a spade a spade. When he lies, let’s call it a lie. When he acts like an unhinged lunatic, let’s call it that. He’s NOT normal. I have been seeing some pretty good reporting at his so-called ‘news’ conferences. Some of them try to push back. We need more of that. I’ve been frustrated at the coverage Jim, throughout his presidency. Not all, mind you, but a lot. I see the same thing playing out that I saw in 2016. The only good thing about it is the fact Joe Biden has a treasure trove of his lying and ridiculous statements to exploit in the campaign. Just use his own words against him. That’s something, I suppose….

      Liked by 1 person

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