Sunday, March 21, 2010

How the St. Louis TV News Provides Cover for Tea Party Extremism

Yesterday, as seen in this video, the St. Louis Tea Party burned photos of Congressman Russ Carnahan and encouraged four-year-old children to throw shoes at the picture. These acts of extremism were not the actions of a few "bad apples." They were encouraged by the very people who organized the event, the co-founders of the St. Louis Tea Party Dana Loesch and Bill Hennessy. A couple days ago, Bill Hennessy claimed that the Tea Party no longer had any moral or legal obligations to the country. Yet if you watched the local TV news, you wouldn't know any of this. Instead, all you would have heard is that a group of people with concerns about their country were trying to make their voices heard.

While the national media had the awareness to report on yesterday's extreme actions from the Tea Party such as calling a civil rights leader a "n****r," calling Representative Barney Frank a "*f****t", spitting on Representative Cleaver, and throwing a brick through the window of Representative Louis Slaughter, look at what we got from our local TV stations. At the event where the Carnahan photo was burned, KTVI (Fox 2 News) coverage started off with this ridiculously bad rhyme: "Though it seems too late. Though a win for the other side seems eminent, they will not be deterred. They come a long way, they go a long way, to make their voices heard." The rest of the report was full of quotes that did not explain any of the tea party's extreme views, but simply claimed that participants were "fed up with politicians," (something which everyone feels at some point but is not really relevant to this discussion given that there are politicians on both sides of the issue). The headline of Teresa Woodard's story claimed that "Misouri Voters" rallied against the health care bill, not that the St. Louis Tea Party rallied against the bill.

The coverage of the St. Louis protest from KSDK was better. Jeff Small balanced the tea party quotes with points from Carnahan's spokesperson, rather than presenting all of the tea party stuff in one block as Fox did. He also got a substantive part of Hennessy's view on the subject on camera: the absurd claim that passing health care legislation is "illegal." However, there still was no mention of the tea party burning photos of Russ Carnahan and throwing shoes as part of their protest.

This is not an isolated case, but in fact is part of a disturbing pattern in the St. Louis TV News industry of going out of their way to portray the Tea Party as positively as possible. No TV station has ever asked Hennessy to explain why he claimed that Obama was trying to turn our children into Nazi snitches. Instead, they present him as an "aw shucks" average guy concerned about our country. Last Year, Hennessy and Dana Loesch suggested that Democrats sent a "high level operative" to St. Louis to "incite a riot," causing fellow tea partier Jim Durbin to creep around in the bushes to take pictures because he spotted a black man in a tuxedo. Yet Loesch and Hennessy are repeatedly treated as serious political commentators. Loesch, in fact, was interviewed by KMOX on her thoughts about climate change. Jim Hoft, who has linked to white supremacist sites in the past, was recently asked for his thoughts on the Coffee Party. Even more recently, after claiming that Obama was going to indoctrinate our children, Hennessy was given a sit down in a TV news station to discuss Obama's visit.

The problem is that the St. Louis TV News (with the notable exception of Charles Jaco) is creating an atmosphere of zero accountability for the Tea Party. The St. Louis Tea Party can literally say or do anything they want at their rallies, because they know that the local TV news will only present quotes that portray them as positively as possible. If the Tea Party held a rally where the participants held signs that said, "bomb congress," the local TV would run a story about how "some citizens" are concerned with higher taxes. In other words, the media allows them to say whatever they want, no matter how extreme, and then turn around and craft a positive message for the public in their interviews.

This has the effect of keeping the general population completely uninformed. If you only watched the local TV news, you wouldn't know anything about the actual extremist views of the Tea Party. All you'd hear is that there are some people fed up with politicians who think that the government is too big. This is a serious problem, because the tea party is now going out of their way to encourage anger and the threat of violence, and in fact are successfully getting some of their members to commit acts of violence. If the St. Louis media is not willing to educate people about this, then it's up to us. We have to make sure to share, whether via email, Twitter, or Facebook, the actions of this group so that people have a realistic assessment of what the movement is all about.

Update: Please call the news desks of Fox 2 News (314-213-7831) and KSDK (314-444-5126) and tell them that they need to inform the public about extreme tea party actions like burning photos of Russ Carnahan.


  1. Wow! Well said. I admire your work.

    i was at a protest of Anthem. We were within a half mile of a TV station but there was no coverage. I suggested we move the protest to confront the media but alas I am not a leader. What you are saying should be taken to their door step. Perhaps we should sit in perhaps we should barricade their building we cannot sit idly by while extremist take our country.

  2. Here, here your comments are right on target.

    It was the same for us last year when I worked with MoveOn. Rally after rally was not even covered by the media although we sent out press releases and called the four stations and the newspapers. A noteable exception was the Candellight vigil at Tower Grove Park. It gives the impression of only opposition to this bill, which is not the case.

    Why can't they give the facts so that we are an informed public? I see the same on cable news too.

  3. It's likely that TV news crews are cherry-picking their coverage to appeal to what they perceive as their audience's demographic. News coverage has been an entertainment-focused enterprise for quite some time now, for how else would absurd taglines like "Action News!" make any sense?

    A related question: who on this thread actually watches local TV news on an habitual basis, and not just to see how local protests were covered? I don't, for example. I gave away my TV years ago, permanently, for precisely reasons like this.

  4. Well Ben I have not watched local news in decades. If it bleeds it leads turned me off from the very beginning.

    So what you are saying is that assumptions are made about the viewer and then the viewer is spoon fed only the news they are likely to like. Thus the viewer gets the impression that everyone agrees with him and that there are no dissenting voices.Having thus been isolated from reality over time such a viewer can be expected to become more and more radical in his views.

    It is a hypothesis that works well with the facts but it seems like a recipe for disaster.