Monday, May 24, 2010

THIS is Why the Tea Party is Dangerous

No, not because they're about to march down the street with torches and pitchforks.

No, not because they represent a large portion of the voting public.

No, not because they're all racists or they're all this or all that.

The St. Louis Tea Party is dangerous because their leadership is willing to lie, smear, attack, distort, persecute, and destroy people in order to get their way. And not only that, but our ridiculously under-informed St. Louis media is happy to help them do it.

The St. Louis Tea Party has been freaking out lately alleging that a teacher at Francis Howell High School was "indoctrinating" her students by asking them to watch Michael Moore's movie "Sicko" as part of their literature class and had previously called a conservative student a "teabagger." The story originated on Bob McCarty's blog, who highlighted the fact that the incident could "lead to termination" of the teacher and then spread to Dana Loesch's radio show, Andrew Breitbart's Big Government, KMOX's Mark Reardon, and finally was mindlessly passed along by KSDK.

Some background on Bob McCarty, which will be relevant. McCarty was the originator of the video back in November that claimed that "union thugs" had attacked a "patriot" at the weekly K & N rally in St. Charles County. The story spread across the St. Louis Tea Party blogosphere. But in fact it turned out that this "patriot" had actually grabbed a female union member by the throat and thrown her to the ground and was arrested on the site. In other words, McCarty's video was a clear distortion of the truth that attempted to cover up violence from a tea partier and then blame it on unions. Furthermore, McCarty appears to openly entertain the absurd conspiracy theory that the Oklahoma City bombings were actually orchestrated by an Iraqi. Here's the quote McCary highlighted for his story:
there is absolutely no question that those tapes existed and, if those tapes ever came forward, they would show conclusively that there was an Iraqi connection to the bombing."
So yeah, that's the guy who started this whole story and was given a platform to share it on Big Government and in the local media. And it will come as no surprise whatsoever that the story is ultimately a complete fabrication.

First of all, none of the tea party reports mentioned that this particular assignment was specifically for the purpose of evaluating how Michael Moore was trying to persuade the audience. The assignment was to evaluate the ethos, logos, and pathos in the movie. In other words, the assignment was designed to get the students to think critically about how movies can attempt to persuade them, which is the exact opposite of trying to push a particular point of view. If you are analyzing how someone is using techniques to try to make you believe something, you're less likely to be susceptible to those techniques. But the tea party instead only said that the movie was being shown as part of a "great literature class," implying that the teacher was conveying the message that this was a work equivalent to "a great piece of literature."

Second, the video McCarty used of his interview was intensely edited. He cut scenes multiple times just to get the basic premise out, and in fact used four different edited cuts of the student talking in order to create his narrative. This is very similar to the video McCarty used to claim that "union thugs" had attacked back in October, where he used frequent cuts and clips to create a completely false story. I would not be surprised at all if the student actually told a much more nuanced story to McCarty and he edited it to suit his agenda.

Finally, and most importantly, the claim the the student was called "a teabagger" appears to be completely false. As was reported by students from the class on the Team Blessman facebook site set up to defend the teacher:
But a classroom full of students were able to tell the principle that [the student] wasn't called a teabagger and simply twisted the situation. So to the school board, I'm pretty positive that about 20 kids saying what happened is going to overpower [the student's] little fairytale.
This was confirmed by multiple students from the class.

In other words, this whole controversy, which the tea party used to suggest that a beloved teacher should be FIRED, was completely manufactured. The teacher did not call the student a "teabagger." She showed the movie Sicko in order to get students to think critically about how the movie tried to use rhetoric to persuade them, not to convince them that there's something wrong with the American health care system. The tea party was willing to go out of their way to DESTROY a person's life in order to further perpetuate their conservative victimhood complex and to intimidate other people from being able to even discuss liberal ideas or works of art in classrooms.

None of the tea party people knew the teacher Mrs. Blessman. But they assumed she was a liberal and so they were happy to try to destroy her. In fact, they ultimately probably didn't even care that much if she was really a liberal because they are willing to do anything to perpetuate the story that conservatives are being discriminated against. They do this to make people sympathetic to their cause. They do this to provide cover for their own nasty behavior. And in many cases they do this to promote their own careers.

And ultimately, not only do they not care at all about destroying the teacher's life, they really don't even care about the student. Don't believe me? Check out these updates from McCarty's blog:
*EDITOR’S NOTE: Those who have accused [the student] of trying to milk this issue for media attention could not be more wrong. When it came to the story I published May 17, I contacted her; she didn’t contact me. Furthermore, I know for a fact she has turned down numerous media requests, including an appearance tomorrow night on Fox News Channel’s Hannity, an interview over the weekend with CNN and an interview with Mark Reardon on St Louis’ KMOX radio this afternoon. How do I know? Because many of those requests were made through me by representatives of the media outlets who had read my article about [the student].
And later:
At the [family's] request, this is the last post I’ll be publishing about the issues at Howell High School related to the “Sicko” assignment, etc.
In other words, McCarty and the tea party were the ones pushing this story, even when the student wasn't interested in pushing it.

One final thought: it's not surprising at all that McCarty and Loesch would spread this misinformation; after all, that's what their careers are based on. However, it's absolutely pathetic that KSDK would pass on this story with no fact-checking or critical thinking or knowing anything about McCarty. KSDK participated in an attempt to destroy a local high school teacher's reputation. There is no excuse for that.

So in the end the reason the tea party is dangerous is that even as a relatively small part of the population they're able to terrorize teachers and whoever else stands in their way if they perceive those people as not sufficiently conservative. And they know how to use their connections in the local lazy media to perpetuate stories no matter how absurd or how disgraceful. Imagine what it would be like if the tea partiers actually were in control of some part of the government. What kind of witch hunts would they go on? How would they react to people who don't share their extreme ideology? They already justify everything they do now by pretending "well, that's what the liberals do." So given that they think that evil liberals are constantly victimizing them, is there any doubt that they would be willing to use their power to persecute those they disagree with?


  1. Thank you for setting the record straight on this issue.

    It will be interesting if Loesch sets the record straight or will she continue with the falsehoods and lies

  2. Well, considering how people have been willing to "to lie, smear, attack, distort, persecute" the Tea Partiers themselves, perhaps we ought to measure out the same measure the implacable foes of the TP measure with and say those foes are very dangerous indeed.

    ("Dangerous" of course is not an evaluative term. You can be dangerous for good or dangerous for bad. Snakes and the Metro Link's power line are both dangerous.)

    That any movie, much less Moore's SiCKO would appear in a "great literature" course is patent evidence of the stupidity of this teacher and his curriculum. There's barely enough time to get in some Dante and Dostoevsky without bothering with a man whose films are a byword for liberal pablum.

    If a teacher had assigned Bill O' Reilly in a similar context, the STL Activist Hub would be having a collective fit. Everyone knows that selective attention is the most insidious form of indoctrination. You can be as critical of ideas as you like, but if you are only exposed to one type of idea you're indoctrinated all the same.

  3. Pushing the man to be fired is too much!
    Asking him to present the material in a different fashion is the Principal's job.

  4. Hmm, presenting the material in a different fashion? It sure seems like the teacher was clear that the material was being presented for the sake of analysis of the rhetoric. I'm not sure how it could be presented in a less offensive way. However, it's worth noting that the teacher did offer the student an alternative assignment after she complained.

  5. American Tory, your hypothetical about "what the collective Activist Hub" would do is not true. I'd be perfectly happy (thrilled, in fact) if teachers would present examples of folks like Glenn Beck or Bill O'Reiley and ask students to think critically about how they are trying to influence them. People need to be able to learn how to evaluate the information that's presented in the modern media environment.

  6. Adam:

    I agree with your thoughts about analyzing media in whole. I think if we massed a collection of folks, TP, Dem, Rep, etc and had a course on how, FOX, MSNBC, CNN, BLOGS, Etc distort or twist stories to their audience and based the event on one or two big issues a lot of us (anyone that is a free thinker) would walk away seeing how bad it is and I bet it would lead to some very good civil discourse.

    I do think that American Tory is pointing out the extremism of this blog. It's clear that the author has an agenda and anyone associated with the TP is given a negative spin. Of course there are TP, Dem, and Rep blogs doing the same thing, but hen this occurs on every end of this political spectrum we all lose.

    It's blogs like this one that spend so much time tearing people down rather than finding a way to work together that help make this country what it is today, and that is nothing to be proud of. To the author, I'll challenge you to start writing about the good and bad of each of the segments of politics, the title of this blog says it's an activist blog for all, but right now, it's clearly only for those looking to spread more hate rather than working together.

  7. How about Michael Moore AND Glenn Beck (or O'Reilly, etc)? Discuss methods of persuasion, goals, methodologies, etc., and tie it back to McCarthyism and large social movements. There is a reall teaching opportunity here; it would be a shame to waste it.

  8. I really liked the old days, when John Birchers and other fringe paranoics holed up in each others dank, mildewy root cellars and chewed their fingernails until they bled. Could you all just go back to doing that and leave the business of running the country to the sane and rational? You're all a bunch of dupes, you do know that, don't you? Right, of course you don't.

  9. maybe someone should go after their jobs. Or wait. Most in the leadership of the tea party don't have real jobs. Almost forgot.

  10. Greg,

    There's an expression for what you're doing in your comment: it's called "the fallacy of false equivalence." The idea that CNN is the same as Fox is laughable. Fox has a clear partisan agenda. CNN certainly has it's problems, and is criticized by both sides of the ideological spectrum, but it at least attempts to be balanced. You probably don't agree with that, but that's because you watch too much Fox News.

    You also use a false equivalence when you compare this blog to the tea party. The idea that this blog is "as bad" as the tea party is based purely on ignorance of the tactics they employ. James O'Keefe and Andrew Breitbart at Big Government set out with a very organized plan to use hidden cameras, misleading edits, and a distorted narrative to create a fake story to destroy ACORN specifically because ACORN is an organization that benefits progressive politics. Breitbart is the model that the St. Louis tea party *explicitly* follows. And I have documented numerous occasions where they have used lies, distortions, and smears to try to destroy their political opponents. Calling them out on their falsehoods "in a negative tone" is hardly the same as being "just as bad" as they are.

    Finally, it's really funny that you continuously come on this blog to complain about how negative it is and say that it is unfairly characterizing the tea party. In fact, I've been careful to direct my criticism at the tea party leadership. Just a little while ago, I wrote about how there was a movement within the tea party of people who rejected the vicious tactics currently used by the leadership. I said that even though I disagreed with these people, we could at least have a meaningful conversation, unlike the current folks in charge like Dana Loesch, Bill Hennessy, Jim Durbin (who's not really a leader but I think you might know him) who are afraid to even deal with information that challenges their claims. Not to mention, a new series just started last Friday on Lt. Dan Choi's call for activism. That's as positive as it gets, but I didn't see you commenting there. You ignore all the positive stories and then jump in on stuff critical of the tea party to ridiculously suggest that I'm just as bad as they are.

    Some people seem to think that saying "this group is just as bad as that group," is enough to prove their objectivity. However, it turns out that the facts don't always support such claims. I've been very careful to support my claims with facts: if you'd like to offer meaningful criticism, then you can address facts as well rather than speaking in vague generalities about your gut feelings.

  11. It amazes me how people comment w/o reading or comprehending the material in the links.

    The teacher in question is not a "he", it's Debra Blessman which would've been obvious if you'd followed the links. The class was not a "great literature" course but was described in McCarty's post as a "Senior Literature and Composition" class.

    The video with Celeste Finkenbine was obviously edited. I understand the need for brevity in a 3+ minute video but past experiences with the likes of O'Keefe have demonstrated that any video can be manipulated to show bias.

    Now I've read that the student has been harrassed through social networking and in person. She talked about not being in class in the video. I imagine it's due to unwarranted "feedback". This is uncalled for and shows that people have short-term memories about another local teen who committed suicide under similar circumstances. Finkenbine may be strong enough to thwart these attacks but people should leave her alone.

  12. Good point Russ. There's no reason to criticize the student, especially considering McCarty's propensity to misleadingly edit video. In fact, it looks like opportunists like DL and BM are the ones pushing the story, whereas the student originally just causally mentioned the incident at one of the tea party rallies.

    I hope the claims about bullying are not true (they also originated with McCarty), but if they are true they need to stop.

  13. This is simply amazing. It's nice to see someone is finally reporting on the truth.

  14. Adam,

    As someone who occasionally agrees with Beck & co., I would say that, if you wouldn't, I certainly WOULD have a problem with a teacher presenting those distinguished Fox News commentators to a class. First of all, because the school should be teaching them the Lincoln-Douglass debates, the Webster-Haynes debates, etc., and they simply don't have time to do that AND watch Fox News (or Michael Moore) in class.

    You say you want kids to be aware of how TV, movies, etc. are trying to influence them. That's fine. They should understand rhetoric. But they should understand it by studying GOOD rhetors, not mediocre ones (much as I might agree with Beck, etc. sometimes, I have no illusions about them -- they are mediocre rhetors.)

    Then, in addition to understanding how Beck or Moore are trying to influence them, they might also develop a taste for people who are much better at persuasion, which would be very welcome in a world of Olbermanns, Maddows, Moores and Becks.

    And I reiterate -- selective attention is the most insidious form of indoctrination. You would be very right to pitch a fit over a teacher who presented, say, Beck and not any opposing views. The tyranny of "respectable opinions" is so absolute in a democratic society that teaching kids to analyze it is closing the barn door after the cows have got out.

    Once you have implicitly taught them that there is only one set of opinions worth analyzing, all the analysis in the world is less than pointless.

  15. Yes, but you're assuming quite a bit about the context. Do you know what else they read during the year? Do you know how the teacher presented the assignment? I don't see any evidence that the teacher was claiming "there is only one set of opinions worth analyzing."

  16. Making HALF of your grade an assignment on a Moore film seems to at least strongly suggest that there is one set of opinions worth analyzing. I would be very surprised (though gratified) to hear that corresponding voices on other sides of the issue were heard.

  17. Half of the FINAL grade, American Tory. The Finals at FHHS are worth 20% of a semester grade, making the analysis of the movie with 10% of the semester grade and 5% of her year grade. This part of McCarty's video interview with Celeste has been misinterpreted so many times! He should have clarified the meaning of "Final Grade."

  18. For the life of me, Anon., I can't see what you mean by distinguishing a grade from a final grade. Surely the grade one gets for a class IS the final grade? Is there some difference at FHHS between a final grade for the class and the grade one receives for the class? Or are grades somehow not assigned class-by-class?

  19. The American Tory, it means that it counts for half of the grade on the final. But the final itself only counts for 20% of the course grade, if anon is correct. "Final" is short for "Final Exam."

  20. Yeah, sorry about that. Final Exam - the last test or writing assignment given each semester. The final exam is worth 20% of the semester grade. This assignment was half of that 20%. 10% of her semester grade, 5% of the overall year grade. I graduated from FHHS last year, the final exam grade formula is addressed by every single teacher. When Celeste said "Final Grade," she meant "Final EXAM Grade."