USA Today pushes the "bottom-up" tea party myth

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

For weeks, the right-wing activists promoting the so-called "tea party" tax protests have been complaining that the media isn't paying enough attention to their stunt. They must be thrilled with the puff piece in today's USA Today.

The USA Today article begins by portraying the "tea parties" as the work of ordinary, apolitical Americans who have had enough:

Jenny Beth Martin remembers the day she became a protester.

Her husband's business had gone under, and the two were cleaning houses in Atlanta to stay afloat. That was when they heard about a tirade against President Obama's mortgage bailout scheme by a financial news analyst calling for a modern-day Boston Tea Party revolt.

"We had just lost our house and had ... moved into the rental house," says Martin, 38, whose husband Lee's temporary-employee firm had 5,000 workers before it went down in the recession.

"I didn't want other people paying for my mortgage, and I wanted to prevent that in other places," she says.

It isn't until 19 paragraphs later that USA Today gets around to telling us that Martin is a "former paid consultant for local Republican candidates."

Actually, it isn't clear that "former" is accurate. On the "About" page of her blog, Martin says she is currently a Republican political consultant:

But USA Today continued to portray the protests as a spontaneous grassroots uprising:

Bridgett Wagner, director of coalition relations at the conservative Heritage Foundation, sees a possible reprise of the tax revolt of the 1970s and '80s, when a California movement to slash and cap property taxes led to successful ballot measures from the West Coast to Michigan and Massachusetts.

"These movements in the past have shown that when people have finally had enough, even the politicians at some point have to listen," says Wagner, calling it a "bottom-up" phenomenon.

USA Today didn't bother to include a contradictory view, or any facts that might undermine the "bottom-up" assertion (more on that later.)

Here's another example of the "'bottom-up' phenomenon" USA Today provides:

Dawn Wildman of San Diego, who is organizing four tea parties, says lawmakers should not be dismissive.

"We're seeing how you vote," she says. "You're not paying attention to your constituency. We put you there, and we can take you out."

So who is Dawn Wildman? If you have ten seconds and an Internet connection, you can pretty quickly find out that she is a Republican activist affiliated with the "Neighborhood Republican Club."

Meanwhile, USA Today didn't make any mention of Fox News' role in the "tea parties," or the role played by conservative groups like Freedom Works (Chaired by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey) and Americans for Prosperity (run by a former partner of Ralph Reed.)

It's easy to portray the "tea parties" as grassroots uprisings if you ignore the roles played by the likes of Fox News and Dick Armey, hide the fact that the organizers you quote are Republican activists, and don't include any comments critical of the events.

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