Considering Fox News regularly smears anyone who suggests the tea party movement is steeped in extremism, their article titled "Tea Party Rallies Remain a Cauldron for Conspiracy Theories" is both important and entirely out of character. And of course, being Fox News, it does a lot of whitewashing to separate "Tea Party leaders" from the "mistruths, exaggerations and conspiracy theories" while completely ignoring Fox's own role in pushing them.
Let's start with a question: Why is Fox News calling tea partiers Nazis? Accompanying the article is this picture:
The article also includes this:
Going further, swastikas, as well as pictures of Obama's face next to Adolf Hitler's, have appeared on signs at dozens of rallies blasting the president and the Democrat-controlled Congress.
Helpful reporting, yet, when Nancy Pelosi made the same exact observation last year, she was viciously attacked. Several conservatives -- including Fox News anchor Gregg Jarrett -- twisted Pelosi's comments about the presence of signs with Nazi imagery at protests to falsely claim that she called the tea partiers themselves Nazis. She didn't.
Pelosi was also called a liar for suggesting that tea partiers carried signs bearing swastikas. Stephen Moore, appearing on Fox News' Glenn Beck, said that Pelosi's statement "suggests she is completely clueless." James Taranto wrote in the WSJ that the comments were the product of a "fevered imagination." And Andrew Breitbart, taking it up a notch, wrote in the Washington Times that Pelosi "blatantly lied." Someone call Retracto.
Also included in the article as examples of "fringe" beliefs held by some tea party participants is their "questionable characterizations of the massive health care reform legislation." The article reported that some "stood firm in" believing that "Democrats' goal was to implement 'death panels.'" Yet this "fringe" belief originated from Sarah Palin, now a Fox News contributor, and was advanced by Fox's own Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly and Peter Johnson Jr., to name but a few. In fact, it has been one of the main smears against health care reform.
Some suggest Obama wants to keep Americans unemployed so that they become dependent on government-run programs. Lenin and Stalin have become catchwords to describe Obama in the speeches denouncing his policies.
These are rather outlandish conspiracy theories, but they certainly aren't "fringe." Rush Limbaugh, in an interview with Fox News' Greta Van Susteren, said that "President Obama and the Democrats are destroying the U.S. economy. They are purposely doing it." Limbaugh has joined Fox News employees Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin in repeatedly pushing the "Cloward and Piven" conspiracy that Democrats are, in Beck's words, trying to "collapse the system."
Perhaps the reason that Lenin and Stalin "have become catchwords to describe Obama" at the tea party protests is because, once again, Glenn Beck, Fox News, and other conservatives have made a habit of comparing Obama and Democrats to Stalin and Lenin.
The article also notes that many believe Obama is not a U.S. citizen and does a commendable job debunking the birther silliness. But yet again, this "fringe" view of some tea party participants was pushed by Fox Nation just last week.
And while the lede of the article claims that these theories "make Tea Party leaders cringe," the statement from Tea Party Express Chair Mark Williams sure doesn't sound like cringing to me:
Mark Williams, chairman of the Tea Party Express, said the imagery and rhetoric seen at the Tea Party rallies "pales in comparison" to the protests during the Bush presidency.
Of some of the debunked theories, like questions over Obama's citizenship, Williams said, "I don't think it's mainstream Tea Party thought."
"It's an interesting constitutional exercise to wonder about and talk about it," he said. "But it's a dead end in terms of getting anything accomplished."
Calling something an "interesting constitutional exercise" is not the same as disavowing it. As we've pointed out before, Mark Williams has repeatedly dabbled in birtherism. And considering he has repeatedly called political opponents "faggots," and posted pictures of Obama and Pelosi as terrorists, Williams may not be the best person to go on the record trying to debunk accusations of extreme rhetoric at tea parties.
As we've documented extensively, Fox News has taken ownership of the tea party movement since shortly after its inception. Last week, a poll showed that tea partiers' favorite news outlet is Fox News. Clearly, based on the examples in this article, people are taking what they hear on Fox to heart.
If Fox News can acknowledge that this rhetoric is "fringe," what does that say about their own role in propagating it?