Tea Party Scammers Have Media Accomplices

Will CNN And Fox News Continue To Reward Hypocritical Tea Party Groups?

Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

The Washington Post reported over the weekend that several top tea party groups have spent "just a tiny fraction of their money directly into boosting" candidates, instead devoting most of their money to fundraising and consultants. The questionable spending has been aided by media outlets like CNN and Fox News, which, in the words of one of the shady groups in question, have given the tea partiers "great television news coverage" to promote their efforts.    

Over the years, CNN and Fox News have frequently promoted tea party events and hosted group spokespersons. CNN partnered with one dubious group for a presidential debate, while Fox News host Sean Hannity is a radio partner with another group. In turn, tea partiers have used the favorable coverage to increase name recognition and solicit more funds.

The Post wrote that the Tea Party Patriots (TPP), the Tea Party Express (TPE) and the Madison Project "have spent 5 percent or less of their money directly on election-related activity during this election cycle." The spending "contrasts with the urgent appeals tea party groups have made to their base of small donors, many of whom repeatedly contribute after being promised that their money will help elect conservative politicians."

While candidates are receiving relatively little money, tea party leaders are cashing in. TPP leader Jenny Beth Martin is "on track to make more than $450,000 this year"; TPP national finance director Richard Norman "is paid $15,000 a month," and his firms have received "at least $2.7 million since June 2012"; and the Tea Party Express has paid "$2.75 million since the beginning of 2013" to the firm of leader Sal Russo, "while donating just $45,000 to candidates and spending less than $162,000 on ads and bus tours supporting their election."

The Post report follows years of scrutiny from other outlets, including Media Matters, about lavish spending by tea party groups. In many instances, the criticism has come from other tea party groups, who have complained about the hypocritical nature of the consultant spending.

Mother Jones' Stephanie Mencimer reported in 2011 that TPP's "coterie of consultants and fundraisers" have "sparked bitter complaints by affiliated tea party groups" who view the group as "morphing into the very type of slick, DC-centric special interest group they have been fighting against." Politico's Ken Vogel reported in 2010 that tea party leaders "are suspicious of its [TPE's] big payments to Russo Marsh, view the bus tours as distractions from meaningful grass-roots organizing headed into the 2010 midterm elections and say the Republican ties of both the firm and PAC are wrong."

Despite years of reporting on the dubious nature of these tea party groups, media outlets like CNN and Fox News continue to give a publicity boost to the groups. 


Here are five ways CNN has helped tea party scammers.

CNN Partnered With Tea Party Express On Presidential Debate. CNN teamed up with TPE to host a September 2011 Republican presidential debate. The partnership drew criticism from Media Matters and journalists. TPE called the event an indication that "the tea party, which began as a small grassroots movement, has grown tremendously in size and influence to become a powerful force in American politics."

CNN Promoted Tea Party Express Tours. CNN has frequently covered Tea Party Express tours. Slate's David Weigel summarized CNN's fawning coverage in a 2010 article headlined, "CNN and the Tea Party Express: The Greatest Romance of Our Time," and noted that CNN had "highly uncritical coverage" and "was CNN's first salvo in a series of fairly positive specials about conservative activists in 2010."

CNN Is Still Hosting Spokespersons For Questionable Tea Party Groups. According to a transcript search of the Nexis database, CNN has continued to regularly host Tea Party Express representatives. Tea Party Patriots representatives has also repeatedly appeared on CNN in recent years, according to a Nexis search.

CNN Loved Ex-Tea Party Express Spokesman Mark Williams, Who Was Forced To Resign For Racist Remarks. CNN frequently hosted then-TPE spokesman Mark Williams in 2009 and 2010 despite his long history of race-baiting and incendiary rhetoric (Williams said Allah is a "monkey god," President Jimmy Carter is a "creepy little faggot," and Obama is "Tiger Woodsing" a "mistress" while raping the country). He was finally forced out of the group after he characteristically wrote a blog post about slavery that portrayed blacks as lazy.

Tea Party Express Uses CNN Coverage For Fundraising. For example:

  • An October 2013 email promoted an appearance by Sal Russo on CNN on the debt deal, and then asked readers for donations.
  • A September 2011 email about "Tea Party Victories" cited the CNN debate as "a very important milestone" and asked for donations from "as little as $5 all the way up to the maximum allowed $5,000."
  • Tea Party Express sold tickets and sponsorship packages for a watch party for the CNN debate, which it called "a truly historic, first-of-its-kind event."
  • A December 2010 email announcing the CNN partnership asked for money.
  • An October 2009 email stated that "CNN and Fox News have confirmed they will be covering the launch of the 'Tea Party Express II: Countdown to Judgment Day.'" It then asked for money.  

Fox News And Conservative Media


Here are five ways Fox News and conservative media have helped tea party scammers.

Fox News Helped Launch The Tea Party Movement. Fox News was the most instrumental force in the creation of the modern day tea party. During the movement's nascent days in 2009, Fox News breathed life into the tea party by heavily promoting April 15 tax day tea parties across the country, and even hosting its own "FNC TAX DAY TEA PARTIES."  

Sean Hannity Is A Tea Party Patriots Partner. Fox News host Sean Hannity is acting as a de facto spokesperson for the group in fundraising emails and on his Premiere Radio show. (You can listen to some of Hannity's radio promotions for TPP here.) Hannity hosted Jenny Beth Martin on the April 15 edition of his Fox News show, and said "we are partners on radio."

Fox News Went Overboard Promoting The Tea Party Express. Fox News devoted live coverage and publicity to the kickoff of Tea Party Express tours in 2009 and 2010. Fox News also embedded a reporter -- whom they labeled a "tea party groupie" -- to cover the tour.

Tea Party Express Uses Fox News Coverage For Fundraising. For example:

  • An August 2011 email touted an upcoming Fox News appearance by a representative, and then asked for money.
  • An August 2010 email read, "Fox News is reporting on our 2-week push to help pull off another upset and propel Conservative Republican Christine O'Donnell to victory over Liberal Mike Castle." It then asked for money.
  • A March 2010 email highlighted Fox's coverage of its Tea Party Express III, and then asked for money.
  • An October 2009 email stated that "CNN and Fox News have confirmed they will be covering the launch of the 'Tea Party Express II: Countdown to Judgment Day.'" It then asked for money.  
  • A July 2009 email highlighted a favorable Fox Nation post to ask for money.

Dubious Groups Recruit Conservative Media As Event Speakers. Despite their dubious spending and questionable practices, the Tea Party Express and Tea Party Patriots have been able to recruit members of the conservative media to their events. Tea Party Express speakers have included Fox News contributor Sarah Palin, radio host and Fox News contributor Mike Gallagher, and radio host Mark Levin. Tea Party Patriots speakers have included Mark Levin, Wall Street Journal writer and Fox News contributor Stephen Moore, radio host Dana Loesch, Fox News contributor Herman Cain, Media Research Center president Brent Bozell, and radio host Glenn Beck.    

Fox News Channel, CNN
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