CBS, Fox reports on town hall disruptions ignore conservative strategy


On August 4, Katie Couric joined repeat offender Bret Baier in reporting on unusually large -- and sometimes disruptive -- crowds turning out to protest health care reform at town halls hosted by members of Congress without noting that conservative organizations opposed to Democrats' proposals -- boosted by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity -- are conducting a campaign to pack those events with their supporters. For the second night in a row, Baier reported on the protests but ignored the conservative strategy to pack town hall events with health care reform opponents.

Couric, Baier: Town halls packed with health reform opponents, explanations "deafened" by "roaring chants"

Couric: Members "getting an earful" from those opposed to health reform; "at least 200 showed up" at recent town meeting. Couric reported: "[M]embers of Congress are getting an earful from constituents opposed to the president's plan. Many of them worried about the price tag and who will pay for it." She then aired clips of people at a Mississippi town meeting saying, "I don't see how they can put another government-funded health care plan out there and efficiently run it," and, "We can't spend any more money. We've got to stop altogether." Couric noted, "That town meeting in Mississippi normally draws a couple of dozen people. Last night, though, at least 200 showed up." [CBS Evening News with Katie Couric; 8/4/09]

Baier: Dem rep "got an ... earful" from "overflow crowd"; "roaring chants deafened" attempts to explain health reform. Baier reported: "Wisconsin Democratic Congressman Steve Kagen got an ear fill -- earful, rather -- during a town hall meeting in Green Bay Monday night. An overflow crowd jammed a public library, most to voice strong opposition to current plans for health care reform." After airing a brief clip from the meeting, Baier noted, "The Green Bay Post Press-Gazette [sic] reports, quote, 'If the event were a shouting match, the mob won. Kagen tried talking about the health care bill but the roaring chants deafened his attempts. Several elderly people covered their ears and grimaced at the level of noise.' " He added, "While you can see there and throughout the country, many people do oppose health care reform because of a belief it gives the government too much power. There are those who think current proposals do not go far enough, however. Liberals and others want the government to run almost everything." [Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier; 8/4/09]

Baier reported on "public venting" at health care town halls for the second night in a row. The previous night -- August 3 -- Baier reported on the "public venting" occurring at town hall meetings, while correspondent Shannon Bream stated that "skeptical Americans across the country are pushing back" against the legislation. As Media Matters for America documented, Baier ignored the conservative strategy to pack town hall events with health care opponents with the support of conservative media figures and outlets like Limbaugh and the Fox Nation. [Special Report; 8/3/09]

Couric, Baier ignored conservative strategy to pack town halls with health reform opponents

NY Times: Town hall protests organized by groups including FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity. The New York Times reported: "The [health care reform] protests, organized by loose-knit coalition of conservative voters and advocacy groups, were a raucous start to what is expected to be weeks of political and ideological clashes over the health care overhaul President Obama is trying to push through Congress. The conservative groups, including FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity, are harnessing social networking Web sites to organize their supporters in much the same way Mr. Obama did during his election campaign." [The New York Times; 8/3/09]

  • FreedomWorks VP encouraged town hall protests. In an August 3 blog post on the website of FreedomWorks, a group chaired by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), Max Pappas, a vice president of the group, linked to video of protesters disrupting a June 22 town hall meeting for Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY) and said: "Members of the US House of Representatives are back home for August recess and are getting an earful from their constituents about current plans for a massive government intervention into health care and attempts to raise taxes on energy use through cap-and-trade." He added: "[B]e sure to show up, bring some friends, and them know what you think."
  • FreedomWorks campaign coordinatior: Disruption of Specter town hall "a must emulate." In an August 3 blog post, FreedomWorks campaign coordinator Nan Swift linked to video of protesters interrupting Sen. Arlen Specter's (D-PA) town hall in Philadelphia, stating it was "a must emulate at town halls across the country over the next month."
  • Americans for Prosperity reportedly conducting 13-state anti-health reform tour. "A 13-state tour aiming to rally patients to speak out against President Barack Obama's desired health-care overhaul is scheduled to kick off in Richmond this weekend. Americans for Prosperity's 'Patients First' bus tour will start Saturday at a Richmond-area Tea Party, before traveling around the country and through the states of key U.S. senators in the health-care debate, said Ben Marchi, state director of Americans for Prosperity. Organizers will urge constituents to call or visit their senators and sign a petition that asks members of Congress to 'oppose any legislation that imposes greater government control over my health care that would mean fewer choices for me and my family and even deny treatments to those in need.' " [Richmond Times-Dispatch; 7/23/09]

Conservatives for Patients' Rights (CPR) reportedly "confirmed that it has undertaken a concerted effort to get people out to the town hall meetings to protest reform." Greg Sargent reported: "In response to my questions, a spokesman for the group confirmed that it has undertaken a concerted effort to get people out to the town hall meetings to protest reform. The spokesperson, Brian Burgess, confirmed that CPR is emailing out 'town hall alert' flyers, and schedules of town hall meetings, to its mailing list. These efforts -- combined with CPR's effort to enlist Tea Party-ers, as reported yesterday by TPM -- provide a glimpse into the ways anti-reform groups are trying to create a sense of public momentum in their favor. CPR spokesman Burgess confirmed that the group had set up a list serv designed to reach out to 'third party groups' involved in the health care fight, including the Tea Party activists. And in a statement emailed to me, Scott, who was ousted as a health-care exec amid a 1990s fraud probe, took credit for the town hall showings." [Sargent, The Plum Line; 8/4/09]

Tea party protester, conservative PAC founder authored memo calling for people to disrupt town halls. A memorandum authored by Robert MacGuffie, a conservative activist, "Tea Party Patriot," and co-founder of the conservative PAC, described a "potential playbook" to put members of Congress "on the defensive" at town hall meetings. The memo urged people to "yell out" repeatedly and reportedly circulated among anti-reform groups. From the memo:

You need to rock-the-boat early in the Rep's presentation. Watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the Rep's statements early. If he blames Bush for something or offers other excuses -- call him on it, yell back and have someone else follow-up with a shout-out. Don't carry on and make a scene -- just short intermittent shout outs. The purpose is to make him uneasy early on and set the tone for the hall as clearly informal, and free-wheeling. It will also embolden others who agree with us to call out and challenge with tough questions. The goal is to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda. If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout out and sit right down. Look for those opportunities before he even takes questions. [MacGuffie memorandum]

Anti-health care reform protesters using same disruption tactics as birthers:

  • Birthers disrupted a congressional town hall. "At a town hall meeting in Georgetown [Delaware], a woman demanded to know why [Rep. Mike] Castle and his colleagues were 'ignoring' questions about Obama's birth certificate -- questions that have been put to rest repeatedly by state officials in Hawaii, where the birth certificate and all other credible evidence show that Obama was born in Honolulu on Aug. 4, 1961. When Castle countered that Obama is, in fact, 'a citizen of the United States,' the crowd erupted in boos, the woman seized control of the gathering and led a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance." [Politico; 7/27/09]
  • Birther "ringleader" Orly Taitz called on people to "demand action" on birth certificate at town halls. "Moments after speaking with POLITICO Saturday, Taitz posted a call to arms on her blog: 'I believe it is a serious concern and I hope that each and every decent American comes to town hall meetings with a video camera and demands action,' she wrote." [Politico; 7/27/09]

Conservative media have expressed support for town hall disruptions

Rush Limbaugh: Town hall protesters doing "exactly what Obama taught people to do ... disrupt 'em." Limbaugh defended the town hall protesters as being "orderly people," not the "unruly mobs" he claims Democrats are describing them as. He continued: "These are genuine voting American citizens. It is -- what these Democrats are accusing you of doing, who go to these town hall meetings, is exactly what Obama taught people to do. He's the community agitator. He's the community organizer. Obama is the guy who taught people how to show up at events like this over and over again and rip 'em apart and tear 'em down, disrupt 'em, and make sure they don't happen. And now the tables have been turned. It's happening to him, only this time, it's not ginned up; it's genuine. It's real." [Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show; 8/4/09]

Limbaugh: If town hall disruptions are "an orchestrated event," it's "about damn time." On August 3, Limbaugh offered his "reaction" to a caller who noted that media outlets have reported the town hall protests are coordinated: "About damn time. We have had groups like ACORN and Democrat rent-a-mobs making up excuses and lying about things they oppose to affect public policy for years, while people like me haven't had time because we work. We do not protest for a living. We do not rent ourselves out to be part of mobs. So, if this is actually an orchestrated event, then I'm glad somebody on our side's getting in gear." Limbaugh later added: "It doesn't matter to me one way or the other [if the protests are coordinated]. The people who are showing up are genuinely angry. And if their transportation is being facilitated -- about damn time. You've got to take these people on the way they play the game. The aggressor sets the rules in a conflict." [The Rush Limbaugh Show; 8/3/09]

Hannity: Recess "creates the best opportunity for people to go like they did to Claire McCaskill's town hall meeting." On July 29, Hannity said: "There's going to be no floor vote immediately" on health care reform "so members have time to go home and read the bill, which, by the way, creates the best opportunity for people to go like they did to Claire McCaskill's town hall meeting or go to [Rep. Russ] Carnahan's town hall meeting or go show up wherever there's any representative. That -- this is your moment, your opportunity to stop this thing." [ABC Radio Networks and Premiere Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show; 7/29/09]

Hannity: "Now, so far at these town hall meetings, you're doing terrific." Following reports of several town hall disruptions occurring nationwide, Hannity declared on August 3: "This is what's going to stop this. You are. You're gonna make it happen." He went on to say: "Now, so far at these town hall meetings, you're doing terrific. You're standing up to these bureaucrats. You're standing up to their phony platitudes, talking points, and bumper stickers. The polls are now turning against Obama, [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi, and [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid, so now they're bringing out their own pollster to lie to you and find out a way how they can win the PR battle, and they're telling them that they've got to attack the insurance companies." [The Sean Hannity Show; 8/3/09]

Fox & Friends host Johnson to protesters: "[W]e thank you for representing Americans, and we hope that other Americans get out there." From Fox & Friends' guest co-host Peter Johnson's interview of two people who said they questioned Specter and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at the Philadelphia town hall event:

CAROL O'BRIEN: I think they were -- well, personally, I think they were very unprepared for that meeting. I think they were asked questions, and they did not have valid responses. They stayed on message. Even though part of my question -- I asked them please not to insult my intelligence by staying on message, but to give us an honest answer. They did not do that. And I think if you look at their facial expressions during the town hall meeting, you could tell that they were not happy with the response of the crowd.

JOHNSON: Well, O'Briens, we're all looking for honest answers, and we thank you for representing Americans, and we hope that other Americans get out there and voice their opinions. Let's check in with you as time goes on and see what kind of progress we are making. John and Carol O'Brien, thank you so much. [Fox & Friends; 8/4/09]

Fox News' Doocy: "If you want to contact your congressmembers and sound off, go to" During a segment on the Philadelphia town hall, Steve Doocy suggested people go to to contact members of Congress: "That's right. So, anyway, if you want to contact your congressmembers and sound off, go to It is a great interactive website where you can sound off, and you'll also find your lawmakers' phone numbers and email there. Hmm, very handy. [Fox & Friends; 8/3/09]

Fox onscreen text: "Hold Congress accountable! Now is the time to speak your mind."

Fox Nation: "More Town Hall Opposition! Watch This!"

Posted In
Health Care, Health Care Reform
Fox News Channel, CBS
Katie Couric, Bret Baier
CBS Evening News, Special Report with Bret Baier
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