Conservative media examine video of town hall disruptions, declare disruptors "real"

››› ››› ADAM SHAH

Several conservative media figures have recently claimed that the people who have disrupted recent Democratic town halls on health care reform are, in Rush Limbaugh's words, "real" and "genuine" rather than "ginned up" -- a message that echoes Republican claims about the disruptions. In fact, conservative organizations opposed to the Democrats' health care bills are conducting a campaign to turn out their supporters at these events; the subsequent disruptions have been promoted by conservative media figures and outlets.

Conservative media declare protesters "real," mock arguments to the contrary

Limbaugh: "[I]t's not ginned up; it's genuine. It's real."

LIMBAUGH: And also, I find it fascinating that all these Democrats are -- exactly what we said last week -- they're starting to refer to these town hall meetings as unruly mobs; we can't promise security.

No, no, no. These are orderly people. 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. People do not want this. [Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show, 8/4/09]

Hannity: "That seems organic and real to me." Luntz: "I think it's organic and real." Sean Hannity and Republican consultant Frank Luntz agreed that attendees who disrupted a Missouri town hall event were "organic and real":

HANNITY: I mean, listen to those crowds. Angry mobs? Manufactured? That seems organic and real to me. What are your thoughts?

LUNTZ: I think it's organic and real. But I do want to make this point, and I think it's important that these are elected officials -- they are our senators and our Congress people -- and I think it's important that we treat them with respect and civility --

HANNITY: But, Frank --

LUNTZ: -- even if we disagree with their point of view. [Fox News' Hannity, 8/4/09]

Scarborough mocks people who claim disruptions are "calculated." Discussing clips of people who disrupted town hall events, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough stated: "OK, so do they really think that these people are executives of insurance companies that they somehow snuck in the door? Here, put this hat on." He later added: "These are the suits that are dressing down that are -- they're on -- they're talking to Aetna at night, the lobbying arm on K Street -- and yeah, boy, it's -- that's pretty calculated. Whee. I don't see it." [MSNBC's Morning Joe, 8/5/09]

GOP leaders have also touted protesters as "real people"

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) on protests: Democrats "are facing a backlash from their constituents." [RepublicanLeader.house.gov, 8/3/09]

NRCC chairman Jeff Sessions: "You've now got real people who are showing up" at town halls. [Politico, 8/3/09]

Limbaugh previously said, if town hall disruptions are "an orchestrated event," it's "[a]bout damn time"

Limbaugh: "[I]f this is actually an orchestrated event, then I'm glad somebody on our side's getting in gear."

LIMBAUGH: Let's play a game. Let's assume it's true. Let's assume that everything you've heard is true. You know my reaction? 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. [The Rush Limbaugh Show, 8/3/09]

Organized effort by conservative groups seeks to pack town halls

Several conservative groups are engaged in efforts to encourage their members to attend town halls. Conservative organizations opposed to health care reform -- including FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, and Conservatives for Patients' Rights -- are conducting a campaign to turn out their supporters to attend those events. CPR has reportedly "confirmed that it has undertaken a concerted effort to get people out to the town hall meetings to protest reform," while FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity have reportedly "organized" the town hall protestors and are "harnessing social networking Web sites to organize their supporters in much the same way Mr. Obama did during his election campaign." [Greg Sargent, The Plum Line, 8/4/09; The New York Times, 8/3/09]

Fox News, right-wing birthers promoting disruptions at town hall events

Fox News follows up "tea party" promotion with promotion of town hall disruptions. Just as it promoted the April 15 "tea party" protests, Fox News is now promoting the disruptions of Democratic town hall events by protesters opposed to health care reform, protests that are being touted by Republican leaders and supported by conservative groups. Following the August 2 disruption of a town hall event hosted by Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Fox News personalities -- including Hannity, Peter Johnson, Gretchen Carlson, Steve Doocy, and Neil Cavuto -- have lauded such protesters or urged viewers to take similar action.

Conservative media birthers also pushing town hall disruptions. Conservative media figures who have promoted conspiracy theories about President Obama's birth certificate -- including Lou Dobbs, Hannity, Limbaugh, and Jim Quinn -- have recently used their radio shows to promote the anti-health care reform disruptions of congressional town hall events. Indeed, the disruptions resemble similar efforts by birthers to disrupt town halls.

Transcripts

From the August 4 broadcast of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: And also, I find it fascinating that all these Democrats are -- exactly what we said last week -- they're starting to refer to these town hall meetings as unruly mobs; we can't promise security.

No, no, no. These are orderly people. 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. People do not want this.

From the August 4 edition of Fox News' Hannity:

HANNITY: Let's go to the state of Missouri, swing state, important state in any election, let's look at, first of all, Congressman [Russ] Carnahan [D] and then Senator Claire McCaskill [D]. Let's roll that tape.

[begin video clip]

CARNAHAN: -- also, that over 10 years, it would create a $6 billion surplus. So, the -- it's important -- it's important --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that really the government program --

CARNAHAN: It's important that we all listen to one another. Listen, it's important that we listen to one another. And --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where are the dogs?

[...]

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and the rest of the people in Congress and the Senate, are they going to be willing to be on the same plan they're asking us to be on?

[end video clip]

HANNITY: I mean, listen to those crowds. Angry mobs? Manufactured? That seems organic and real to me. What are your thoughts?

LUNTZ: I think it's organic and real. But I do want to make this point, and I think it's important that these are elected officials -- they are our senators and our Congress people -- and I think it's important that we treat them with respect and civility --

HANNITY: But, Frank --

LUNTZ: -- even if we disagree with their point of view. Sean, this is important. I understand the anger because I'm moderating focus groups. We're going to be bringing something to you next week. I hear that anger. But when it's an elected official, even if we disagree with them, I would hope that we would --

HANNITY: I agree.

LUNTZ: -- treat them with respect and dignity.

HANNITY: That's fair. But how about the DNC referring to the people that are showing up as saying that they're angry mobs? How about them being respectful to them? When Robert Gibbs says that -- when a veteran confronted Congressman [Tim] Bishop [D-NY] in Long Island, is he a part of an angry mob? Is that manufactured, or is this real passion that people have? How about the respect --

LUNTZ: This is real --

HANNITY: -- for them to people?

LUNTZ: Sean, you're right. This is real passion. We see it in all the polling.

From the August 5 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:

SCARBOROUGH: OK, so do they really think that these people are executives of insurance companies that they somehow snuck in the door? Here, put this hat on. Nobody -- yeah, go --

ERIN BURNETT (CNBC anchor): I think we've interviewed a few of those CEOs before.

SCARBOROUGH: -- go sleeveless. You know, put on a wife-beaters shirt. Nobody will realize that you're the CEO of Blue Cross.

I mean, come on. You -- I'm telling you. Everybody says, Oh, that they're doing all this stuff. I have -- as somebody who has tried to whip people into a frenzy and tried to get people to go out to town hall meetings in my past political career, they don't go out unless they're angry.

WILLIE GEIST (co-host): Right.

SCARBOROUGH: If they're not angry, they're staying home eating supper at 5:30 and eating -- and watching Wheel of Fortune at 6. They're not going to miss Vanna [White], unless they got a reason to get out of their house and go to the town hall meeting. You can't make this stuff up. You can't. Because if you could, you know, I would have done it. I tried it. It just doesn't -- if they're upset, they come. If they're not, they stay home. And what do they watch?

MIKE BARNICLE (MSNBC contributor): Wheel of Fortune.

SCARBOROUGH: Yeah.

BURNETT: Wheel of Fortune.

SCARBOROUGH: It used to be Bowling for Dollars; now it's Wheel of Fortune.

GEIST: And yet, the White House has suggested --

SCARBOROUGH: Yeah.

GEIST: -- that this is phony outrage, that these are kind of plants who are just going as mercenaries.

SCARBOROUGH: Yeah, can we show the last part of that clip to see the insurance executives? The CEOs --

GEIST: These are the suits.

SCARBOROUGH: These are the suits that are dressing down that are -- they're on -- they're talking to Aetna at night, the lobbying arm on K Street -- and yeah, boy, it's -- that's pretty calculated.

Whee. I don't see it. But, anyway, with us now, editorial writer for The Washington Post, MSNBC contributor Jonathan Capehart. Jonathan, do you think --

CAPEHART: Good morning, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH: -- there is real outrage out there or do you think it is all concocted by insurance lobbyists, like the K Street lobbyists and lawyers we saw there just a couple minutes ago?

CAPEHART: I don't think -- yeah. I don't think it's all concocted by the insurance industry. There's definite concern out there. I just wonder if it's so much that you've got people, you know, ambushing elected officials. It's really kind of sad to see these people from Capitol Hill, who are used to deference and used to people running out of their way, to be shouted at en masse by lots of people who are concerned about this health care bill.

I'm not -- I don't want to diminish any of the concerns, but I do find -- I am a little mystified by what's happening.

SCARBOROUGH: Well --

CAPEHART: I don't completely buy that this is organized by the insurance industry, but I'd really like to know --

SCARBOROUGH: Well, you know --

CAPEHART: -- to know more about this.

SCARBOROUGH: Well, let me tell you, 1993, really quickly -- 1993, the year before I first ran for office, one of the reasons where I met most of my contacts was when they started having these health care town hall meetings all across America, including across northwest Florida. And I would go to these events as a young lawyer. And so many people were angry and outraged for I think different reasons back then, but these things do just well up. And for some reason, you start talking about health care and you get a lot of not rich insurance executives but a lot of working-class Americans that come out.

Now, you can argue that it's disinformation that's being out there, and maybe the ads are misleading, if you want to argue that -- I'm not talking about you, I'm talking about anybody --

CAPEHART: Yeah.

SCARBOROUGH: -- and do that, but this stuff is pretty spontaneous. At least it was in 1993.

CAPEHART: Well, you know what -- you know what sort of concerns me is that the line that that guy used in the clip that, you know, the president spent six months trying to pick out a dog, and he spent more time picking out the dog than he's done --

SCARBOROUGH: Yeah.

CAPEHART: -- you know, working on this health care bill. And that's a talking point that I have heard for at least the last three months. And it's thrown out there, whether it's stimulus --

SCARBOROUGH: OK.

CAPEHART: -- or it's something else.

SCARBOROUGH: Hold on a second. I haven't heard that one yet. So, hold on. "Spent" -- I've gotta use this one

CAPEHART: You haven't?

SCARBOROUGH: "Spent" -- all right, let's go to our "Must-Read" opinion pages. No, I'm sure it is a good talking point. I just want to -- I'm going to call you after the show, make sure I get it right.

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