Special Report says "public venting" at health care town halls, ignores conservative efforts to pack events

››› ››› MATT GERTZ & MORGAN WEILAND

On Special Report, anchor Bret Baier claimed that at recent congressional town hall meetings, the "public" is "venting" about health care reform, while correspondent Shannon Bream stated that "skeptical Americans across the country are pushing back" against the legislation. But at no point did Special Report note that conservative organizations opposed to the bills are conducting a campaign to turn out their supporters to attend those events, with the support of conservative media figures and outlets such as Rush Limbaugh and The Fox Nation.

From the August 3 edition of Fox News' Special Report:

BAIER: Republican-turned-Democratic Senator Arlen Specter says August is shaping up to be a battleground month for health care reform. He should know, after enduring an antagonistic crowd at a weekend town hall meeting. Correspondent Shannon Bream reports on the public venting over changes it may not want.

[begin video clip]

BREAM: With health care reform unresolved in Washington, skeptical Americans across the country are pushing back, attending events aimed at opening up dialogue to give officials like Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Democratic Senator Arlen Specter an earful.

Organized effort by conservative groups seeks to pack town halls

FreedomWorks

Pappas: Let your congressman "know what you think -- like these people did" in protest. 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 stated:

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.

If this video (h/t Drudgereport) is any indication of what is going on in town hall meetings across the country, the people have clearly had enough. If you know of a town hall meeting your Congressman is having, be sure to show up, bring some friends, and them know what you think -- like these people did in Rep. Tim Bishop's town hall on Long Island, NY:

Swift: Specter protest "a must emulate." In an August 3 blog post, FreedomWorks campaign coordinator Nan Swift linked to video of protesters interrupting Specter's town hall, stating it was "a must emulate at town halls across the country over the next month."

Town hall protests reportedly organized by groups including FreedomWorks. "The 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." [New York Times, 8/3/09]

Reported FreedomWorks volunteer authors town hall "playbook."

As Think Progress first reported, one tea-party friendly group has disseminated a strategy memo for other anti-reform and anti-government groups, outlining what they consider best-practices for protesters who plan to enter and disrupt town hall events hosted by members of Congress over the August recess--practices that, according to the memo, "could be useful to activists in just about any district where their Congressperson has supported the socialist agenda of the Democrat leadership in Washington."

The memo, authored by Robert MacGuffie, who runs the website rightprinciples.com, suggests that tea partiers should "pack the hall... spread out" to make their numbers seem more significant, and to "rock-the-boat early in the Rep's presentation...to yell out and challenge the Rep's statements early.... to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda...stand up and shout and sit right back down."

MacGuffie is a volunteer for FreedomWorks, the industry funded group that helps organize and support the tea party protests. But he denies that his small group has any direct affiliation with FreedomWorks. "We are recommending with that memo that other grassroots groups that share our view should go to the townhalls of their members and use the strategy that we did," MacGuffie told me, confirming the memo's authenticity. "We are trying to get into that town halls to make them understand that they do not have the unanimous support from people in their communities." [Talking Points Memo, 8/3/09]

Memo reportedly circulated among anti-reform groups, including FreedomWorks. Talking Points Memo reported that the memorandum advising people to disrupt town halls has been distributed to various anti-health reform organizations as well as tea party activists:

Like many political movements in the country, the so-called Tea Party Patriots organize on a number of email list serves--an eponymous google group, one called Health Care Freedom Tea Party, the aforementioned Tea Party Patriots Health Care Reform Committee--where the broader community of tea baggers, including those working independently, co-ordinate.

MacGuffie's memo was posted to the Tea Party Patriots' list serve, which is hundreds of members large, and includes representatives from not just small protest groups, but also major anti-health reform organizations such as Conservatives for Patients Rights, and Patients First, Patients United Now (an affiliate of Americans for Prosperity), and, yes, Freedom Works. [Talking Points Memo, 8/3/09]

Americans for Prosperity

Town hall protests reportedly organized by groups including Americans for Prosperity. "The 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]

Group 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]

AfP president: Group "has always encouraged members to ... attend town hall meetings of their senators and representatives."

From an August 3 blog post by Americans for Prosperity president Tim Phillips:

Americans for Prosperity has always encouraged members to visit the district offices and attend town hall meetings of their senators and representatives, especially during this August break when issues like health care and cap-and-trade are at the peak of debate. Our 500,000+ members are concerned about the impact of the cap-and-trade energy tax and a government takeover of health care, and we have a variety of grassroots events going on around the country.

[...]

We have encouraged our members to find out when their elected officials will be available and to share that information with us so that we can help others find the meetings. This is grassroots activism in its most basic form. We always promote a respectful exchange of ideas and civil behavior. In fact, I often say at events that we should "respect the office while making our voices heard." We never condone disruptive behavior.

It is disappointing to hear reports of some individuals acting inappropriately at some of the congressional events, though it should be made clear that the vast majority of Americans attending these congressional town hall meetings are acting in a respectful manner that still allows them to make their voices heard. We consistently remind our members to be courteous when making their voices heard and doing their civic duty.

As key issues like the health care takeover and the cap-and-trade energy tax are considered in Congress, we will continue to implore Americans to make their voices heard by contacting their members of Congress.

Conservatives for Patients' Rights

CPR spokesman reportedly "confirmed that it has undertaken a concerted effort to get people out to the town hall meetings to protest reform."

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. [Greg Sargent, The Plum Line, 8/4/09]

CPR reportedly sent a list of town halls to Tea Party listserv. "On Friday, July 24, a representative of Conservatives for Patients Rights -- the anti-health care reform group run by Swift Boat message man Rick Scott -- sent an email to a list serve (called the Tea Party Patriots Health Care Reform Committee) containing a spreadsheet that lists over one hundred congressional town halls from late July into September. The email from CPR to tea baggers suggests that, though conservatives portray the tea bagger disruptions as symptoms of a populist rebellion roiling unprompted through key districts around the country, they have to a great extent been orchestrated by anti-health care reform groups financed by industry." [Talking Points Memo, 8/3/09]

CPR website features list of congressional town halls. CPR has posted a list of congressional town halls on its website "as a resource for our visitors." [CPR website, Town Halls]

CPR website has posted videos of town hall disruptions. Conservatives for Patients' Rights has also posted video clips of disruptions at congressional town halls. The website states: "Do you have a video from a Town Hall meeting you would like us to consider sharing here? Just post it to YouTube and email us ... and we will check it out." [CPR website, Town Hall Videos]

America's Health Insurance Plans

AHIP reportedly deploying employees to "track[] where local lawmakers hold town-hall meetings." "Meanwhile, insurers continue to wage an aggressive campaign against Democrats' proposals to create a public health-insurance plan. America's Health Insurance Plans has stationed employees in 30 states who are tracking where local lawmakers hold town-hall meetings." [The Wall Street Journal, 7/30/09]

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." [The Rush Limbaugh Show, 8/4/09]

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

Transcript

From the August 3 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:

BAIER: Republican-turned-Democratic Senator Arlen Specter says August is shaping up to be a battleground month for health care reform. He should know, after enduring an antagonistic crowd at a weekend town hall meeting. Correspondent Shannon Bream reports on the public venting over changes it may not want.

[begin video clip]

BREAM: With health care reform unresolved in Washington, skeptical Americans across the country are pushing back, attending events aimed at opening up dialogue to give officials like Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Democratic Senator Arlen Specter an earful.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You want us to believe that a government that can't even run a cash for clunkers program is going to run one-seventh of our U.S. economy? No, sir. No.

BREAM: Democrats are likely to face more of the same over the next few weeks. House members headed home for recess with a memo from their leadership advising them to hold more of these meetings, telling them that winning the debate will require, quote, "nothing less than an aggressive multi-front effort to control the message," and the memo clearly outlines it.

Quote: "Our message is simple. It is in sync with the White House. And it counters the Republican government takeover message. Hold the insurance companies accountable."

But from the sound of this angry crowd in Austin, Texas, they were more interested in holding Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett accountable when he showed up on Saturday, as captured by an amateur photographer.

The evidence of shifting opinion isn't merely anecdotal. A Rasmussen poll out today shows a major change in how Americans feel about the current U.S. health care system. One year ago, 37 percent rated it poor with only 29 percent calling it good or excellent, but those figures have flipped. Forty-eight percent now view it as good or excellent, up nearly 20 points, and only 19 percent now rate the system poor.

With just a few days left before its recess, the Senate's bipartisan "gang of six" was back in action Monday trying to negotiate a deal. In the meantime, Republicans like Senator John Cornyn say they continue to hear from worried constituents and are not at all surprised by their decision to fight back.

CORNYN: They're scared, and they're angry. Many of them are showing up, of course, at town hall meetings and expressing their views. And more power to them. We may not always like it, but people do have their right to express their views.

[end video clip]

BREAM: And following today's "gang of six" meeting, Republican Senator Olympia Snowe said that they're working hard trying to keep to that September 15 deadline for getting a bill done -- that was set by the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Democrat Max Baucus.

Snowe says they'll use video teleconferencing if they have to to get something done through the recess. But one of the other Republicans in the gang, Senator Mike Enzi, said today, quote, he "will not adhere to an artificial deadline" -- Bret.

BAIER: Should be an interesting August. Shannon Bream, live on the Hill.

Posted In
Health Care, Health Care Reform
Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel
Person
Bret Baier, Shannon Bream
Show/Publication
Special Report with Bret Baier
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