If you don't think there's a media double standard that favors Republicans over Democrats, then let's play a game of what-if.
What if, in 2006, at Yearly Kos, the first annual convention of liberal bloggers and their readers, organizers shelled out $100,000 for former Vice President Al Gore to address attendees? And what if the same organizers booked as an opening-night speaker a fringe, radical-left conspiracy theorist who'd spent the previous year pushing the thoroughly debunked claim that some Bush White administration insiders played a role in, and even planned, the 9-11 attacks. What if the speaker (also proudly anti-Semitic) received a standing ovation from the liberal Yearly Kos crowd?
Given that backdrop, and given the fact that the 9-11 Truther nut had for weeks bragged about his chance to share the stage with Gore, do you think the press would have demanded that Gore justify his association with a hateful conference that embraced a 9-11 Truther? Do you think pundits would have universally mocked and ridiculed Gore's judgment while condemning the Yearly Kos convention as being a hothouse of left-wing hate? Do you think Gore's appearance would have become a thing?
I sure do.
Gore and liberal bloggers would have been crucified by the press and the D.C. chattering class if the scenario I described ever unfolded in real life. (FYI, it goes without saying that organizers for Yearly Kos, now known as Netroots Nation, would never dream of mainstreaming an anti-Semitic 9-11 Truther via a prime-time speaking gig.)
But this past weekend in Nashville, at the first National Tea Party Convention, the Beltway press did just the opposite with regard to Sarah Palin's keynote address, which did follow a prime-time speech by "birther" nut Joseph Farah, who over the years has carved out a uniquely hateful and demented corner of the right-wing blogosphere. Because, yes, at the Tea Party convention, Farah, a proud Muslim-hater and gay-hater, did receive a standing ovation from the conservative crowd after he unfurled his thoroughly debunked birther garbage. (i.e. Obama "doesn't have a birth certificate.") And Farah did brag in the weeks leading up to the event about his chance to share the stage with Palin, to associate with Palin. ("Sold out! Palin-Farah ticket rocks tea-party convention," read the headline at Farah's discredited right-wing site, WorldNetDaily.com.)
Worst of all, though, the press played dumb about the whole thing.
Fact: Virtually nobody in the corporate media said boo about Palin helping to legitimize Farah by sharing the same stage with him. She was given a total free ride.
And I mean nobody. According to Nexis, there were more than 150 newspaper articles and columns published in the U.S. last week that mentioned both Palin and the Tea Party. (Combined, The New York Times and The Washington Post published 18 of them.) Yet out of all those articles and columns, exactly two also mentioned Joseph Farah by name. (Congrats to the Philadelphia Daily News and New Hampshire's Concord Monitor.)
And keep in mind that lots of scribes, even after listening to Farah's rambling rant, filed dispatches from Nashville stressing how mellow and mainstream the Tea Party convention was turning out to be. According to the Post, the mood at the Nashville confab was "festive, even giddy." And no, not a single word in the Post dispatch mentioned Farah's high-profile birther harangue.
Bottom line: The birther movement embarrasses most conservatives. Yet even when they invite a birther nut to speak at their conference, the press still won't ask tough questions. Instead, journalists politely look away.
It didn't used to work that way. There's been a long media tradition of holding politicians accountable for their public associations, especially when they appear at conventions that feature fringe rhetoric from controversial speakers. Reporting on who politicians agree to share a stage with has always been considered not only fair game, but genuinely newsworthy.
It's just that in this instance, the press gave Palin a complete and unobstructed free ride, a free ride Al Gore never would have been afforded.
In fact, the stage-sharing question was actually of added importance at the Tea Party event, because the movement remains somewhat undefined, since, unlike a political party, it does not have obvious leaders. The people Tea Party organizers choose to associate with provide telling insight into where the movement might be headed.
As Joel Mathis at Philadelphia Weekly wrote last week (emphasis in the original):
Whenever liberals point out some of the nuttier stuff at the Tea Party gatherings -- the racist signs, the comparisons of Obama to Hitler or the talk of revolution and secession -- Tea Party sympathizers offer a couple of excuses: The nutty stuff is at the fringe, not really representative of the group as a whole and it's not fair that you focus on that! Or that the whole thing amounts to political theater, not to be taken that seriously.
But this convention is making it harder for a reasonable observer to distinguish between the nuts and the mainstream. They're all on the same stage together.
I realize some people will take issue with my headline and my claim that the Tea Party gathering in Nashville was a "birther conference." They'll claim the controversial topic was not the dominant issue addressed at the event and that I'm trying to tar a mainstream movement with the distasteful fringe. And that's why there was no reason for the press to dwell on the issue over the weekend.
I'm not the one making the birther connection. It was the Tea Party convention planners who made the conscious decision to place the topic front and center. Face it, when organizers invite a high-profile birther disciple to address the entire convention, and when he receives a standing ovation after pushing the birther craziness, then they're hosting a birther conference. End of story. (And that's when the press should have taken note.)
And can we please retire the media-sanctioned Republican defense that the racially tinged birther crusade represents a tiny, misguided element of the conservative movement? That's more baloney. Birthers have been mainstreamed, thanks to the GOP Noise Machine. How else would you explain the fact that more than 60 percent of self-indentified Southern Republicans either believe Obama was not born in America or aren't sure?
Birthers have hit critical mass, which became blindingly obvious over the weekend when mainstream GOP star Sarah Palin spoke at a convention that rolled out the red carpet for the No. 1 birther cop.
Again, if Tea Party organizers didn't want the conference to be viewed as a birther clearinghouse, then they shouldn't have invited Farah, whose only real claim to fame in the past year has been his increasingly deranged obsession with Obama's birth certificate. (FoxNews.com on Farah: His "raison d'etre of late has been to challenge Obama's eligibility to be president.")
But they did invite him.
If Tea Party organizers had pangs of guilt after Farah's speech, they could have denounced his comments. Sure, it would have been incredibly hypocritical, since, again, they invited Farah, and everyone in the Nashville ballroom knew what he was going to talk about. But if organizers wanted, for purely political reasons, to retroactively distance themselves from the debunked conspiracy theory, they could have done that.
But nobody did.
Keep in mind that there was online speculation Saturday that conference leaders were going to hold a press conference to downplay the birther angle.
But the press conference never happened.
There was also speculation that Palin might show some courage Saturday night and, from the Tea Party stage, create her own Sister Souljah moment and denounce the birther garbage.
But Palin did not. (Recall that in December, Palin told a radio host the public was "rightfully" making an issue about Obama's birth certificate and that she didn't "have a problem with that." Farah's WND used her comments to highlight its prior "reporting" on Obama's birth certificate and sell its birther swag.)
And wait, didn't conservative media activist Andrew Breitbart call out Farah at the Tea Party convention?
Didn't Breitbart denounce the birther crusade as a "self-indulgent," "narcissistic" "losing issue"? Well, yeah, but that happened outside the convention hall, and out of view of the conventioneers -- not exactly a profile in courage. Meaning Breitbart was reportedly "grumbling audibly" about the birther stuff during Farah's speech, but when Breitbart had the convention stage to himself that night -- when Breitbart followed Farah's crazy remarks -- did Breitbart loudly denounce the birther nonsense in front of the Tea Party convention crowd?
Plus, before Breitbart gets credit for being a conservative voice of reason on the birther obsession, please note that last year, one of Breitbart's own sites, Big Hollywood, routinely pushed the "self-indulgent" birther crap. (e.g. "In Defense of the Birthers.") So it's hard to take Breitbart's sudden birther denunciations seriously.
Let's return to the original what-if scenario, just to stress that if a high-profile liberal netroots conference during the Bush years ever, ever embraced the 9-11 Truther crusade the way Palin's Tea Party convention so publicly did last weekend with birthers, the emerging online progressive movement would have instantly discredited itself in the eyes of corporate media. Adopting a one-strike-you're-out rule, journalists would have gleefully written up the netroots' obituary, denouncing the movement as unserious and unstable. And yes, they would have taken special pleasure in piling on Gore for having anything to do with such an odious event.
But Palin strolling onto the same Tea Party stage after convention-goers gave a birther fanatic a standing ovation? That's just not news, people.
Curse that liberal media!
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