Hey, remember back in late 2002 and early 2003, when tens of thousands of people showed up for several rallies to protest the looming war in Iraq -- suggesting that maybe a pre-emptive war under false pretenses wasn't the best use of American dollars and lives -- and when the American news media was falling all over itself to get the Iraq war protesters to tell their stories, and what their movement in opposition to the president of the United States was all about?
In that context, the New York Times has just given an extraordinary amount of the most valuable cyber-real-estate in all of journalism to allow 17 supporters of the Tea Party to tell their stories unfiltered, in a feature now getting prominent play on the NYT homepage called "Voices of the Tea Party." As explained by the newspaper:
The New York Times asked supporters of the Tea Party movement to submit videos, up to two minutes long, describing their concerns for the United States and hopes for how the Tea Party could help. Browse their submissions here.
This is not to argue that better understanding the Tea Party movement and its roots is not important -- indeed, I've just spent six months working on a book that will be published in late August that aims to do exactly that. And even a glance at the mosaic of videos is informative as to the face of the Tea Party movement -- it's a cliche at this point, but all 17 of the submitted videos are from white Americans, and the vast majority are middle-aged or senior citizens.
In several of the videos, the complaints are fairly representative -- that Washington is not listening to the majority, that the Obama administration is in some unspecified way violating the Constitution and is steering resources from hard-working Americans to the undeserving, and that Barack Obama has said things that made them uncomfortable. Nancy Ripley, a 74-year-old retired counselor from Apollo Beach, Fla., says that "nobody is taking action for the majority of the American people" and that "we do not want to become a Nanny State"; David Juhl, a 61-year-old trucker from western New York, said he became uncomfortable when Obama spoke "about transforming America into something -- I didn't know what he wanted to transform America into."
And the countervailing voices of the 53 percent of Americans who voted for Obama in 2008, that increasingly silent majority? Whereever they are, they are not in this mosaic of videos or anywhere on the homepage of the nation's most-read newspaper Web site.
Again, it's not that the Tea Party isn't newsworthy. But there's a difference between news and 34 minutes of solicited free advertising.
As noted many times over the years, defensiveness in response to constant accusations of liberal bias is what causes "the so-called liberal media" to bend over backwards and do things institutionally that aren't very liberal at all -- like running unedited videos from only one side of the great American political debate. And when we say one side, remember that the Tea Party is hardly half of the American people -- polls show support for its ultra-conservative views to be largely on the order of 25-28 percent of the electorate, at the most. This backwards bending over increased last year, especially in the wake of the ACORN episode -- which is more than a tad ironic since that story was largely a triumph of conservative misinformation -- and also the Tea Party protests which took the mainstream Big Media outlets by surprise.
Who knows, maybe tomorrow we'll see 17 unedited videos from the Coffee Party.
I'm not holding my breath.