The media meme of the “Tea Party is nothing more than angry white men” continues to disintegrate under close scrutiny. After two pollsters (one Gallup) revealed that the demographics of the Tea Party movement closely parallels that of Americans in general, CNN decided to embed itself in the long series of events taking place in April. Shannon Travis reports that the Tea Party does indeed look like America — and the only bigotry he encountered was over his rental-car choice:
But here’s what you don’t often see in the coverage of Tea Party rallies: Patriotic signs professing a love for country; mothers and fathers with their children; African-Americans proudly participating; and senior citizens bopping to a hip-hop rapper.
Last week, I saw all of this during a five-city Western swing as the Tea Party Express national tour made its way across the country. CNN was along for the ride, and I was charged with planning CNN’s coverage for five stops in two states: St. George, Provo and Salt Lake City, Utah; and Grand Junction and Denver, Colorado. …
Together, we beamed out images of the anger and the optimism, profiled African-Americans who are proud to be in the Tea Party’s minority and showed activists stirred by “God Bless America” or amused by a young rapper who strung together rhymes against the president and Democrats. …
Being at a Tea Party rally is not quite like seeing it on TV, in newspapers or online. That’s the reason CNN is covering this political movement — and doing so in ways few others can or choose to do.
It is important to show the colorful anger Americans might have against elected leaders and Washington. But people should also see the orange-vested Tea Party hospitality handlers who welcome you with colorful smiles.
Travis, an African-American producer from a high-profile mainstream media outlet (one that routinely disparaged attendees as “teabaggers,” a sexual slur), might have been expected to encounter a double dose of hostility from Tea Partiers, if previous media coverage of the movement is to be believed. Instead, as he writes, he was warmly welcomed — even if he did arrive in a Volvo:
Speaking of stereotypes, I did get a few curious stares as I pulled up to the rallies. But not because of my skin color. It was because of my car rental: a Volvo.
I hadn’t intended to rent a Volvo, a car stereotyped as the favorite of liberal elites. But upon arriving at the Las Vegas airport, the rental company was out of American-made cars with a GPS system and satellite radio. I had nearly a thousand miles of driving ahead, through desert, mountains and cities. Since it had GPS and satellite radio, the Volvo fit the bill.
Dave Weigel, who just started covering conservative activism for the Washington Post in his new blog Right Now, points out the change in CNN’s coverage that comes with actual reporting rather than counter-activism:
It’s been almost a year since CNN’s Susan Roesgen became tea party public enemy No. 1 for a combative segment she filmed at an event in Chicago. This is how coverage of the tea party has evolved.
When media outlets send reporters, they can discover the truth on their own. When they send hacks, their viewers get the kind of distorted coverage that has typified the Tea Party reporting until now. There’s a lesson in there somewhere for media outlets, and kudos to CNN for making the effort to do their jobs correctly.
Update: Meanwhile, Accuracy in Media points out what the media didn’t see at a left-wing rally last week.