How many times have you heard Tea Party activists derided as an “angry mob” who just don’t appreciate all of the great things Barack Obama has done for the nation? Howard Kurtz, now writing at the Daily Beast, has heard it too often, and writes today about the failure of the mainstream national media to comprehend and report on the grassroots phenomenon in this year’s midterm elections:
The media narrative by now is set in concrete: The voters are teed off, rising up, mad as hell and ready to wreak havoc.
There is a whiff, if you read between the lines, that the expected outcome is somehow unjust. The Democrats are going to get their backsides handed to them, in this telling, because the Obama administration has clumsily failed to explain what it’s done for the folks, and because of slightly scary passions unleashed by the Tea Party crazies.
The journalistic tone was somewhat different in 2006, when exasperated voters handed the House and Senate to the Dems, and 2008, when Barack Obama sold himself as a post-partisan savior.
I’m not saying this is intentional, or that the MSM are mangling the midterms. Many voters are angry, especially about the anemic economy, and it’s their right to toss out whoever they deem to be the bums. But on some level, many journalists believe the White House has accomplished a heckuva lot, and they see the Tea Partiers as inchoate and maddeningly inconsistent—denouncing big bad government while clinging to their Medicare and Social Security benefits. It’s as if the pundits are collectively engaged in a group grope, feeling their way around this strange and sharp-toothed political animal that resembles nothing they’ve encountered before.
Journalists from most national media outlets never bothered to try to get it right. At best, they took the lazy path of looking for the most extreme signs and interviewing the fringe attendees rather than the organizers and mainstream activists. Kurtz is right when he says the tone was much different in 2006, when media outlets ignored the Bush/Hitler signs and the radical groups like International ANSWER and World Can’t Wait who routinely organized turnout for demonstrations. While a few journalists did the footwork and presented a balanced view of the Tea Party movement in 2010, the meme has mainly been one of irrational opposition to Obama despite the very rational motivators of low economic growth, high unemployment, a collapsing housing market that still hasn’t righted itself, and spiraling debt and spending by Democrats.
This began, Kurtz hypothesizes, in the media’s tongue-bath coverage of the Obama campaign in 2007-8, setting up memes which the media in general seems loathe to contradict even now:
The biggest media blunder, in my view, was the walk-on-water coverage that Obama drew in 2007 and 2008. The only real debate was whether he was more like FDR (Time) or Lincoln (Newsweek). The candidate obviously played a role in creating his own myth, but it was the breathless media that sent expectations soaring into the stratosphere. Once Obama had to grapple with two wars, a crippled economy and reflexive Republican opposition, he had no place to go but down. The press has long since fallen out of love with the president, but the overheated hyperbole did him no favors.
Hyperbole aside, Democrats campaigned as fiscally responsible in both 2006 and 2008 in winning control of Congress and then the White House. Obama himself campaigned as a post-partisan moderate who would work with Republicans for common-sense solutions. Democrats have increased annual federal spending by 38% — over a trillion dollars — since taking control of the budget for FY2008, added almost $5 trillion to the national debt, and spent most of the past two years pushing through a federal takeover of the nation’s health-care system that most voters didn’t want. Nancy Pelosi locked Republicans out of writing the stimulus and budget legislation, and on the third day of his presidency, Obama endorsed that move with his “I won.”
In what universe would that not make voters angry? Their motivation isn’t “inchoate” at all, a fancy word journalists use instead of “I haven’t bothered to find out what people want.” Democrats have spent so much in three years that they’ve managed to make the 2001-6 Republicans look like Ebenezer Scrooge in comparison and have stunted economic growth through massive expansions in regulation. Voters want it all reversed and to start shrinking the federal government before we follow Greece into default. If the media would remove their lips from Obama’s posterior and actually talk with people in the Tea Party movement, they wouldn’t be missing one of the most intriguing and impactful grassroots political movements in decades.
Update: Ace is less than impressed:
Gee, seems if that insight were more internalized all this crap about the tea party being unreality based would be seen as the rubbish it is.
Who’d’ve thought? Voters want results, not rhetoric.
But in Howard Kurtz’s liberal media bubble, that’s still a controversial proposition. Good intentions ought to count, apparently, but only, of course, with liberals.
To be fair, I think Kurtz was arguing that it’s not controversial, and in fact rather simple, but otherwise the entire post is a great rant. Be sure to read it.
Update II: I’ve been getting e-mails and Twitter messages all day about the headline and its arguably suggestive use of the word “blowing.” I certainly didn’t have that meaning in mind when I wrote it (“Kurtz: The mainstream media is blowing the midterms, Tea Party”), but I have to admit to being amused by it enough to let it slide for a couple of hours. Notice that I’ve now added “coverage of” to clarify my original meaning.