The response to the arrival of these concerned citizens by the media was comical. It reminded me of nothing so much as those network reporters, back in the mid-Seventies, doing stand-ups from the nicely trimmed lawn of the Baptist church in Plains, Ga. These drop-in correspondents would interview Jimmy Carter’s fellow parishioners and report, with a mixture of smirk and befuddlement, “Many of these Carter supporters, David, say they have been ‘born again.’” The network types might as well have been saying: “Many of these Carter supporters, Walter, say that they arrived last night from the Planet Dweebo.” There are certain political stories that only political reporters are perfectly equipped to misunderstand. This was one of them. Those supporters who said they had been born again were the base of the Carter campaign, and, in the tens of millions, they carried him to the White House.
Just so with the new citizen group. The media refused to believe that the new group was a genuine political force. Why, they had no headquarters on K Street. They had no talking heads. They didn’t even have a PR guy. “Heck,” said the cable talkers to each other. “They can’t be that important. I’ve asked my neighbors in Georgetown, and nobody knows anything about them.”
For the national media, the concept of American citizens assembling freely to exercise their constitutional rights was beyond their ken. These citizens were off the media grid, every bit as invisible as those born-again Christians 40 years earlier. And so, as we have seen over the past few years, the national political press, its analytical powers exhausted, slipped into default mode. These concerned citizens, whoever they were, must be . . . racists. The ones, that is, who weren’t homophobes or domestic terrorists.