Friday, April 17, 2009
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. You know, most weeks we could say something about FOX News, like Bill O’Reilly’s show stalking critics with camera crews, for example, but usually we don't, partly because FOX News won't talk to us and partly because, well, it gets boring. But this week, FOX News crossed a line by actively embracing – some would say cosponsoring, some might say co-opting – the tax day anti-tax and government spending tea parties across the country.
[SOUND OF CROWD IN BACKGROUND]
MALE CORRESPONDENT: Americans outraged over unfair and crippling taxes as they fight for their future.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: Glenn Beck’s at the Alamo, Neil Cavuto’s live in Sacramento and Greta is in Washington, D.C. Can't get to a tea party? Fox Nation hosts a virtual tea party and you can check it out on the site for the location of a tea party in your area -
MALE CORRESPONDENT: As tea parties sweep the nation, we're there with total, fair and balanced network coverage, live.
[END CLIPS] Was FOX News covering a news event or helping to create one? That’s what FOX News’ Neil Cavuto wanted to know.
NEIL CAVUTO: Young lady, you’re here. You don't have to be here. Tell the truth. Was it the rally, or me?
WOMAN: Neil, I am a huge fan of yours.
WOMAN: Number one! FOX is number one!
WOMAN: It was both.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Was this a grass roots expression of a widely held frustration or an anti-Obama rally organized by right-wing pundits and politicians – or both? The mainstream media, except for FOX News, couldn't quite make up their mind, being generally leery of rallies and marches, which, after all, are crafted as media events. That’s why during the Bush Administration the media were repeatedly slammed by the left for under-covering antiwar rallies while flocking like pigeons to events staged by politicians. So maybe FOX News regular Michelle Malkin was right.
MICHELLE MALKIN: The reason the mainstream media, most of the mainstream media –
[CROWD CHEERING IN BACKGROUND] - isn’t covering it is because they don't believe it’s real. This is real. These people are here, and they're here to stay.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Ditto, said former House Majority Leader, Republican Dick Armey, whose group Freedom Works was a cosponsor of the tea parties.
DICK ARMEY: This is a bona fide American uprising of real people.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Maybe. As FOX News’ Glenn Beck sagely observed, the mainstream media – except for FOX News – just doesn't understand real people.
GLENN BECK: I don't think they are capable of understanding.
[CROWD CHEERING] But since the media and Stephen Colbert are watching, I'm going to speak very, very slowly.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Certainly MSNBC’s left-leaning anchors saw the day as a moveable feast of freaks and devoted many minutes to teabag jokes. But most of the coverage focused on whether this event, sponsored in part by Armey’s group Freedom Works and promoted by Republican elder statesman Newt Gingrich, was truly non-partisan and whether, having been largely promoted by conservative talk radio and FOX News, it was genuinely grassroots. After all, even some of the event’s organizers say they were inspired by another media event, CNBC’s Rick Santelli’s made-for-TV rant from the Chicago trading floor a couple of months back, when he told Obama that the people didn't want him to bail out the mortgages of losers, but instead:
RICK SANTELLI: Reward people that could carry the water instead of drink the water.
RICK SANTELLI: Who thought of that?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: That got the crowd going.
RICK SANTELLI: We're thinking of having a Chicago tea party in July.
[MAN LAUGHS]] All you capitalists that want to show up to Lake Michigan, I'm going to start organizing.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It was a great TV moment, and the CNBC folks wanted it to last.
WOMAN: Hey, Rick, can you do that one more time, just get the mob behind you again? I loved it.
MAN: And have the camera pull way out.
MAN: You can't just do it at will, can you, Rick?
WOMAN: Yeah, do it at will, let's see.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And he did, which seems to be what FOX News was trying to do on Wednesday. Some of the event’s organizers have mixed feelings about that.