Unsurprisingly, the media covered Sarah Palin’s address at the Tea Party convention in Nashville with unprecedented levels of enthusiasm for a fringe political movement. To be sure, if hundreds of radical leftists gathered for a meet n’ greet, CNN would not show up to document the event.
Yet, there were the mainstream media’s cameras to capture every crazy second of Palin sharing the same stage with Joseph Farah, a man who promotes the birth certificate conspiracy theory and hates gay people, except the cameras seemed to miss Farah’s fruitcake moment in the spotlight, and instead focused almost exclusively on Palin’s cheat notes.
Eric Boehlert offers a hypothetical to illustrate the media’s unique relationship with the right:
What if, in 2006, at Yearly Kos, the first annual convention of liberal bloggers and their readers, organizers shelled out $100,000 for former Vice President Al Gore to address attendees? And what if the same organizers booked as an opening-night speaker a fringe, radical-left conspiracy theorist who’d spent the previous year pushing the thoroughly debunked claim that some Bush White administration insiders played a role in, and even planned, the 9-11 attacks. What if the speaker (also proudly anti-Semitic) received a standing ovation from the liberal Yearly Kos crowd?
Given that backdrop, and given the fact that the 9-11 Truther nut had for weeks bragged about his chance to share the stage with Gore, do you think the press would have demanded that Gore justify his association with a hateful conference that embraced a 9-11 Truther? Do you think pundits would have universally mocked and ridiculed Gore’s judgment while condemning the Yearly Kos convention as being a hothouse of left-wing hate? Do you think Gore’s appearance would have become a thing?
Media representatives may respond that the Tea Party movement is special, and gaining momentum, but Yglesias reports that teabaggers don’t seem to hold more sway than other popular conspiracy theories or political ideologies. According to a Des Moines register poll, a third of Iowans from across the political spectrum say they support the Tea Party movement, but as Yglesias points out
55 percent of Americans say they’re personally protected by a guardian angel. 38 percent of Americans have a favorable view of Cuba and 36 percent are favorably disposed toward socialism, but I don’t see anyone writing newspaper articles about how a populist wave of socialism is sweeping the country. The number of Iowans who like the tea party movement is smaller than the number of Americans who want marijuana legalized or the number of Americans who believe the government has had secret contact with extra-terrestrials.
Surely, dissatisfaction with the government is widespread, and rightfully so. But instead of accurately diagnosing the causes of that discontent, populist leaders have seized upon the anger and harnessed it — not to reform a political and economic system that heavily favors oligarchical plutocrats– but to blame scapegoats (”the blacks,” “the Progressives,” “the Mexicans,” “the gays,” etc.)
This tends to happen during tough economic times. Demagogues like Farah, Palin, and Beck are the loudest assholes in the room, and with enough confidence and cameras pointed their way, they can quickly gain legitimacy. People are ready to believe in something — anything — that will help them, and whether that’s the Tea Party movement, or aliens, they’ll march under that unified banner all the way to DC.
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– Allison Kilkenny