In an article on the big Tea Party movement gathering in Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid’s hometown, USA Today today used this boilerplate language to explain who the movement’s members are.
The tea party movement is a far-flung coalition of conservative groups angered by Washington spending, rising taxes and the growth and reach of government. It takes its name from the Boston Tea Party in 1773, when colonists dumped tea off English ships to protest what they considered unfair taxation by the British crown.
The article continued like this:
Saturday’s rally kicks off a 42-city bus tour that ends in Washington on April 15, the deadline for filing federal income tax returns.
Leonard Grimes, a 70-year-old retired logger, said the U.S. is drifting toward socialism, and he’s not convinced Obama is eligible to be president.
“I’d like him to prove he’s an American citizen,” said Grimes …
There is nothing glaringly unusual about this kind of journalistic writing. It’s pretty typical of news stories. I also happen to believe it’s misleading, particularly in a society where most people are not all that well informed.
First, let’s consider the contextual paragraph. The paper establishes the roots and role of the Tea Party in language the party most certainly would embrace. The definition makes the movement out to be a group of reasonable folks, against big spending and high taxes. It even embraces the movement’s clever propaganda by buying its link to the American Revolution.
But would it be any less accurate to describe the movement as “a far flung coalition of disenfranchised Americans, alienated from government because of persistently high unemployment and their perception that working class, white America is losing its influence and quality of living?” I don’t think so. But that wouldn’t sound as “neutral” because it could be construed as negative.
And that’s just the boilerplate.
Now let’s look at the quote that follows. It again raises a weary, discredited and utterly specious attack on the president as some strange “foreigner” who has illegally usurped power.
Why does the press continue to repeat this horse manure (and I’m damn well tempted to call it something stronger)? When they raise this “birther” smear, do reporters see no responsibility to point out that Obama not only was born in Hawaii, but that his birth certificate has been authenticated many times over?
I have a hunch. I’ll bet news organizations believe they’re subtly showing some of the more extreme beliefs of Tea Partiers by posting quotes such as this one by the old logger without comment or evidence refuting them. Unfortunately, a whole lot of Americans don’t seem to know fact from fantasy. As a Harris Poll reported last week, 25 percent of Americans and 45 percent of Republicans believe the president was born in another country.
When the news media repeat falsehood without challenging it, without pointing out the factual truth, they run the risk of reinforcing destructively fanciful views. That’s not “objective” reporting. It’s mindless reporting.
Barack Obama, of course, is no socialist and there is overwhelming evidence to suggest otherwise. But given his liberal views on some issues, perhaps that would be hard to prove.
It is not, however, difficult to prove where he was born. Furthermore, it’s been done. When mainstream news organizations, despite this, repeat nonesense mouthed by ignorant people in a movement pining for an America that no longer exists, as Charles Blow points out in today’s New York Times, those news organizations become part of the problem — part of the reason fact-based journalism is having a hard time being heard over the propagandists.