Who were those guys?

dont-tread-on-me-banner2Here in Beltway land, people are still buzzing a bit about the whole Tea Bag and Talk Radio festival — to use the most common mainstream media images — that drew tens of thousands (police no longer give specific estimates in this cautious age) of protesters to the National Mall.

Demonstrations of these kinds offer interesting choices for reporters.

Think of this rally, in a way, as a conservative version of a gay-rights march in San Francisco. Everyone knows that there are going to be some wild people in these scenes, people wearing interesting clothes and shouting wild things, perhaps even while armed with signs that are blunt, to say the least.

Reporters can focus on the wild people, of course, and there are journalistic reasons to do this. However, at some point one needs to ask this question: Is it fair and, yes, accurate to give the wild minority a major role or even the major role in this news story? Are these people typical of their cause?

I have attended plenty of rallies against abortion in which a few bizarre people with bloody posters received far more media attention than the throngs of ordinary teachers, pastors, pro-life teen-angers and post-abortion women who were present at the same event. This is kind of like covering a gay-rights march and only writing about the leather-clad lesbian bikers and the male pseudo nuns, while ignoring the ranks of ordinary gay and lesbian parents, teachers, clergy, etc.

So I am, at this point, a bit curious about this past Saturday’s rally. I would like to know more about who was there and why they were there. In particular, it is hard for me to imagine a major conservative event today without a strong “Christian right” presence of some kind (although you know I am not fond of that label).

Several GetReligionistas are interested in writing about this event and our own MZ Hemingway was there as a press-card carrying reporter, so I am sure that her observations (when she can grab some time to write, while traveling) will be interesting. I will focus on the Washington Post report, which begins:

Tens of thousands of conservative protesters, many complaining that the nation is racing toward socialism, massed outside the U.S. Capitol on Saturday, angrily denouncing President Obama’s health-care plan and other initiatives as threats to the Constitution.

The crowd — loud, animated and sprawling — gathered at the West Front of the Capitol after a march along Pennsylvania Avenue NW from Freedom Plaza. Invocations of God and former president Ronald Reagan by an array of speakers drew loud cheers that echoed across the Mall. On a windy, overcast afternoon, hundreds of yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flags flapped in the breeze. …

The demonstrators are part of a loose-knit movement that is galvanizing anti-Obama sentiment across the country, stoking a populist dimension to the Republican Party, which has struggled to find its voice since the 2008 elections.

Gosh, God and Ronald Reagan. That sounds pretty normal to me.

gadsden-flagLater on, we are given some additional information on the content of the rally, in terms of the signs spotted in the crowd. Methinks the reporters present are giving us some of the milder content:

Saturday’s demonstrators spanned the spectrum of conservative anger at Obama, including opponents of his tax, spending and health-care plans and protesters who question his U.S. citizenship and compare his administration to the Nazi regime.

Most signs were handmade: “Socialism is UnAmerican,” “King George Didn’t Listen Either!” “Terrorists Won’t Destroy America, Congress Will!” and “The American Dream R.I.P.” Many protesters carried the now-familiar poster of Obama made up to look like the Joker, captioned “Socialism.”

There are people there who want to fight to keep their guns, of course, and the word “socialism” did seem to be the scary word of the day.

But if this rally “spanned the spectrum of conservative anger at Obama” and God talk was common, we really need to know more about the content of the rally, don’t we? I imagine that there were speeches that that crowd thought were important, if not the reporters. Other than one-liners, what did the major speakers say? Were there any famous religious leaders? In other words, if reporters are going to drag God into this scene, they really need to offer some content to justify doing that, in my humble opinion.

The bottom line: Was this, in reality, a secular rally rooted in the anger and content of talk radio, a format in which many of the listeners are religious believers but the loud talkers — think Rush Limbaugh — are actually secular folks who lean toward moral libertarianism?

Just asking.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • liberty

    “Tea Bag and Talk Radio festival”

    Did you really have to write that? Couldn’t you have called it the ‘Tea Party’ protest the way that the participants do?

    Those who are opposed to this (even those in the media) have tried to denigrate it by using a term from sexual behavior (‘teabagging’). I am surprised that you are participating in that.

    I don’t really see it as a ‘talk radio’ event either. More of a blog thing really. I know that many people in the media look down on those who listen to talk radio and the use of the term is an implicit dismissal. I would not have thought you would have done that.

    In my experience this hasn’t been a particularly religious movement. Just the people participants are those from fly over country who the media just paints with the ‘religious nuts’ brush whenever given the chance. The template for us is set and the media reporting on it was shoved into that ‘bitter clinger’ box.

  • JasonS

    Try resistnet.com for info.

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  • Paul of Alexandria

    Echo #1.

    BTW, there were upwards of a million participants.

    See also
    A Former Radical Goes Back to the Future at the 9/12 March
    9/12 Tea Parties Galvanized by Health Care Reform
    Debate Over Tea Party Protest Numbers Masks the Real History Made

    Talk radio actually had little to do with this, other than spreading the word of its occurance. Rush Limbaugh, for instance, deliberately said nothing about the rally beforehand, precisely so that nobody could say that he was behind it.

  • Dave

    Tmatt, reading your and Mollie’s remarks and looking at the PBS and MSM coverage I follow (none of which, btw, used the phrase “teabag and talk radio”), my gut feeling is that what we see is what we got, a tipping-point reaction against the expansion of government already accomplished (some of it Obama’s and some going back to the last hours of Bush) and promised (Obama). …

  • JustMe

    Who are we? We are Americans. We are not left, we are not right, we are not conservatives, we are not liberals, we are not racist, we are not hateful and we sure aren’t radicals of any sense of the term. We are the silent majority who have made the decision to be silent no more.

  • Jettboy

    “But if this rally “spanned the spectrum of conservative anger at Obama” and God talk was common, we really need to know more about the content of the rally, don’t we? I imagine that there were speeches that that crowd thought were important, if not the reporters. Other than one-liners, what did the major speakers say?”

    I know you were asking this in context of the coverage, but it was really easy to find out for yourself. C-Span, both on its program and online, showed 3 hours of the event. There were some who spoke about religious matters. Mostly, however, it was more than anything about getting the government out of people’s lives and letting the free market get some breathing room. I think the Democrats are in trouble this next cycle. They have pushed their agendas while calling the opposition names and accusing them of lying without serious discussion. Guess what, the opposition happen to be normal voters – even Independents.

    What the Iraq war might have done for Liberals, Health Care and Bailouts (starting with Bush) has done with Conservatives. Those who think this is all about Obama haven’t been paying attention. Liberals and the media who support them dismiss these Tea Party participants at their own risk.


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