Published April 16, 2009
For thousands of Americans, Tax Day was a moment to protest what they see as bloated budgets and a pile of debt being passed on to their children.
For CNN, MSNBC and other media outlets, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to use the word "teabagging" in a sentence.
Teabagging, for those who don't live in a frat house, refers to a sexual act involving part of the male genitalia and a second person's face or mouth.
So when the anti-tax "tea party" protests were held Wednesday across the country, cable anchors and guests -- who for weeks had all but ignored the story -- covered the protests by cracking a litany of barely concealed sexual references.
CNN anchor Anderson Cooper interspersed "teabagging" references with analyst David Gergen's more staid commentary on how Republicans are still "searching for their voice."
"It's hard to talk when you're teabagging," Cooper explained. Gergen laughed, but Cooper kept a straight face.
MSNBC's David Shuster weaved a tapestry of "Animal House" humor Monday as he filled in for Countdown host Keith Olbermann.
The protests, he explained, amount to "Teabagging day for the right wing and they are going nuts for it."
He described the parties as simultaneously "full-throated" and "toothless," and continued: "They want to give President Obama a strong tongue-lashing and lick government spending." Shuster also noted how the protesters "whipped out" the demonstrations this past weekend.
Tea Party participants were not amused. The events were held in dozens of cities across the country, and while some demonstrators were criticized for wielding off-topic and sometimes insensitive protest signs, most took to the streets to speak out against government spending.
Brent Bozell, president of the conservative Media Research Center, said the media coverage was "insulting," reacting specifically to CNN reporter Susan Roesgen's combative interviews with Illinois demonstrators in which she declared that the protests were "anti-CNN" and supported by FOX News. She left the teabagging jokes to her colleagues, though.
"I've never seen anything like it," Bozell said. "The oral sex jokes on (CNN) and particularly MSNBC on teabagging ... they had them by the dozens. That's how insulting they were toward people who believe they're being taxed too highly."
Max Pappas, public policy vice president at FreedomWorks -- a small-government group which promoted the tea parties -- said it's a "shame" media outlets cracked jokes at a genuine "grassroots uprising."
"I think what that reveals is how worried they are that this might actually be something serious. You make fun of things you're afraid of, I'd say," Pappas said.
If anyone thinks the orally charged remarks on mainstream cable were just a coincidence, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow's segments over the past week with guest, Air America's Ana Marie Cox, would dissolve all doubt. Their on-air gymnastics, dancing around the double entendre of the week, looked like live-action Beavis and Butthead.
By one count, the two of them used the word "teabag" more than 50 times on one show. And on Monday, Cox even let the viewers in on their joke -- referencing Urbandictionary.com, a site which offers a number of colorful definitions for the term "teabagging."
"Well, there is a lot of love in teabagging," Cox said. "It is curious, though, as you point out, they do not use the verb 'teabag.' It might be because they're less enthusiastic about teabagging than some of the more corporate conservatives who seem to have taken to it quite easily."
Jenny Beth Martin, a Republican activist who helped organize one protest in Atlanta, said she's not too worried about the protests being dismissed by some media outlets. She estimated 750,000 people attended more than 800 protests in all 50 states, and that at the very least the local media and community newspapers documented it.
"Our message definitely got out where it needed to get," she said.