Wed, 15 Apr 2009 01:21:34 +0000 – By Dan GainorVice PresidentBusiness Media Institute
If you build it, they will come. It's a truism we've believed in for a long, long time. But forget the baseball reference. It is as outdated as the year "Field of Dreams" was released -- 1989.
Tea party tax protesters know why. The metaphor is a lie -- at least as far as the mainstream media are concerned. If you do something of note and the media choose not to cover it -- the issue might just as well not exist.
Such is the fate of Wednesday's national Tax Day Tea Party. This mega-gathering of tax protesters is scheduled for every single Congressional district in the country. More than 500 events are planned. And the national news media have either been silent or shown contempt for the effort.
That's not journalism, its blatant censorship that would amaze even George Orwell.
The Big Three broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS, and NBC -- have only mentioned the tea parties in passing and they've only done it three times. This is especially ironic since NBC's sister network CNBC gave rise to the movement when reporter Rick Santelli ranted about government overspending and talked about having a "Chicago tea party." Now the other NBC network -- MSNBC -- has been reduced to making juvenile sexual comments about the event.
The Washington Post has been even worse than the networks. The paper has only mentioned the movement once in a news story: in a "brief" that ran in a suburban edition. Two major tea parties are planned for Washington this week and the only Post readers who have a clue about what's going on live in Prince William County. Or, hopefully, rely on media other than just The Post.
The New York Times tried a different tack. That paper has mentioned tea parties six times -- and five of those have been to disparage and undermine them. The paper questioned Santelli's involvement and said the rant only "appeared spontaneous." An April 7 piece by Lawrence Downes mocked a Northport, N.Y. tea party as "a day for brandishing signs, shouting imprecations, and donning silly clothing." Columnist Frank Rich claimed the Santelli "bonfire fizzled" and columnist Paul Krugman called the tea parties "AstroTurf (fake grass roots) events."
This tax day, hundreds of thousands of hard-working, taxpaying Americans will prove Krugman and the rest of traditional media wrong. They have had to rely on new technologies like Twitter and Facebook to do something as old as civilization itself -- protest. But they shouldn't have to do so.
The Times famously claims it publishes "All The News That's Fit to Print." In practice, they publish whatever they want or whatever they agree with. Journalists are obligated to cover the news and it's impossible to argue that nationwide protests are not news.
When California passed Proposition 8, the Times ran 11 stories detailing the pro-gay marriage protests that followed. One Associated Press story it ran was quick to point out that "about 1,000 advocates of equal rights for gay people" attended a protest. A Nov. 16 story emphasized some "4,000 people gathered at City Hall" and took pains to mention that comedian Wanda Sykes "surprised a crowd of more than 1,000."
The Washington Post did eight stories detailing the Proposition 8 protests. The big networks did 19. Both CBS and NBC mentioned that there were "about 2,000 people" protesting at the Long Beach rally.
By contrast, attendance at the Feb. 27 tea parties was ignored by the networks. Roughly 30,000 people tried to make their voices heard at 50 events around the country. Five thousand people showed their anger over taxes and spending in Orlando and another 5,000 in Cincinnati. "One of the biggest protests so far drew 15,000 on March 8 in Fullerton, Calif.," according to Investors Business Daily.
The Facebook page devoted to the tea parties alone has more than 30,000 members. Top conservatives on Twitter -- one of the event sponsors -- has more than 4,000 members. Surely someone at the major networks has a Facebook page or knows a Tweet from a Twit. If not, perhaps they can find an 8-year-old to explain it to them.
While they are at it, have that same 8-year-old go over the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. Maybe that's what it would take to remind journalists one of their primary duties is "providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues." Remember, "comprehensive" means not just the issues you support.
A quick skim of the code shows that journalists are violating several of the guidelines by not covering the tea parties. "Journalists should: Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant."
That's another one of those crazy old-time dreams. The only open exchange of views now occurs despite the national news media -- not because of it.
Fortunately, protest has a way of surviving even in times of media censorship. But the next time you see stories about more media layoffs or newspapers closing down, you, and hundreds of thousands of tax protesters, will know why.
Dan Gainor is The Boone Pickens Fellow and Vice President of the Media Research Center's Business Media Institute. His column appears each week on The Fox Forum and he can be seen each Thursday on Foxnews.com's "Strategy Room."