Are We Paying Too Much Attention to Tea Parties?

Politico reporters to the media: "Yes!"

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Tea Parties have gotten a ton of media coverage. Have they gotten, in fact, too much coverage, such that the media exaggerates the movement's importance? Jonathan Martin and Ben Smith argue so in Politico today, sniffing at the media's dramatic turn from indifference to "manic obsession" with Tea Partiers. Are they right?

  • Overhyping  Martin and Smith say news organizations, seeking to make up for past neglect of the Tea Parties, have overcompensated. The 10,000 Tea Partiers on the national Mall got more press than "the tens of thousands who marched in support of immigration reform in March." Conservatives like the stories about opposition to President Obama, while "the left sees them as evidence of incipient fascism," giving both sides an incentive to play up the Tea Partiers. Meanwhile, the East Coast media may be a little too fascinated with, as Republican consultant Alex Castellanos puts it, "peasants" in revolt.
  • Yes and No  The Washington Post's Dave Weigel calls this last charge regarding "young [reporters']" overexcitement at seeing red state protestors "loaded." He responds by saying that, "if a political movement, however loosely aggregated, is driving the policies of one party, it deserves copious and probing coverage." He also thinks the reason the Tea Parties have been covered more than the anti-war protests under Bush has to do with partisan media:
Fox News has egged the rest of the media on to follow its lead--and try and compete for its surging viewership--by covering tea parties. Talking Points Memo, the Huffington Post, and MSNBC are on a constant search for outrageous tea party stories, photos, and videos, all of it in demand by a readership that's angry at these protesters trying to bring down the president and Congress they worked so hard to elect. By contrast, there was no right/left interest in more coverage of war protests.
  • Fox Has Been Overhyping--And We've Been Following  Left-leaning Kevin Drum says this just goes to show how much influence Fox has. The Tea Parties, he says, are actually a smaller manifestation of conservative discontent than "either the Birchers of the 60s or the anti-Clinton wingnuts of the 90s. That is, the power of populist conservatism has actually declined over time."
  • The Ups and Downs of Media Narratives  This is nothing more than the downward end of the typical cycle when it comes to media fascination with any given topic, decides Glynnis MacNicol at Mediaite.
After nearly a month of heavy Tea Party coverage (something needed to fill the HCR gap!), which itself followed months of intermittent Tea Party coverage the media may be discovering they have squeezed all they can out of the Tea Partiers. Cue the new narrative: Actually the Tea Partiers aren’t that important.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.