Tiny Tea Party Rally vs. Large Progressive Rally: Which Gets More Beltway Ink?

by Leslie Savan on August 1, 2011

On July 28, an American Dream Movement rally demanding a debt deal that “protects seniors and makes corporations and the rich pay [their] fair share” drew a significantly larger crowd than a Tea Party rally a day earlier that essentially demanded the opposite. Both were held on Capitol Hill, both focused on the same ginned-up debt ceiling “crisis,” but you’d be hard-pressed to find the Beltway media noting the difference in crowd size — or even reporting on the progressive rally at all.

Wednesday’s conservative rally, organized by the Tea Party Express, was a bust: only about fifty people showed up to see presidential candidate Herman Cain and hear Senators Jim DeMint, Rand Paul and Mike Lee speak. “It had all the makings of a big time Tea Party rally,” wrote Politico. But “by the time the senators had spoken there were still fewer than 50 tea partiers in attendance.”

But then, Thursday’s American Dream rally — organized by MoveOn, Rebuild the Dream, AFSCME and AFGE, and featuring speakers like Van Jones and Representatives Keith Ellison and Jan Schakowsky — clocked in an estimated 450–500 people, according to the coalition. Oddly, though, as of twenty-four hours later, Politico didn’t mention it. CNN.com, meanwhile, talked up the Tea Party rally both the day before it took place and afterward — when it spun the measly crowd (and its own pre-event notice) by writing: “Don’t be fooled by the tiny turnout at the Tea Party rally on Capitol Hill Wednesday. The conservative movement doesn’t much need rallies anymore. November 2010 changed all of that.”

That’s a handy excuse. And maybe that’s why CNN.com didn’t bother to mention the American Dream rally at all. What could it have said?: “Don’t be fooled by the larger turnout at the progressive rally on Capitol Hill Thursday. The liberal movement desperately needs rallies. November 2010 made it so”?

Thursday’s rally was built on the progressive coalition’s mass action on Tuesday: 20,000 people protesting the various debt deals at more than 800 Congressional offices across the country. For those smaller rallies, MoveOn’s Justin Ruben told me, “We received a huge amount of local coverage, and very little national coverage.”

Readers, if I’ve missed any mainstream reporting on the big American Dream rally, let me know. But I won’t hold my breath. For the most part, the corporate media has been Pavlovian in breathlessly covering even the tiniest Tea Party event — really, anyone tripping into a public space wearing a tricorn hat will do — while virtually ignoring similar gatherings with a progressive tilt. (Exception proving the rule: the Madison, Wisconsin, rallies were too massive to ignore.)

Compare, for instance, how the mainstream media handled the Tea-Partyed-up town hall meetings protesting healthcare reform during the summer of 2009 to this year’s town halls protesting the GOP bill that would end Medicare, as Rachel Maddow did in April. If the Beltway media treats Tea Partyers like celebrities, it covers liberals, she said, “almost as foreign news.”

And it’s just that sort of double standard that helped create the myth of the Tea Party’s power before which an insane Washington, DC, believes it must genuflect.

That is, the media helped manufacture the Tea Party’s power every bit as much as the Tea Party manufactured our current debt “crisis.”

This piece was first published at The Nation’s blog.

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