A recent study was conducted by the University of California at San Francisco that uncovered a connection between the astroturf Tea Party movement and wealthy lobbyists for Big Tobacco. The study documented how tobacco interests formed an organization called Citizens for a Sound Economy in 2002 and later split it into the Tea Party organizers FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity.
Unable to dispute the facts exposed by the study, Fox News published an article attacking the funding which came from the National Cancer Institute, a subsidiary of the National Institutes of Health. The Fox headline blared “Taxpayer dollars used to fund study attempting to link Tea Party to tobacco lobby.”
The entire premise of the article was a transparent defense of the Tea Party, which Fox also helped to create. In fact, without their relentless promotion and free airtime there would have been no Tea Party at all. But having no case to make against the findings of the study, Fox went after a peripheral issue in an attempt to change the subject to the funding source. What they failed to realize is that university studies frequently receive grants from government agencies, particularly those that research public health.
The UCSF study was in no way designed to attack the Tea Party. It was looking into the manner in which the tobacco industry advanced their mission to market their deadly products. It just so happened that the Tea Party connection was unveiled during the course of the study. That connection should not surprise anyone considering that the Tea Party’s first major protest activity was centered on blocking public health care, something the tobacco lobby has opposed for decades because it educated consumers about the dangers of smoking.
The faux outrage now being expressed by Fox does nothing to counter the findings in the study. What it does is chastise institutions who engage in research that benefits the public. By attacking the funding sources Fox is advocating a form of academic censorship and trampling on the free expression of the researchers. It’s rather ironic in that the Tea Party rightists often rail about the interference of big government, but in this incident they are eager to allow the government to dictate to independent institutions what they are, and are not, permitted to study.
If Fox were a legitimate news enterprise they might have chosen to run a story about the merits and/or flaws of the study rather than try to discredit it with snide insinuations that raise phony suspicions about the funding. But since they are Fox they typically chose to trash whatever it is that they regard as contrary to their conservative prejudices, even if their argument makes no sense and contradicts their own principles.