The Phony Populism Of The Tea Crusades

It is beginning to set in amongst some members of the press that the Tea Party “movement” is a mirage that attracts far more attention than its paltry numbers deserve. I wrote about this a couple of months ago in The Tea Party Delusion. It is more true now than ever, and it would serve the media well to acknowledge it and report accurately.

Polls show that Americans are divided on their opinions about Tea Baggers. But the more interesting statistic is that more Americans have either no opinion or have never heard of them at all. This finding is consistent across most major surveys on the subject (all pdf files): NBC/Wall Street Journal: 48%; CNN/Opinion Research: 40%; CBS News: 69%; Washington Post/ABC: 64%; even Fox News/Opinion Dynamics: 44%.

Nevertheless, the media treats this ephemeral blur as if it were a political tsunami. They apparently aren’t reading their own polls. The Tea Baggers Ball last weekend brought about 600 registered attendees to the Opryland Hotel. The National Wild Turkey Conference next week is expecting 40,000 at the same venue. Yet there are no news networks camping outside the hotel salivating at the prospect of interviewing turkey aficionados in Revolutionary War garb.

The good news is that some in the media are starting to emerge from their comas. And it isn’t just a few predictable liberals at the Village Voice. Entrenched establishment pundits like Joe Klein and Mark Halperin have begun to recognize that the reality of the Tea Crusade doesn’t remotely resemble the mythology that has been dominating recent coverage. In a comparison of Sarah Palin to the Tea Partiers, Halperin notes that

“Both have far less support in the country at large than a gullible Old Media seems to understand or suggest. […] Both are the subject of endless fascination by cable TV. […] Both benefit from the extraordinary promotional machine that is the Fox News Channel.”

That last point is particularly salient as Fox News plays a unique role in promoting Tea Baggers and Republicans like Palin. The strategy is to keep their base star-struck, ill-informed, and distracted by tangential, but emotional matters. That’s what makes Palin an important figure in the Tea Crusades. She has the celebrity, the ignorance, and that ability to inspire panic from trifles and lies. Joe Klein observed that what she offered in her convention speech was “drivel” and went on to castigate those who have fallen for her shtick:

“Those who celebrate Sarah Palin’s lack of knowledge as a form of ‘authenticity’ superior to Barack Obama’s gloriously American mongrel ethnicity and self-made intellectuality are representatives of a long-standing American theme–the celebration of sameness, and mediocrity”

President Homer SimpsonThis is something I called Elitistism: the practice of discriminating against those who are perceived to be elite. The goal of Elitistism is to drive from public life anyone who diverges from the sacred visage of American Averagism. Because everyone knows that the guy you’d rather have a beer with is the best qualified to be president. Although the cold brew may have been replaced by the tea bag, and the barfly by the Tea Hag™ (i.e. Sarah Palin). And whatever you do, don’t exhibit any qualities of excellence or intelligence. As I previously wrote, in today’s politics those are flaws that separate you from the masses:

“Education is a key component in this new paradigm. It is absolutely critical that you not have too much of it. And never, ever use the word paradigm. Once the American people get the impression that you know more than they do about issues like economics or foreign policy, you’re disqualified from service. Achievement and expertise only spotlight how different you are from ordinary Americans.”

Hopefully more of the media will soon catch on and realize that the Tea Crusades are a fabrication of lazy and/or biased reporting, and dishonest politicos seeking to exploit a disgruntled demographic. As it stands now they are mostly embarrassing themselves by fawning over fake people and phony populists. They spent tens of thousands of dollars on those polls, they ought to use them. It is time they try reporting on reality for a change.

Bill O’Reilly’s Bald-Faced Lies About His Ratings

On his program Monday, Bill O’Reilly had another episode of Ratings Derangement Syndrome. I first reported this malady exactly one year ago when O’Reilly became unhinged at what he believed was a conspiracy by Nielsen to destroy him:

“The bottom line on this is there may be some big-time cheating going on in the ratings system, and we hope the Feds will investigate. Any fraud in the television rating system affects all Americans.”

Of course the Feds have no oversight authority to investigate private polling firms. And O’Reilly had no evidence of wrongdoing anyway. It’s also interesting to note that O’Reilly has no problems with Nielsen’s data now that they are reporting a rosier picture of his program’s performance. But he still has his knickers in a twist over any media critic who dares to question his primacy. This most recent outburst began with a declaration dripping in hyperbole and delusions of grandeur.

“Fox News is now the most powerful news organization in the United States of America, and that means in the world.”

It is statements like that that require linguists to create new adjectives, because supercilious, delusional, and narcissistic, simply don’t cut it anymore. O’Reilly still doesn’t get that Fox reaches a mere 1% of the American public. The vast majority of news consumers are opting to watch programs other than his. O’Reilly was responding to criticism from Time Magazine’s Joe Klein, who raised O’Reilly’s ire by saying that, “Fox News peddles a fair amount of hateful crap.” O’Reilly ought to be grateful to Klein for being so gentle. The truth is Fox News peddles a huge amount of hateful crap. But instead, O’Reilly’s misguided indignation led him to spew a batch of unmitigated lies:

“Look what’s happened. Fox News thirteen years on the air, OK?. Wipes out every other cable network, OK?. It’s not even close. Now, we’re approaching, the Factor is approaching Katie Couric numbers. We’re real close to Katie Couric numbers. We beat everybody else. Good Morning America. Nightline. I think the Today show is a little bit ahead of us, but it’s close.

First of all, Fox News does not wipe out every other cable network. They lead only amongst cable “news” networks. TBS, ESPN and USA, routinely beat Fox News (it’s not even close), but O’Reilly failed to make that distinction.

Secondly, O’Reilly’s contention that he is approaching Katie Couric numbers is laughable. Primarily because it wouldn’t be that much of a feat. Couric is the worst performing broadcast news program. But to compound his comedic dishonesty, he doesn’t come close to Courics ratings. Couric’s average of approximately 5.5 million is almost twice O’Reilly’s 3 million viewers. and the top rated NBC News brings in about 8.5 million, nearly triple O’Reilly.

Finally, O’Reilly doesn’t beat Good Morning America. Nightline, or the Today show. Setting aside the fact that these shows don’t even compete with O’Reilly, and their time periods have an entirely different potential audience, he still fails to best them. In fact, the Today Show also nearly doubles O’Reilly’s numbers even though it is on in the early morning hours while O’Reilly is on in primetime.. He could have claimed a victory over CBS’s perennial loser, The Early Show, but for some reason didn’t bother.

In the end, this is just another display of O’Reilly’s dishonesty and arrogance. And despite his objections, and his egotistical fantasies, he is only illustrating why knowledgeable observers do not regard Fox as a news network. It is merely a platform for self-serving propaganda, manic paranoia and partisan disinformation.