The front page of USA Today August 13 was consumed with an extensive article titled "Faces of the Tea Party: Tea Party members offer ground-level view," which featured anecdotal interviews with ordinary people who agree with the movement. But the article offered no information putting the Tea Party movement in the context of the larger political picture in the U.S. For example, it points out that Tea Party candidates were victorious in primary elections in Colorado, Kentucky, Nevada and Utah, and, while it questions the ability of the candidates to win in the general election in November, it fails to mention that these candidates' victories boost the possibilities that Democrats will prevail in these states. Another significant omission is that article also fails to mention how remarkably far out of the mainstream the many Tea Party candidates' views are. Nevada's victorious Tea Party Senate candidate, Sharron Angle, seeks to dismantle Medicare and Social Security and hand their functions to the private sector. Kentucky's Tea Party Senate candidate, Rand Paul, belongs to a group of physicians who deny the link between HIV and AIDS and argue that Barack Obama controls his audiences through a covert form of hypnosis. Colorado's victorious gubernatorial Tea Party candidate, Dan Maes, told a crowd of supporters that Denver's new bicycle sharing program is really part of a hidden United Nations plot to "rein in American cities," put the environment above citizens' rights, and curtail personal freedoms.
Grassroots + Astroturf = Tea Party
USA Today's article emphasizes the decentralized nature of the Tea Party movement, reinforcing the idea that it is solely a grassroots movement. That has been far from the case. USA Today doesn't mention that, unlike other "grassroots movements," the Tea Party benefits from major media sponsorship by Fox News, and receives financial backing from corporate lobbyists. The article also fails to describe the many factions of the movement and their origins, which are confusing to many: the Tea Party Patriots (arguably the least well funded and most "grassroots" faction of the movement); the for-profit Tea Party Nation (a domestic for-profit business entity that sells baubles like bejeweled tea bags for $89.95 apiece) and the Tea Party Express, which is basically a professional PR campaign sponsored by FreedomWorks, which is headed by former Republican Majority Leader-turned-lobbyist Dick Armey.
What Else USA Today Left Out
The USA Today article gives a thumbnail sketch of what the Tea Party movement signifies to a handful of individuals who identify with it, but fails to tell the real story of the extreme views of many in the party and the huge financial subsidies it receives from corporations and their front groups. The article also perpetuates the idea that the "Tea Party" is purely a grassroots movement, while ignoring important information about what drives the movement financially and logistically, as well as ideologically. Including this information would have given readers a more complete description the what the Tea Party movement is about. USA Today's coverage was a real PR coup for the Tea Party, but fell far short of the kind of skeptical, probing coverage that is warranted.