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Tea bag protests turn cable TV news' emotional hype machine into overdrive



Beck-tea-party  Is there anything uglier than watching a news network take advantage of the public's fear and uncertainty to boost its own power?

That's the notion tickling the back of my mind today, watching cable TV's so-called "news coverage" of these anti-tax "tea parties" organized by conservative groups across the nation.

Fox News Channel has covered these events like a national election -- or, as Los Angeles Times media critic James Rainey noted in an insightful column, the Super Bowl -- with crowds of supporters at the Alamo in Texas, rock guitarist Ted Nugent and lots of supportive comments from both pundits and supposed news anchors.

MSNBC anchors had been lampooning the planned protests, with host Rachel Maddow featuring Time magazine blogger Ana Marie Cox joking about the more salacious definition of the term "tea bagging."

I find myself repulsed, angered and frightened by this deluge of misleading nonsense presented everywhere. I'm sure there are people who are genuinely angered and worried about the tremendous amount of spending and deficits created by the Obama administration's current fiscal policy.

Newteaparty But sober, rational discussion of those issues won't score top ratings among viewers aged 25 to 54. So, instead, we're treated to speeches by Ted Nugent, actor John Ratzenberger and magician Penn Jillette, slinging slogans about runaway taxation instead of talking facts.

Where was Fox News, I wondered, when George W. Bush was racking up record deficits to fund the Iraq War? Or when $8-billion -- with a B! -- in cash disappeared in Iraq with no record of where or how it was spent?

Where was MSNBC or its business news channel CNBC, I wondered, when Congress was passing the legislation that allowed derivatives and credit default swaps to emerge as largely unregulated businesses -- setting up the financial collapse which has hobbled our economy? (NPR's Fresh Air had an interesting segment on this issue last month)

I don't know if Obama's efforts will solve this mess. But all the uninformed yowling over these issues -- magnified and exacerbated by cable TV newschannels' obsessive focus on the most sensational daily stories and channeling viewers emotion -- is giving me a headache.

I keep thinking of that scene from the Ten Commandments movie where Edward G. Robinson is convincing the newly freed Jews to join a hysterical revolt, just to increase his own personal power.

I don't blame citizens for being angry and wanting to vent their emotion on the day big tax bills are due. But I do blame news channels which are supposed to inform us all -- cloaking their partisan craziness in the sportcoat and tie of a news anchor -- hyping and de-hyping events at a time when there are too many crises on the American agenda to name.

I can only hope more Americans respond the way I'm responding at the end of a long media day: by turning it all off for a long while.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:57pm]


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