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Don't Need Old Media to Know Which Way the Wind Blows

By

Don't fret. That's the headline for all the well-meaning taxpayers who don't like how the media covered their rallies against runaway government spending.

So you resent being labeled dumb racists and rednecks. You're offended by the juvenile sexual jokes. Or you don't appreciate being brushed off.

You're still so appalled by the paucity and snide tone of news stories on the hundreds of Tax Day "tea parties" attended by hundreds of thousands of Americans, you're beside yourself.

But that's all beside the point. Really, it's so 1998. Wake up and smell the fishwrap: Most newspapers as we recall them are dead or dying. So are the network TV newscasts.

Too late and too bad for old-school media. They can't expect to win back an audience while disputing or making fun of what matters to regular folks. Self-styled newsmen who abandon the basics of the craft have no business whining.

ABC's Dan Harris actually parroted the White House line that President Barack Obama was "unaware" of the brewing tea parties. (Sounds like a deficiency in the president's national security briefings, given how darkly allies depicted the protesters.)

Serious journalists, as your mother would know, provide serious coverage of taxpayer unease and disgust with pork projects, bailouts and deficit spending. They recognize signs of discontent over the real prospect of steep tax increases within two years:

Read my lipstick: No more pork! Give me liberty -- not debt. You are not entitled ... to what I have earned.

But the lack of serious coverage of the 750 tea parties in such agenda-setting papers as USA Today, The New York Times and The Washington Post - or surviving newsweeklies Time and Newsweek - encouraged President Obama first to ignore and then to dismiss Americans who have a different view.

The president took a gratuitous if clumsy swipe at tea partiers, and top-rated Fox News Channel, when asked about fiscal discipline and the entitlement crisis during a St. Louis forum celebrating his 100th day in office.

"Those of you who are watching certain news channels on which I'm not very popular, and you see folks waving tea bags around," Obama said with a slight smirk, "let me just remind them that I am happy to have a serious conversation about how we are going to cut our health care costs down over the long term, how we are going to stabilize Social Security."

Mr. President, perhaps you need to be reminded: A good news operation understands loyal readers or viewers tend to care about the place they call home. They have a stake in the community.

A good reporter understands typical taxpayers, parents and voters are the core audience. They want to know when public servants don't get the job done, or waste tax dollars. They want to know when government officials undermine their freedoms or belittle their values.

Regular folks want to know, to borrow Kris Kristofferson's line, who's to bless and who's to blame.

More and more Americans know from Congressional Budget Office projections that Obama and Congress will double the national debt and have to raise taxes because of the flood of new spending for nationalized education, energy and health care and all the rest.

That's why tea partiers, connecting by Facebook and other Internet tools, gathered in town squares to wave handmade signs and share what's on the minds of many more:

Don't tax me, bro. My piggybank is not your pork barrel. Don't stimulate. Liberate.

OK, so this bottom-up effort wasn't as fashionable as the Community Organizer in Chief's ongoing top-down campaign to reorganize the country. But the rallies provided snapshots of where a significant portion of responsible folks stand.

"People from all walks of life are fed up with the way government is working,"Stephen Moore of The Wall Street Journal, an economist and co-author of "The End of Prosperity," told Greta van Susteren on Fox News Channel.

A USA Today/Gallup Poll found that 55 percent of adults say Obama's economic proposals require too much spending, while 33 percent call it the right amount. By the same margin, they worry more about Big Government than Big Business.

According to a Rasmussen survey of 1,000 voters, 84 percent identify economic issues as "very important" and 64 percent put taxation in that category -- a two-year high. Rasmussen also found that 81 percent say it's important for Obama to deliver promised tax cuts for the middle class.

Only four weeks earlier, the media stoked public anger over $165 million in bonuses at insurance giant AIG, subject of a government takeover. NPR's Daniel Schorr, an old dog of network news, pined for '60s-style protests.

"Americans have not taken to the streets to express their dismay and wrath," Schorr said. "Perhaps history will mark this as part of the graying of America."

The bonuses were outrageous, but chump change next to the bailout checks so hastily cut by Bush, Obama and Congress. So what happened to mainstream media attention when Americans did "take to the streets" over how fast the government is blowing through the grandchildren's inheritance?

It doesn't matter anymore. Interest abounds online from social, specialty and niche media.

Sure, the remnant of old mainstream media could shine light on the folks who brought out the family to speak up. Reporters could explore the goals of what may be an authentic post-partisan movement. They might even get back on the job of exposing who's taking liberties with the truth.

One can hope. But fret not, tea partiers. You've shown you are -- or can be -- the media. Now get out your message.

Ken McIntyre, a newspaperman for more than 25 years, is the Marilyn and Fred Guardabassi Fellow in Media and Public Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

A shorter version first appeared in the Washington Examiner.

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