- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tax Day “tea parties” were steeped in media Wednesday, and the brew was strong.

The hundreds of grassroots events staged around the nation to protest America’s tax burden showcased successful efforts by conservatives to mobilize thousands of participants via Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets. Liberals once dominated that realm.

“I have never seen such spontaneity. It’s huge,” said Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, a group that organized a dozen events in Texas, Georgia, Wisconsin and other states.

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“Grassroots activists organized protests of the war in Iraq for eight years. Now, we’re putting out the word on Facebook, e-mail networks; talk radio and print has played a role too. We’re doing what Americans do when they see a threat. They stand up and fight,” he said.

“I challenge the news media to wade into the crowds and talk to a cross section of 12 people, not just singling out the crazy looking person with an obscene sign as representative of the rally,” Mr. Phillips added.

Citizen journalists and emerging technology also came into play.

“We know the mainstream media is not going to offer a full range of coverage. Citizen journalism can do it better,” said Roger Simon of Pajamas Media, a news site that recently launched a sister online TV network.

“We’ve got 500 people reporting in using CelleCast, a service where they can report with voice, photos and videos over cell phones. It goes online within 30 seconds,” Mr. Simon said. “Yes, there are issues with editorial control. Mistakes will be made. But we’ll correct them right away too.”

Meanwhile, tea-themed coverage got rambunctious.

The bawdy “teabagging” joke popularized all week on MSNBC became a story on its own, inspiring more than 1,400 assorted accounts in print media and ultimately migrating to CNN, where David Gergen and Anderson Cooper gleefully riffed on the theme.

“I don’t recall that any tea party organizers ever used that term. It was invented during the coverage,” Mr. Simon said.

Fox News Channel became part of the story as well.

“Some on the left have mocked the tea parties as being fake grassroots. AstroTurf, they call it - a product of both Fox News and billionaire-funded, lobbyist-run conservative think tanks like the one headed by former Congressman Dick Armey,” said ABC News correspondent Dan Abrams.

His statement closely echoed an April 12 op-ed by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman.

Fox was also heavily criticized by press watchdog Media Matters for promoting a “culture of conservative paranoia” in its coverage.

“Fox News has engaged in anti-Obama political activism by aggressively promoting the ‘tea party’ protests, which the network has described as primarily a response to Obama’s fiscal policies. Fox News has repeatedly aired graphics describing the protests as ‘FNC tax day tea parties’ and has run advertisements promoting them,” said Eric Burns, president of the District-based group, in a letter to Fox News anchorman Chris Wallace.

“We trust that you are concerned about the effect of these actions on your network’s reputation and that of everyone associated with it and urge you to denounce them as inappropriate for a news organization,” Mr. Burns said.

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