Tea Time

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 15, 2009; 10:27 AM

Some Fox News hosts have been pushing the tea party protests slated for hundreds of cities today, almost to the point that they seem to be the ringmasters of the event.

"It's now my great duty to promote the tea parties. Here we go!" Fox business anchor Stuart Varney said the other day.

But there's another side to this saga. Most of the mainstream media fell down on the job, ignoring the growing movement or mocking it as a bunch of wingnuts.

The New York Times has run zero stories (the only mention was Times columnist Paul Krugman taking a brief swipe at the parties.) The Washington Post has done zip until today, with a story on two planned D.C. parties on Page B-4. The Chicago Tribune ran a 300-word story and an item on postal workers mistaking tea for a hazardous substance. The Los Angeles Times did a 500-word piece on a small protest in Hermosa Beach and has a media piece today. The Boston Globe, published in the city famed for the original tea party: nothing. CNN ran its first news story on the protests Monday (followed by a piece by me on the coverage). MSNBC's coverage had consisted of Rachel Maddow and Ana Marie Cox mocking the "teabagging" until Chris Matthews held a more serious debate Monday.

Yes, some conservative groups such as Dick Armey's Freedom Works are involved, giving the day an Astroturf aroma. Maybe the whole thing, inspired by CNBC's Rick Santelli and his famous rant, will fizzle, but it might also galvanize those who are opposed to Obama's tax and spending policies. So the MSM ought not be so dismissive.

As for Fox, Sean Hannity has been talking up his show for today, at an Atlanta tea party, featuring the likes of Fox contributors Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee and Joe the Plumber. Glenn Beck has declared: "The mainstream media doesn't get it. They'll report on the tea parties just as a -- you know, oh, they're just a bunch of whack job Republicans who only care about taxes on the rich. Where were they with George Bush? . . . But the tea parties are not about taxes. They are about the reason for the taxes, which is an out-of-control government that cannot control its own spending."

It's important to make distinctions here. In an online chat the other day, I erred by saying that Greta Van Susteren is among those leading the charge. She is covering one of the tax protests but has not touted the movement like some of her colleagues. Van Susteren is a lawyer with an economics degree who, in my view, does not push an ideological agenda.

The Fox reporters aren't crusading for the tea parties. Fox yesterday interviewed a spokesman for TeaPartyTaxDay.com but paired him with liberal pundit Bill Press.

But the network does seem a bit overcaffeinated on this issue. People are entitled to protest, and the Fox opinion-mongers are welcome to use their megaphone as they see fit. But I can't help but observe that we didn't see large-scale protests during the eight years when George W. Bush ran up record deficits with spending programs that many Republicans now admit got out of control. Most of the tea-party types are basically Obama protesters, and that raises questions both about their agenda and the way today's partying is covered.

"There's something dispiriting, though not surprising, in watching the conservative movement's favorite news outlet shamelessly promote a political happening, while simultaneously claiming its coverage will be 'fair and balanced,' " says James Rainey in the L.A. Times. "That said, some liberal media voices seem just as intent on squelching the protesters before they've shoveled a single bag of Lipton into a single pond."

FoxNews.com reports that the tea events are helping conservative Web sites: "Roger L. Simon, co-founder of the blog network Pajamas Media, which includes Pajamas TV, said the site went after tea party coverage because the mainstream media didn't. He said Pajamas TV has more than 200 people registered to report on Wednesday's tea parties."

At Pajamas, blogger Adam Graham says he's attending:

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