Mad About Health Care

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 5, 2009; 9:48 AM

Is there a rising tide of anger in America against Barack Obama's health plan and big-government programs?

Or are the media just making it seem that way?

Any reporter who's ever covered a zoning board meeting or a demonstration knows the dilemma. If one person starts screaming, or uses incendiary rhetoric, it livens up what could otherwise be a dull and routine story. But is it representative of what happened, or a cheap journalistic gimmick?

Well, it depends on the situation.

In the YouTube age, such moments are far more likely to be videotaped and go viral. And once that happens, cable programs replay the hot-button footage in an endless loop.

Seems to me I've heard a bellowing female voice complaining about government run amok again and again in the television coverage of these town hall meetings. You know, the kind who loudly proclaims we have to take our country back. (Um, didn't we just have an election?) In fact, it's reached the point where Jon Stewart asked whether it was the same woman, flitting from meeting to meeting around the country.

I don't mean to minimize opposition to the health-care plan, which has stirred unease among part of the public while Republicans and industry groups try to nibble it to death. But the screaming activists, whose voices echo across the mediascape, are a tiny part of the story.

Are these incidents accidental? The liberal advocacy group Think Progress obtained an interesting memo:

"The lobbyist-run groups Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, which orchestrated the anti-Obama tea parties earlier this year, are now pursuing an aggressive strategy to create an image of mass public opposition to health care and clean energy reform. A leaked memo from Bob MacGuffie, a volunteer with the FreedomWorks website Tea Party Patriots, details how members should be infiltrating town halls . . . and harassing Democratic members of Congress:

"-- Artificially Inflate Your Numbers: 'Spread out in the hall and try to be in the front half. The objective is to put the Rep on the defensive with your questions and follow-up. The Rep should be made to feel that a majority, and if not, a significant portion of at least the audience, opposes the socialist agenda of Washington.'

" -- Be Disruptive Early And Often: 'You need to rock-the-boat early in the Rep's presentation, Watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the Rep's statements early.'

" -- Try To 'Rattle Him,' Not Have An Intelligent Debate: 'The goal is to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda. If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout out and sit right back down.' "

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