The New York Times story by Jeremy W. Peters on tea-party history is extensive and well-written. And it featured a hole, as identified on Twitter by Rolling Stone senior writer Jamil Smith:


The Times responded by adding a note about race, which the newspaper itself announced via Twitter:

Reading that tweet, a reader might just suppose that the New York Times expanded the story by a few paragraphs, or more.

Nope. It appears to have added just this sentence (highlighted here in bold):

One significant limitation to the Tea Party is the contradiction in its DNA: It was a mass uprising based on notions of small-government libertarianism that are popular with think tanks but not so popular with most Americans. And as Mr. Obama’s allies saw the movement, its outrage over the debt and deficit had another purpose: giving cover and a voice to those who wanted to attack the first black president — people who in some cases showed up at rallies waving signs with racist caricatures and references.

Indeed, President Barack Obama’s allies saw that movement that way. Logic, research and common sense also viewed the movement that way. Here’s author Michael Tesler in his book "Post-Racial or Most-Racial?: Race and Politics in the Obama Era” summing up the state of knowledge:

There is a good deal of social scientific evidence to support claims that both Tea Party members, and those who sympathize with them, were driven at least in part by racial conservatism. [Harvard’s Theda Skocpol, Vanessa Williamson and John Coggin, the authors of the 2011 report “The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism”] deduced from their in-depth interviews with Tea Party members that “racial resentment stokes Tea Party fears about generational societal change, and fuels the Tea Party’s strong opposition to President Obama.” . . . Consistent with that conclusion, an April 2010 CBS/New York Times poll found that Tea Party supporters were nearly twice as likely as the general public to endorse the symbolic racist belief that “too much has been made of the problems facing black people in recent years” (52 percent to 28 percent). [Christopher S.] Parker and [Matt A.] Barreto [in their 2013 book “Change They Can’t Believe In: The Tea Party and Reactionary Politics in America”] offer more quantitative evidence for the link between racial conservatism and the Tea Party, finding [tea-party movement] sympathizers scored significantly higher on racial resentment even after controlling for several other plausible causes of Tea Party support. And political psychologists Howard Lavine and David Perkins experimentally found that Tea Party supporters reacted more negatively toward a black man who irresponsibly took on a mortgage he could not afford than they did towards a white man who did the same thing.

Tesler cautions that it would be unfair to “broadly” brand Tea Party activists as racists, considering that adherence was driven by several factors.

The Erik Wemple Blog asked a New York Times spokeswoman whether any African American staffers had reviewed the piece prior to publication. She responded that the newspaper would not “get into the process.” Here’s a statement from Times politics editor Patrick Healy:

Our intent with the story was to look at the spending and deficit policy failures of the Tea Party 10 years after its rise, especially those failures under a Republican president and Republican Senate. The federal budget deficit is growing faster than expected because of President Trump’s spending and tax cut policies; this month the CBO projected that the deficit will widen to $1 trillion for the 2020 fiscal year.
After publishing, we heard from readers who made the point that in a story about the Tea Party and history, race and racism within the Tea Party movement needed to be addressed. While our story was chiefly about deficits and spending, we decided to add context about the Tea Party attacks on President Obama and the racist displays at some Tea Party rallies. We updated the story and sent out a tweet about that update.

When pelted with complaints about non-factual problems, news organizations have a tendency to resist taking any action whatsoever. To its credit, the New York Times, in this instance, recognized a problem and changed its story in response to complaints. To its discredit, the New York Times drafted an insubstantial, wishy-washy sentence that does little to remedy the problem.

And one other point: This idea that the story was “chiefly about deficits and spending” makes it sound as if Peters and Healy were employed by the Congressional Budget Office. Not so: The story ties together policy and protest into a social bundle, opening with a description of 2009′s “summer of rage,” when the country “seemed to lose its mind.” Conservatives began freaking out about deficits and small government. Now that Obama is no longer president, those priorities have drifted away, as Peters describes:

Ten years since that summer of rage, the ideas that animated the Tea Party movement have been largely abandoned by Republicans under President Trump. Trillion-dollar deficits are back and on track to keep growing. The Affordable Care Act has never been repealed, and Republicans concede it may never be. When Congress approved $320 billion in new spending this month as part of its latest budget deal, most Republicans in the Senate voted yes, prompting a lament from Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who was first elected in 2010 as a slash-and-burn fiscal conservative.

Gee, what could possibly account for such a shift?

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