Washington Post begins to dismantle "Tea Party is racism" meme

Last week, the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel pointed out CNN’s rather positive coverage of recent Tea Party events. CNN embedded their own Shannon Travis with the Tea Party Express as it cruised to rallies in Utah and Colorado. Travis reported:

Here’s what you often see in the coverage of Tea Party rallies: offensive posters blasting President Obama and Democratic leaders; racist rhetoric spewed from what seems to be a largely white, male audience; and angry protesters rallying around the Constitution.

… But here’s what you don’t often see in the coverage of Tea Party rallies: Patriotic signs professing a love for country; mothers and fathers with their children; African-Americans proudly participating; and senior citizens bopping to a hip-hop rapper.

… CNN was the only national news outlet on this Western leg of the tour. We had a full team on the ground: myself, correspondent Ed Lavandera, producers Tracy Sabo and Jim Spellman and the crew of the CNN Express bus. For Spellman, it was his third Tea Party Express tour.

Together, we beamed out images of the anger and the optimism, profiled African-Americans who are proud to be in the Tea Party’s minority and showed activists stirred by “God Bless America” or amused by a young rapper who strung together rhymes against the president and Democrats.

The CNN Express traveled with the Tea Party Express buses for hundreds of miles, from rally to rally to rally.

Being at a Tea Party rally is not quite like seeing it on TV, in newspapers or online. That’s the reason CNN is covering this political movement — and doing so in ways few others can or choose to do.

It is important to show the colorful anger Americans might have against elected leaders and Washington. But people should also see the orange-vested Tea Party hospitality handlers who welcome you with colorful smiles.

There were a few signs that could be seen as offensive to African-Americans. But by and large, no one I spoke with or I heard from on stage said anything that was approaching racist.

Weigel rightly noted that in the span of a year, CNN’s coverage of the Tea Party has evolved from Susan Roesgen’s infamous spat with Chicago Tea Partiers, to Shannon Travis’ enjoyable experiences during the week he spent traveling with them.

And yesterday, Wa-Po ombudsman Andrew Alexander directly called for a more thorough investigation of the allegations by Reps. John Lewis, Emanuel Cleaver, and others that Tea Party protesters deliberately spat on and shouted racial slurs at Black Democrats as they arrived at the Capitol for the health care reform vote. Alexander also criticized his own paper for repeating allegations about Tea Party protesters (such as Rep. Andre Carson’s claim that the “n-word” was shouted “15 times”) without thoroughly investigating them first:

YouTube videos show the spitting incident took place as Cleaver and other black lawmakers passed through a gantlet of rowdy protesters on the steps outside the Cannon House Office Building. Amid booing and chants of “kill the bill,” Cleaver is seen reacting as he passes screaming protesters. He turns, points an accusing finger and appears to chastise one, who is shouting nonstop. As he continues up the steps, Cleaver uses his hand to wipe a protester’s saliva from his face.

Cleaver was hit with spit, but whether it was deliberate is very much in question. The video suggests he was unintentionally sprayed by the screaming protester. The distinction is significant because it fundamentally changes widespread media characterizations of what occurred. The Post and other news organizations left the impression of a despicable, premeditated assault. With videos of the incident so prevalent on liberal and conservative Web sites, and with the question being so widely raised in the blogosphere and on cable channels, The Post was remiss in not providing clarity by quickly dissecting what happened.

Perhaps, as Jay Tea noted earlier, Democrats have simply cried wolf one too many times in their fevered attempts to portray anyone who opposes their agenda as a “raaaaaacist.” Or perhaps, as Andrew Alexander reluctantly admitted, coverage of the same events by bloggers has forced the mainstream media to examine its reporting more carefully, particularly when stories published by mainstream news outlets are obviously out of step with eyewitness reports of the same events.

Whatever the reason, the Washington Post’s recent efforts to ensure their coverage of Tea Party events is fair is certainly a step in the right direction.

"They are the same"