If you have 33 minutes, I can promise you it will be the best you spend this week listening to Breitbart’s Tea Party Convention speech.
Christian Science Monitor/Patrik Jonsson
Recounting the exploits of two young reporters who went undercover to uncover the ACORN scandal, online publisher Andrew Breitbart on Saturday exhorted a widely held view among those in the tea party movement: Liberals and media organizations “can no longer control the narrative.”
The rise of conservative media outfits like Breitbart’s Big Journalism [bigjournalism.com] and Big Government and Tucker Carlson’s The Daily Caller [thedailycaller.com] have offered a kind of counter-media that, in Breitbart’s view, tells the stories that the mainstream media won’t tell Americans – including that of the nascent tea party movement, which has grown largely by Twitter, Facebook and via blogs like Glenn Reynolds’ Instapundit [instapundit.com].
Technology the great equalizer
“Technology has been a great equalizer,” says Judson Phillips, founder of the Tea Party Nation website, a sort of tea party Facebook that sponsored this weekend convention. “It reminds me of how the British used old-style tactics and the patriots would be behind the trees, shooting.”
In a fiery speech to the first-ever National Tea Party Convention on Saturday, Breitbart – who runs his counter-media empire from his basement office in Hollywood – painted a vivid picture of a press in lockstep with liberal values, where reporters use words like racist and homophobe as weapons to suppress dissent. (At that point, a woman wearing a t-shirt that said “I resist” stood up and waved.)
Breitbart said reporters put all news involving conservatives into two basic buckets: “racism and Watergate.” He urged the 600 tea party activists gathered at the Opryland resort in Nashville to take inspiration from conservative reporters like James O’Keefe, the videographer behind the undercover ACORN expose.
Andrew Breitbart with James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles
“I’m trying to tell you, wink, you can do it, too. You have cameras! You have ingenuity!” he said. “What we are starting to do is create our own media … that is reporting what the mainstream media refuses to tell you .We are exposing the corruption of the mainstream media.”
Breitbart’s may have a point. Proof to many here is how the mainstream media for weeks missed the story of Scott Brown’s surging candidacy in Massachusetts (one likely reason for all the interest in the Tea Party Convention), or how the New York Times put Mr. O’Keefe on page 1 only after he was arrested for alleged phone-tampering at Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office in New Orleans.
Jabs at the mainstream media
But while the roomful of tea partiers stood up at several of Breitbart’s jabs and pointed to the TV cameras at the back of the room, the fact that there were TV cameras there at all partly undermined Breitbart’s point that mainstream reporters are totally out of touch.
Convention organizers realized it, too. After originally banning all but a few mostly conservative outlets, the organizers ultimately opened the convention doors wide, even allowing media into Sarah Palin’s speech tonight.
True, some of the ensuing coverage has been critical and snide. But the willingness of people like California tea party activist Heather Gass to speak her mind to mainstream reporters may do as much, or more, to legitimize the tea party movement as the counter-media’s attention.
“People can now see who we are and they can see that we’re not dangerous,” says Ms. Gass. “We’re their neighbors.”
Not everyone agrees. One caller to C-Span – which aired nearly the entire convention – said the sight of primarily white and older self-described “patriots” frightened her. She said the gathering looked like a lynch mob.
But the fact is that the 200-plus old-school reporters attending the convention is giving the potent but inchoate movement something it craves and, ultimately, needs: respect.
That includes a Swedish radio reporter who sent an earnest piece back to Sveriges Radio on Friday, explaining how a modern-day tax revolt movement that appeared at first to be woefully fringe is looking more and more mainstream.