After taking some heat for barring the press altogether from their upcoming convention in Nashville, the organizers of the Nationwide Tea Party Convention say they will open the doors to the media — but not all the media.
In a statement on its Web site Thursday, the Tea Party Nation announced it would allow five news organizations access to the conference, which takes place in Nashville from February 4 to 6 and features Sarah Palin as the keynote speaker.
The admitted news organizations are Fox News, Breitbart.com, Townhall.com, The Wall Street Journal and WorldNetDaily. All five are generally considered to be right-wing news organizations. Two of them — Fox News and the Journal — are owned by media magnate Rupert Murdoch.
The convention’s organizers flatly deny that the choice of admitted news agencies was based on ideology. “We have been hard pressed to accommodate all of these requests and do not have the space or resources to support the entirety of the press corp,” the organizers’ statement says.
Asked by Politico’s Michael Calderone if it had to do with political leanings, event organizer Judson Phillips said “no.”
The organizers “picked some groups that we had some contact with,” Phillips said, adding that the chosen news sources “have covered the Tea Party movement” and “I would say we’ve gotten fair coverage from them.”
But Calderone notes that the Wall Street Journal, whose news reporting is markedly different from its ideological editorial page, hasn’t given the Tea Party any more coverage than most other news sources.
Fox News, on the other hand, is a different story.
“Considering that Palin is now on Fox News’ payroll, the cabler’s exclusive status at the Palin convention presents a rather Manwich-sized conflict of interest, no?” writes Eric Boehlert at MediaMatters. And Calderone points out that “Fox News heavily promoted tea party rallies around the country last year.”
Politico’s Ben Smith argues that the Journal should be outraged at being placed in the same company as the conspiracy-minded WorldNetDaily and the Drudge Report-affiliated Breitbart.
“That is, as much as anything else, an insult to the Journal‘s news side, traditionally a smart straight-news operation perpetually a bit irritated to be mistaken for its conservative editorial page,” Smith writes.
The convention’s organizers, Tea Party Nation, have taken some flak for running the event for profit, with an eye to funneling proceeds to political organizations. Earlier this week, activist Kevin Smith accused the group of “duplicitous behavior, dishonesty, authoritarianism, and downright fraud” over its plan to charge $550 for access to the conference, including Palin’s speech, and said Phillips, the organizer, was using his wife’s PayPal account to collect money.
That, according to Theresa Poulson at the National Journal, resulted in one of the convention’s co-sponsors, the American Liberty Alliance, backing out of the conference.
“To be clear, the for-profit model has its place in the movement,” Poulson quoted ALA executive director Eric Odum. “But these groups should always have boards and oversight, and should never, ever process donations through personal PayPal accounts.”