The popular stereotype of the Tea Parties is that they represent the conservative fringe of the Republican Party mixed in with extreme right-wing independents and consist overwhelmingly of angry white men given to violent rhetoric and displays of firearms.
According to CNN, however, nothing could be further from the truth. The Tea Partiers are just regular folks -- people from all walks of life, warm and friendly and accepting of diversity.
"When it comes to the Tea Party movement, the stereotypes don't tell the whole story," CNN's Shannon Travis writes. "Here's what you don't often see. ... 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."
Even more startling than this image of wholesome family outings, however, is Travis's claim that he has seen no signs of racism at the rallies. "There were a few signs that could be seen as offensive to African-Americans," he writes. "But by and large, no one I spoke with or I heard from on stage said anything that was approaching racist. Almost everyone I met was welcoming to this African-American television news producer."
Travis is embedded with the Tea Party Express tour, which kicked off last month with a "conservative Woodstock" in Harry Reid's home town and which CNN has been covering heavily. "Being at a Tea Party rally is not quite like seeing it on TV, in newspapers or online," Travis explains. "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."
Critics of the Tea Parties have been skeptical of both Travis's claims and CNN's heavy promotion of the latest tour. In a post last week titled, "CNN pimps Great American Tea Party Express PR and Propaganda Tour," Crooks and Liars suggested that "CNN is serving as a built-in PR machine for the Tea Party Express. ... CNN has embedded a small press corps in their custom-painted 'CNN Express' press bus for the sole purpose of following teabaggers around the country, reporting 3-4 times daily on the activities of the corporate-funded, RNC-connected Tea Party Express."
Dave Weigel, who is now the Washington Post's resident expert on the right, adds that CNN's decision has "befuddled the right and left alike. He suggests that CNN is attempting to assuage the anger of the Tea Parties last year when "CNN's Susan Roesgen became tea party public enemy No. 1 for a combative segment she filmed at an event in Chicago."
Mediaite's Tommy Christopher, on the other hand, is dismissive of the entire notion that CNN is "pimping" for the Tea Parties. He believes the network doesn't really care about making the Tea Parties look good but is only trying to maintaining a colorful story that would otherwise be running out of steam as people notice that the latest rallies have been "drawing smaller crowds than the aftermath of a chili cookoff."
Christopher is more critical of CNN for claiming that "disgruntled Democrats" are now gravitating towards the Tea Parties, even though its own polls show no such thing. A recent CNN article came up with two "lifelong Democrats" at a Tea Party Express rally who parroted the Tea Party line that they're worried about government "doing too much" and the Obama administration "spreading the wealth."
"Again, the motivation for this is to keep the story interesting," Christopher suggests, "and not to necessarily shill for the Tea Party. As reporter after reporter has told me, if thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a bias in the mainstream media, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s in the direction of laziness."