Montana Politics

The Slow, Media-Saturated Death of the TEA Party?

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I just don’t understand why the TEA Party gets the attention it does from the Montana press. I didn’t understand a few weeks ago why 12 people showing up with guns at the Capitol was worthy of extensive coverage, and I don’t understand why the Billings Gazette is featuring Friday’s “crowd” on their web page.

According to the Gazette, there were 50 people in attendance at Friday’s rally. It would be newsworthy if there were fewer than 50 people at many businesses in Billings, but that a mere handful showed up to apply a painted-on brand and bellow about socialism isn’t worth the ink spent covering it.

If the Gazette and the rest of the state’s papers want to continue covering the TEA Party, they should probably start treating them as a subject of the news, rather than as the sideshow they’ve become. Rather than reporting that a “rally” took place, how about investigating a few narratives that seem quite reasonable?

The TEA Party is Dying

How about a story about the death of the TEA Party? Last year, according to Montana news sources, there were 200 people in attendance at the Billings rally and hundreds more in Helena, which didn’t even have a rally this year. Doesn’t a 75% decrease in attendance suggest a movement in trouble? That seems like a fair news angle.

Consider the 12 Angry Men and Two Dozen Reporters who covered the March TEA Party rally in Helena? Doesn’t that suggest a movement in dramatic decline?

Context is important. If TEA Party rallies were drawing hundreds a year ago, and now can only muster a much smaller collection of people, the news should report that.

The Gazette uncritically reported that Montana Shrugged has 5,000 members on its mailing list. Where the hell were they on Friday?

Follow the Money

Who funds the TEA Party movement in Montana? Who’s profiting from it? The Montana Shrugged people told KULR that they were raising money for veterans, but who’s ensuring that actually happens?

I think it’s fair for the media to start asking questions about these public figures, too. I’ll admit I’ve wondered how some of these hard-working champions of freedom and opponents of government largesse support themselves without real jobs. I know I can’t throw on my tri-corner hat every other day and stand on street corners; it’d be fascinating to learn how others do it.

Public figures deserve scrutiny—and the TEA Party has largely escaped that.

Other Important Questions

What did actual speakers say at the rally? I’m sure it was more than just general statements about the government and spending.

Does Tim Ravndal support himself with an endorsement deal from a Chinese manufacturer of faux-American Revolution apparel?

In a time of declining news budgets, the choice to cover one story often means a trade off with other news. Newspaper editors should think deeply about whether or not covering the TEA Party is worth it, when other stories suffer.

Consider this contrast. None of the major papers in the state felt it was newsworthy to cover Representative Rehberg’s announcement that Pell Grants were the “welfare of the 21st century.” Rehberg, as he is wont to remind us ad nauseum, is a highly placed figure on the Appropriations Committee, Montana’s sole Congressman, and if he is to be believed, an influential Washington figure. Pell Grants serve over 20,000 Montana students each year. It matters whether or not Representative Rehberg believes in the future of the program, but that story doesn’t come with good enough art to get coverage, I guess.

If a member of Congress is getting attention from the Huffington Post, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Real Clear Politics, and Inside Higher Ed, doesn’t it seem like state newspapers should cover that with just a bit more alacrity than front page stories about a dying, fanatical political movement?

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a seventeen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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