After years of mainstreaming and idealizing antiwar protesters and marches supporting illegal immigrants as "grandmothers with canes, parents with children in strollers," dissent against a president's policies is no longer cool at the New York Times.
The Times finds the newest batch of protesters against Obama health care to be "angry," "irritable" crowds of whites taking marching orders from conservative talk radio and web sites.
Wednesday's front-page story by Ian Urbina and Katharine Seelye on protests at Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter's town hall meeting in Lebanon, Pa., "Senator Goes Face to Face With Dissent." The front page of the Times showed a confrontation between a stiff-faced Specter and a shouting protester.
They got up before dawn in large numbers with angry signs and American flag T-shirts, and many were seething with frustration at issues that went far beyond overhauling health care.
More than 1,000 people showed up here Tuesday morning in this largely Republican town in central Pennsylvania for a town-hall-style meeting with Senator Arlen Specter, though the auditorium could seat only 250. Like many of the dozens of such meetings held by members of Congress over the last few weeks, this one was punctuated with rowdy moments, and interviews with many of those who showed up made it clear just how much underlying dissent motivated them.
Ms. Abram described herself as a stay-at-home mother from Lebanon, and in many ways she was representative of the almost entirely white and irritable crowd, most of whom were from the area.
For once, unions like the Service Employees International Union didn't hold sway at a town hall meeting, apparently not sufficiently motivated to arrive in time to get in. The Times spun that embarrassment as just another result of inchoate right-wing anger: "It was the angriest people who got in line first."
Many of the union members who showed up to support health care reform did not arrive early enough to get into the auditorium at the Harrisburg Area Community College, and thus were largely not represented among the 30 questioners called on by Mr. Specter. It was the angriest people who got in line first.
You might remember leftists protested Bush's attempt at Social Security reform back in 2005 -- or perhaps not. The Times didn't exactly focus hard on the rowdy protests that greeted another Pennsylvania senator -- conservative Republican Sen. Rick Santorum, who backed Bush's Social Security reform. (Santorum was defeated by Democrat Robert Casey in 2006).
The Times was much milder and less obsessive in its description of left-wing Social Security protesters. Here's reporter Robin Toner's description, from a February 23, 2005 article from Chester, Pa., where Santorum was holding a meeting on Social Security:
Almost no one is a more outspoken advocate of President Bush's Social Security plan than Senator Rick Santorum, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate leadership, who is campaigning across his state this week, trying to get young people to focus on their retirement.
Toner described the hecklers in non-judgmental fashion as providing a "freewheeling atmosphere." The word "angry" was nowhere to be found:
But Mr. Santorum, who is chairman of the Senate Republican Conference and a favorite of conservatives nationally, was plowing ahead this week with 10 public forums, 7 of them on college campuses. That translates into a far more freewheeling atmospherethan, say, one of Mr. Bush's tightly controlled forums on Social Security.
At Drexel University, for example, Mr. Santorum was greeted by protesters, was heckled during his speech by people declaring their loyalty to Lyndon LaRouche, and was asked several questions by young people on issues that had little to do with Social Security, including same-sex marriage and the global fight against AIDS.
Unlike the two front-page Times stories on the angry health-care protesters, the 2005 article on the Social Security protests appeared on page 16. The protests also weren't the focus of the Santorum article, which was more about how young people weren't paying attention to the debate in Washington.
And speaking of liberal accusations of conservative protesters being not genuine grassroots, check out Andrea Stone's write-up of similar anti-Santorum protests in the March 16, 2005 edition of USA Today:
Santorum was among dozens of members of Congress who ran gantlets of demonstrators and shouted over hecklers at Social Security events last month. Many who showed up to protest were alerted by e-mails and bused in by anti-Bush organizations such as MoveOn.org and USAction, a liberal advocacy group. They came with prepared questions and instructions on how to confront lawmakers.
Those details didn't make the Times.
Back to Specter's raucous town meeting. The senator made an effort to control things, with the Times citing "concerns about a potentially unruly crowd."
But for all his efforts, tempers boiled over 15 minutes into the meeting. Standing two feet from the senator, Craig Anthony Miller, 59, shouted, "You are trampling on our Constitution!" A half-dozen security people quickly swarmed but refrained from touching him as Mr. Specter, raising his voice, said sternly, "Wait a minute! Wait a minute!" He said the man had the right to leave....But most of those who spoke Tuesday seemed unlikely to vote in the Democratic primary. Many seemed concerned about issues that are either not in the health care legislation or are peripheral to the debate in Washington -- abortion, euthanasia, coverage of immigrants, privacy.
The Times doesn't consider abortion rights, euthanasia, or illegal immigration important? Could have fooled us. Yet when conservative protesters bring those same issues up (and there are valid concerns about abortion and end-of-life care) they suddenly become "peripheral."
The Associated Press, which is no right-wing press outlet, reported on August 5 that "health care legislation before Congress would allow a new government-sponsored insurance plan to cover abortions, a decision that would affect millions of women and recast federal policy on the divisive issue." That detail is the main reason why the abortion issue has been thrust into the health care debate.