CNN’s Jim Spellman did his best to paint the participants of the Tea Party Express’s rallies across the nation in late August and early September as a bunch of extremists on Saturday’s Newsroom. Spellman played clips which zeroed-in on the protesters who called President Obama a Nazi, carried guns, or forwarded “outlandish conspiracy theories,” and labeled all of them “a dark undercurrent.”
The CNN journalist followed the Tea Party Express organization’s bus caravan during its 2 week journey across the United States, and the thirty-plus rallies held where it stopped. Spellman appeared just after the beginning of the 5 pm Eastern hour of Newsroom, and first played clips from seven men and six women who participated in these rallies. Six of the thirteen clips came from people who could be portrayed as “extreme,” as anchor Don Lemon put it, included one who referred to a “Gestapo-type tactic” and another who carried an AK-47:
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 1: Every- an everyday Tea Partier is an American citizen that is frustrated with the direction the country’s going-
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 1: We are truly concerned about the- the heartbeat of our country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 2: They’re taking our liberties away. It’s tyranny. It’s a- a Gestapo-type tactic.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 2: There’s too much involvement in the government. We can take care of ourselves.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 3: I didn’t- I didn’t vote for him, but I didn’t necessarily have anything against what he was saying. He gets an office and it's like all of the things that I was kind of afraid of really happened.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 3: They can have my country when they pry it from my (crowd joins in) cold, dead hands. (crowd cheers)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 4: And I think their agenda is to slowly but surely take away everything that we worked for and everything the Constitution stands for.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 5: (shouting) Kill the bill! Kill the bill!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 5: (shouting) Read the bill! Read the bill!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 4: All the czars that he picked are all either communists or socialists.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 6: I really don’t really want to be a- a guinea pig for the experiment they have with the population control.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 4: He’s going after our kids and try to indoctrinate them into a national defense army, and we’re not going to let him do it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 6: We’re kind of the ultimate check and balance, I suppose.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 7 (carrying an AK-47): I don’t want a revolution. I don’t want a civil war. I would hate for that to happen. But it is a possibility. It’s there as an option- as a last resort, should our government turn on its own people.
Lemon responded to the clips by asking Spellman, “Was that most extreme of what you’ve heard, or was it pretty typical?” Spellman’s reply reflected how he portrayed the Tea Party participants:
SPELLMAN: Well, the gentleman there with the AK-47- that was definitely an extreme. We saw people wearing handguns from time to time. But really, running through this whole sort of subculture that’s developed around these tea parties, it- it is a- a bit of a- a dark undercurrent. You have the- the bulk of the people that are there for low taxes, less government control- but there really is a- is an element that’s got these kind of outlandish conspiracy theories about death camps and- and about the- you know, this takeover- people comparing President Obama to Hitler, and that really is a sizable thread. It’s not just a couple of people on the edges. But one of the big questions- you know, will be, can this movement go forward while maintaining this kind of element on the edges? You know, we don’t know, but- Don, it’s a- it’s a- it’s a- there’s some heaviness out there with this.
The journalist criticized the “extreme” participants at the rallies on his Twitter account. On September 4, Spellman wrote, “tea party pic of the day for Friday. Again, can we cut out the Nazi crap?” Two days later, he poked fun at other participants: “And heres [sic] a couple of militia guys in Louisville. Probably the Star Fleet militia from the looks of them”
The CNN anchor followed up by asking if the organizers of the rallies ever specifically talked about the proposed health care “reform bill.” Spellman specified in his answer that the “dark undercurrent” mainly came from those who showed up at each stop.
LEMON: Here’s what I want to ask you. At the- at the tea parties or these rallies that you have been going to, did you ever see any people there who were explaining what’s in- what’s actually in the bill to the people at the rallies?
SPELLMAN: You know, a little bit- more with sort of talking points. But what you hear from the stage is a lot different than what you hear in the crowd. On the stage, they are talking about small government and health care and such- cap-and-trade, things like that, but in the crowd what you are really hear is- is really a different message, when you get out and talk to the people. You know, it’s a much sort of darker thing, where they really, really feel that- that the country is going in the wrong way, in a really serious way-
LEMON: Explain to me, what do you mean by a much more darker thing? Talk to me about that.
SPELLMAN: Well, I mean, one of the things that we heard over and over again is that- is that it’s sort of the- the death panels thing, taken to several degrees past that, where the President is going to set up these - these death camps where they’re going to do forced sterilization, and- and that the government is taking over the Internet to stifle- you know, speech and that there’s going to be forced vaccinations. These are not things that, after thirty-some Tea Parties, this is not one or two people. This is people that we heard over and over and over and over again. You know- really, there’s just so much sort of disinformation or misinformation out there that it really creates a- a significant part. You didn’t see as much of it here today in Washington, but in these towns across America that we went, it - it really is out there, Don, and it’s- it’s- it’s- you know, it gave me pause more than once, going across the country with the Tea Party Express.
Spellman’s report is just the latest installment in the media’s double-standard in how it treated the anti-war protests during the Bush administration versus how it treats the anti-ObamaCare town hall participants and the Tea Parties. Before the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003, CNN downplayed the radical left-wing organizers and participants in a large anti-war rally in Washington, DC. Earlier in September, CNN political analyst Roland Martin and anchor Campbell Brown, on separate occasions, called critics of President Obama “insane.”